How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

A veterinary assistant is responsible for performing a vast array of duties over the course of a typical workday. Fulfilling such a vital function has made veterinary assistants a valuable part of any animal healthcare team. The ability to perform a multitude of duties goes a long way in helping a veterinary practice function effectively. There are also a variety of different settings in which a veterinary assistant can find employment. It remains a constantly growing profession that is in high demand every year. A future as a veterinary assistant can create a whole new realm of possibilities for you and your future.

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Veterinary Assistant Pay and Job Prospects

The average veterinary assistant salary in the United States currently stands at $28,590 annually, per the United State Board of Labor Statistics (circa May 2019). However, those average salaries differ according to location. Earning potential among veterinary assistants can see a significant increase in some states. The five highest-paying states in which veterinary assistants work, as of May 2019, are:

  • Maine: $41,000
  • Massachusetts: $40,070
  • Connecticut: $35,210
  • California: $33,680
  • New York: $33,220

One of the most lucrative locations for veterinary assistants to work is in New Haven, CT, where the average salary is $48,240 per year. Some areas across the country are more densely populated with veterinary assistants than others. California has the highest employment level of veterinary assistants of any state with 12,360 workers.

The number of veterinary assistants has been on the rise in every state throughout the U.S. Some states don’t have enough trained and certified veterinary assistants to fill all of those open positions. That has increased the demand and made the profession a more lucrative one. There is currently a faster than average growth rate among veterinary assistants, as the profession is projected to expand by 16 percent over the next decade. The expanding pet service industry is a positive sign for veterinary assistants as they can now find work in numerous settings and enjoy job stability for years to come.

Veterinary Assistant Educational Programs

There are no set educational requirements needed to begin a veterinary assistant educational program. A high school diploma or GED equivalency will help during the training process, although they are not always required. It is up to each training program to set its own criteria for the admissions process. An education as a veterinary assistant is available through technical institutes, training centers, vocational schools and community colleges across the United States. The curricula may differ in each program, although the general concepts taught by instructors are relatively the same. Online programs are also available for those who are seeking out a distance learning option. Certifications are issued upon the completion of distance learning programs as well.

Veterinary Assistant Certification

Earning a certification is a way of proving you have the necessary job skills required of a veterinary assistant. Certifications are not state- issued, but rather, are distributed upon the completion of a veterinary assistant training program. These certificates are then used to attain employment or to negotiate pay. While certifications are not mandatory, employers have a history of hiring veterinary assistants who hold some kind of credentialing over those who do not.

Certifications are available through two main organizations. The NAVTA (National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America), offers several options when it comes to veterinary assistant training programs, including online programs, programs held on high school campuses, and adult education campus programs. A complete listing of approved programs may be found here. Upon graduation from a NAVTA approved veterinary assistant program, participants may sit for the Approved Veterinary Assistant examination. Upon passing, the professional may use the credentials AVA (Approved Veterinary Assistant) and will receive a certificate to that effect. This certificate is recognized throughout the United States.

Another option for certification for prospective veterinary laboratory animal caretakers (not exactly veterinary assistants, but also classified with them by the BLS) is the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). Three levels of certification are offered: Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG). This certification requires experience working in a laboratory animal facility and passing an examination. (Education may be substituted for some of the experience).

Veterinary Assistant Job Duties

The job duties of a veterinary assistant are multi-dimensional, as there is plenty to do over the course of a workday. Veterinary assistants interact with clients by greeting them upon arrival, scheduling appointments and making follow-up calls. There can be some clerical work involved. Veterinary assistants are expected to maintain updated medical records and are entrusted with inventory control. Veterinary assistants are also responsible for sanitizing equipment and prepping both operating and examination rooms.

Veterinary assistants also handle records requests by contacting other vet facilities, and must have a fair amount of working knowledge of animal health, as they are responsible for maintaining special pet dietary needs. Veterinary assistants help fill prescriptions and are also skilled in the proper ways to administer medication. Veterinary assistants are capable of calming animals as they are instructed on proper restraining techniques to ensure safety. Handling all of these tasks has made veterinary assistants extremely valuable to the everyday functionality of an animal healthcare facility.

Where Do Veterinary Assistants Work

Veterinary assistants are in high demand in numerous work settings. Veterinary practices are a common place of employment for veterinary assistants. They may also find jobs in animal hospitals and pet clinics. Some larger pet stores actually have in-house animal clinics that require the service of veterinary assistants. Some animal education programs and research facilities also employ a number of veterinary assistants. Animal Rescue facilities and shelters are two more locations where veterinary assistants can look for employment.

There are currently more than 99,500 veterinary assistants employed in the United States, and that number is expected to grow each year.  About 85 million families own a pet, according to the American Pets Products Association (2019), with 42.7 million of them being cat owners and 63.4 million dog owners. The cost of veterinary medical care is increasing as dog owners are paying upwards of $400 per year, while cat owners spend a little less than half of that amount. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent an estimated $75.38 billion on pet expenditures in 2019. More spending means more opportunities for veterinary assistants. Also, many certificate programs have established connections with local facilities and that could lead to immediate employment.

Career Advancement

Becoming a veterinary assistant can be the first step towards climbing the ladder of success in the veterinary field. Veterinary assistants gain valuable field experience every day, which could pave the way towards a future as a veterinary technician. That is often the next logical step when it comes to career advancement for veterinary assistants. That, in turn, could then lead to an even more prominent position as a practicing veterinarian. The possibilities are endless, as the veterinary field is in need of more workers every year. Ongoing education is a way to advance your career while still working. There is plenty of ongoing education available, which also extends to regular seminars and workshops throughout the country. The more credentials veterinary assistants can acquire, the more valuable they will be in the field and it will also provide them with more negotiating power. A veterinary assistant can just be the start of an exciting new career filled with advancement.

Resources

National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA)

This organization established an approved veterinary assistant certification aims to set the standards for quality animal healthcare in the United States.

American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA)

This association has branches in each state, which provide a large selection of local resources as well as upcoming seminars, workshops and other events.

Veterinary Support Personnel Network (VSPN)

This website combines a sizable collection of links to various resources in the veterinary field with all kinds of associations from A to Z.

Indeed Veterinary Assistant Jobs

This listing offers a glimpse at some of the veterinary assistant jobs that are currently available throughout the country.

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The ASPCA is a widely recognized name that provides a ton of information for animal enthusiasts and those working in the veterinary field.