If you have a passion for helping animals, becoming a veterinary assistant allows you to turn that passion into a career. Not only will working with animals be a fairly standard part of your work day, you will also get the opportunity to care for animals who are sick or have been injured.
Veterinary assistants play a vital role within the veterinary care community. Not only do they assist the veterinarians and veterinary technicians during examinations and procedures, they also take on other tasks to help ensure those they support can focus on their core duties. Veterinary assistants may help with patient scheduling, room stocking, sanitation, filling prescriptions, and preparing treatment areas. They also frequently interact with clients to help provide guidance and direction on proper pet care.
The work requires veterinary assistants to have a variety of soft skills as well as develop job-specific skills. The necessary soft skills includes strong listening skills to ensure all instructions are understood and all client information being shared is properly noted. Additionally, customer service is a key to job success, so being a service-oriented individual can be an advantage. You’ll need to have a keen eye in order to monitor animals for any changes in conditions, as well as possess strong problem solving and critical thinking skills to assess issues as they arise. Working as a veterinary assistant can be a career in and of itself, or can provide a foundation for more advanced careers in the veterinary care field.
While the state of Florida does not require veterinary assistance to be certified, individual employers may prefer, or even require, certification for their employees. In order to become a certified veterinary assistant, you will need to start with a focused education that will provide you with the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform the job safely and successfully.
Most commonly, a high school diploma, or its equivalent, is considered a minimum requirement for entering the field as well as participating in any educational programs. This is to ensure a basic level of education has been obtained prior to working on more advanced educational topics.
Veterinary assistant educational programs are available at a variety of community colleges and some specialty schools. While the majority of educational opportunities require physical attendance at the learning institution, a few online programs have been approved in regards to the classroom learning requirements. In order to be considered qualifying for potential certification, the program must be accredited and recognized by a certifying entity, such as the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA).
Programs vary in length, with some specialty schools offering courses that can be completed in as little as nine months and results in the receipt of a certificate or completion. This makes becoming a veterinary assistant a viable option not only for those looking to start their first career, but also for those who may be looking to make a career change and cannot afford a long period of unemployment to do so. In certain circumstances, course work completed through accredited programs may be transferrable to higher level degrees or certifications if you choose to pursue them.
Course work will include classroom-based and lab-based training. The classroom portions will cover the basics of animal care as well as proper sanitation and safety techniques. Lab training will provide hands-on experience in a variety of areas. This can include instruction on how to properly draw blood for lab tests and lab sample preparation. Instruction on how to assist in surgical procedures is included, as well as post-operative care and proper administration of oral and topical medications that have been prescribed by the veterinarian on staff. Lab-based learning may be obtained through facilities owned and operated by the educational institution, or may require working with partner businesses as an intern through a formal internship program.
Other routine procedures regarding proper patient intake will be introduced as well as how to assist in the proper cleaning of the animal’s teeth. Consultation services may be provided to pet-owners, such as proper home care and medication administration.
Once the proper education is complete, you may become eligible to take the certification examination offered through the NAVTA referred to as the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) examination. The fee for the examination is set at $100, and can be a taken through the VetMedTeam association.
Graduates of approved programs will be provided a code that can be used to register for the examination. Codes are unique to each individual graduate and cannot be reused for any other person. The test must be completed in front of an approved examination mentor. This can include licensed veterinarians as well as licensed veterinary technicians. In certain situations, a licensed testing facility may also be available.
The examination consists of 100 questions. In order to be considered passing, a score of 75 percent or better must be achieved. The total time allotted for the examination is 150 minutes. The AVA examination must be taken, and passed, within one year of graduating from an approved program. Once payment for an examination has been received, the applicant has 30 days in which to complete the examination.
Upon passing the examination, you will be able to access your certificate immediately, and the NAVTA will be notified in order to ensure your new credential is recorded properly.
Your AVA certification will remain valid for two years. In order to maintain certification, it will need to be renewed through the NAVTA every two years. Currently certified technicians will receive reminders as their renewal date approaches. In order to remain current, continuing education courses may be required.
The vast majority of veterinary assistants work within the veterinary services industry. This include both private clinics as well as large scale animal hospitals. Additional employment opportunities exist in colleges, universities, and certain research facilities, as well as certain animal shelters.
Businesses and institutions operating this sector are often highly team-oriented, which requires strong communication skills and interpersonal skills. Interactions with other veterinary services professionals occur multiple times throughout the work day, and working directly with clients is common.
