How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

You might decide to become a veterinary assistant if you love animals and want to provide care for animals in the care of a veterinarian. You will also handle samples, perform veterinary medical tests and aid the veterinarian when performing procedures. Generally, you will be a important asset in the functioning of the clinic.

Education

Most veterinary assistants, usually known as veterinary technicians or technologists, possess a 2-year associates degree from a college recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and they have passed a national or state examination for licensure.

According to the College Navigator from the National Center for Education Statistics, there are over 200 schools in the U.S. that offer a veterinary assistant or technologist program. Some of these programs will also offer distance learning options, if it is not possible for you to begin your studies on site.

Tasks

Veterinary assistants help veterinarians with the animals in their care: this means animal handling, administering medications and vaccinations, weighing animals, providing medical care such as applying bandages and assisting with suturing, placing animals in cages, taking samples, performing laboratory tests and recording information in charts and records. Some tasks may vary, such as a veterinary assistant may also offer some customer care services, such as staffing the front desk, making appointments and advising clients about how to administer medication.

Other less favorable duties can include cleaning cages and examination offices, dealing with difficult or pained animals that may bite or scratch, and dealing with human owners who may be irate or upset because their animal is in distress or because a medical procedure was far more expensive than they anticipated. In addition, veterinary assistants may also assist with euthanasia, a process that some assistants may find especially difficult to deal with.

Finding Work

If you are thinking about getting started in this career, but haven't applied to a veterinary technician's program, you should have a good head for mathematics, have taken courses in chemistry and biology and be genuinely interested in animals, since you will be spending most of your day dealing with animal patients. It is not enough to have had a pet at home: veterinary assistants work with all types of animals, in a variety of settings, usually with animals that are experiencing stress, pain and anxiety. Learning how to deal with these situations and animals of all types will help you when looking for employment.

It is a good idea to also get some experience working with animals, either by finding work in pet store or as a pet groomer, or by looking for volunteer opportunities with local humane society, usually volunteering to clean cages and exercise animals. If you are planning on working with larger animals, such as horses, or wild animals in captivity, such as animals living in zoos, you should look for volunteer opportunities with these facilities.

Different Opportunities

Some veterinary assistants work only with small, domesticated pets such as dogs and cats, usually in a veterinary clinic, hospital or humane society. Others will work with larger domesticated animals, such as horses and cows. These veterinary assistants will often find work in rural areas, in farming and ranching communities, or even on horse race tracks, and may be expected to travel several hundred miles a week to meet with all of their patients.

Other veterinary assistants work with animals in zoos, aquaria and in wildlife refuges. Veterinary assistants who work in areas where animals are kept in captivity or in rehabilitation facilities will work with much larger animals, so the possibility of injury is much greater, but there may also be opportunities to travel or public speaking, where the assistant would talk about the animal, its habits, habitat and its status in the wild.