Veterinary assistants may be responsible for the feeding, bathing, and exercising requirements of animals within the facility, as well as proper sanitation and disinfection of various surfaces. Equipment sterilization duties are also common, as well as the collection of various lab samples, such as blood, urine, feces, and other tissue samples.
Those working in the field will often assist in the physical restraint of animals being treated and may participate in emergency first aid of animals experiencing a traumatic injury or illness. Surgical assistance may be required, as well as extensive post-operative care duties of animals who have recently completed a procedure.
Additional daily tasks may include taking an animal’s temperature and monitoring an animal’s weight. Other duties may be assigned in the areas of record maintenance, scheduling, and general reception duties in order to support the overall operation of the facility.
Medical Assisting Work Attire
It is common for veterinary assistants to perform most of their duties while wearing medical scrubs as well as comfortable, but safe, footwear. This is due in part to the physically demanding nature of the work as well as the likelihood of being exposed to various bodily fluids and certain chemicals while performing ones duties. Exact work attire requirements may vary from location to location, with some locations adopting a uniform look between all employees while others allow for a level of flexibility or personal expression.
The ability to wear jewelry on the job may be limited for safety purposes. This can include safety concerns for the veterinary assistant themselves, other veterinary services professionals, as well as to the animals undergoing treatment.
Both part time and full time opportunities may be available, depending on the size of the clinic and their associated operating hours. Those who provide assistance in facilities that operate 24/7 may be required to work evenings, weekends, and holidays in order to meet the demands of the facility.
The work performed by veterinary assistants is considered demanding in nature. A significant portion of your time may be spent on your feet, and you will regularly need to assist in the handling and lifting of animals of various sizes, with or without assistance. The emotional demands can also be high as work may include handling sick, injured, or abused animals, and assisting with compassionate euthanizing may be required.
Work environments in the category, especially veterinary clinics and animal hospitals, can be very fast-paced in nature. Additionally, clients may be experiencing high levels of stress depending on the current condition of their animals. It is important to be able to maintain a state of calm in order to best service clients and assist other professionals in potentially chaotic situations. It is not uncommon to be at risk for injury while working as a veterinary assistant. This is partially due to the unpredictable nature of working with scared or aggressive animals, especially those experiencing any level of pain or discomfort.
Pay and Benefits
The median annual salary for a veterinary assistant in Florida was $24,360 in 2016, with the highest 10 percent seeing wages above $36,690. Full time opportunities may also come with a standard benefits package including, but not limited to, medical, dental, vision, and prescription coverage as well as retirement options. Additionally, some employees may receive care for their own pets at a discounted rate.
Between 2014 and 2024, the demand for veterinary assistants is expected to grow at an above average rate across the United States. Project employment levels are anticipated to hit 80,000 positions across the country. Additionally, the state of Florida has the third highest level of demand within the United States, with current employment levels reaching 4,350 in 2014.
While some may choose to work as a veterinary assistant through the course of their careers, others may choose to obtain additional education in order to achieve higher levels of credentials and expand employment opportunities. This can include advancing to a certified veterinary technician or a licensed veterinarian.
Veterinary technicians have advanced skills beyond those of a veterinary assistant. In order to qualify, additional education is required through an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited veterinary technician program which results in the achievement of an Associate’s in Applied Science (AAS) degree in Veterinary Technology. Once complete, the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) must be passed and certification must be maintained through continuing education.
The median annual salary for a veterinary technician working in the United States was $31,800 in 2015, with highest paid 10 percent earning over $47,410. The growth rate in the veterinary technician field is substantially higher than average, including above the anticipated demand for veterinary assistants.
For those who wish to ultimately become a licensed veterinarian, an advanced degree will be required. First, the completion of an approved undergraduate program with the minimum course requirements for entry into the program must be met. Once the undergraduate courses have been completed, you may apply for admission to a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. Depending on the program, candidates may have to complete an interview process prior to admission. Additionally, an acceptable score on the GRE test must be obtained.
The total time required often includes four years to complete the necessary undergraduate degree and an additional four years to complete the DVM. Additional licensing requirements within the state of Florida will also need to be met.
Those working as a licensed veterinarian in the United States can anticipate a median annual salary of $88,490 based on data collected by the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015. Demand in this area is also expected to be above average when compared to other professions in the country. While veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians must traditionally work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, veterinarians may have the options to start their own clinics.