Veterinary Assistant Career: What You Need to Know
People aspire to have jobs and occupations based on what they love to do. This is the desire of millions of young men and women who enter the workforce, while adults of different ages make this the subject of their choices and decisions. If you are thinking about a firm career and you love taking care of pets and animals—if you want a well-paying career that you will passionately enjoy—then, you can check out veterinary assistance!
While veterinarians (also called vets) are animal doctors, veterinary assistants are like the nurses, building managers, and secretaries all in one. They are a valuable asset in the vet clinics and hospitals for the veterinarians, the animal patients, and their owners. Being a veterinary assistant requires so much skill, patience, and character to successfully fulfill the responsibilities of this career entails. These tasks also come with advantages and disadvantages which we will talk about further.
The tasks and responsibilities of vet assistants
- Animal care routine. Veterinary assistants are in charge of the basic needs of every animal in the clinic. They are the ones who regularly feed, bathe, and exercise the patients to improve their health and recovery.
- Counsel pet owners about animal healthcare. The owners of the patient animals want medical advice on the health and nutrition of their pets. One of the primary responsibilities of veterinary assistants is to teach the owners what is best for the animals. They provide additional information and resources to help them take care of the pets better.
- Restraining the animals. Of course, the animals in the clinic do not understand human instructions and situations beyond their comprehension. Because of this, veterinary assistants restrain and control the animals during surgeries, examinations, and check-ups. As their job states, they assist the vet in keeping the animals safe and less destructive if they become out of control.
- Keeping lab samples. Vials of blood, urine, saliva, and other samples from animal patients are kept safe by veterinary assistants. They are responsible for the labeling, storage, and safe-keeping of these samples before being turned over to the laboratories.
- Disinfecting cages and the clinic. Running an animal clinic can be quite messy. Veterinary assistants are tasked to clean animal litter and waste, sanitize the animals’ surroundings, and maintain the cleanliness of the clinic. Assistants also properly sanitize cages, kennels, and surgical equipment. They are also careful not to expose the people and the animals in the clinic to pathogens and harmful elements.
- Monitoring animal patients after surgeries. Like nurses to humans, veterinary assistants conduct regular check-ups for every confined animal, especially after surgeries. They check the pets’ vital signs, give them medications, assess their recovery, and provide sensitive care.
- Performing administrative duties in the clinic. Veterinary assistants are the primary managers and secretaries in the clinic. They are in charge of keeping records, helping with the inventory, coordinating financial statements with the vet and clinic owners, and examining the overall performance of the establishment.
- Customer relations. Veterinary assistants are the ones who help the patients remain comfortable in the clinic by accommodating and welcoming them. With the veterinarian doctors, the assistants console grieving owners and reassure worried ones. Vet assistants ensure that they treat both the owners and pets with compassion and concern while providing a high quality of medical expertise.
Advantages of being a vet assistant
Veterinary assistants take care of animals. People pursue this career primarily out of love and concern for animals. Being a veterinary assistant is centered on this passion. As you take care of the patients in the clinic, you will feel personally rewarded and satisfied. You might even encounter exotic and unique animals!
Veterinary assistants work with other animal lovers. As you fulfill your career in taking care of animals, you will encounter other people who are as passionate as you are. Along the way, you will learn more about animals and meet new friends who share the same love for pets.
Training is relatively short. Compared to other internships and programs, studying to become a vet assistant is shorter. Such training will help you learn and understand animal anatomy, diseases, medications, and care. Once you work at the actual veterinarian clinic, you will further learn from experiences and practice. (More about this later.)
Team dynamic and a regular salary. Veterinary clinics operate as a team, and you will be one of its crucial members. Although you have different tasks, you share the same love for animals, which makes working happier and more sentimental. Also, you will regularly get paid by the clinic for your hard work. It may be given every two weeks or every month, depending on your employers.
Immersion in veterinary medicine. Working in a clinic or a hospital as a veterinary assistant may inspire you to step up and proceed further in this career. Perhaps, you might want to invest in becoming a veterinary technician or a veterinary doctor.
Disadvantages of being a vet assistant
Meager income and low job growth. Statistics in the United States show that veterinary assistants earn around US$19,950 to $38,890. (The prices mentioned here are based on the 2018 report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.) There is also very little room for career growth and mobility. Indeed, this career is not the path to material wealth. However, some factors can help increase your eventual income rate. The Veterinary Practice News website says that the income of vet assistants depends on the years of experience, level of education, work location, and the size of the establishment.
Messy work conditions. Dealing with animals means that the workplace will not be fully pleasant and clean. It needs strictly keeping sanitation, discarding litter, and taking care of animals with injuries, diseases, and other upsetting conditions. You will find yourself covered with animal excrement, fur, hair, and vomit as you work. Being a veterinary assistant truly requires strong guts.
Physical demands and emotional burden. There are times when vet assistants must work during holidays, late hours, and weekends. In some areas, vet doctors and assistants rush to emergencies as well. During check-ups and treatments, vet assistants might also have to move and carry large and heavy animals. This job can also be emotionally stressful and distressing. Assistants encounter abused and neglected animals, and extreme cases require euthanasia.
Risks and dangers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, vet assistants are more prone to injuries than a regular worker. Animals can bite, scratch, and kick them during encounters. Heavy lifting can cause injuries as well. Moreover, vet assistants are highly exposed to the risk of dangerous infectious diseases from animals, which includes lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, toxoplasmosis, and Q fever. This does not include the risks of radiation during animal x-rays, harmful chemicals, anesthetic gases, and pharmaceutical drugs.
Skills you have to work on
If you are inclined to enter the veterinary industry out of love for animals, you will likely realize that its positive effects will outweigh the negative ones. Hence, other than the certifications and training you have to go through, what are the skills that you have to master to excel in this career?
Active listening. As clinic managers and helpers, vet assistants deal with pet owners, clinic staff, and veterinary doctors. They should be proficient in active listening to properly understand the instructions given to them and be an effective asset in the clinic or hospital. Active listening will also help vet assistants in comprehending the concerns of their customers and act accordingly.
Understanding animal behavior. Since animals cannot speak and tell doctors about how they feel, veterinarians should be alert about the patients’ behavior. Vet assistants must keenly monitor the animals’ condition to come up with the right course of action and help the vet doctors decide accordingly. Skilled vet assistance can also calm down animals that are frightened and angry. Effectively understanding animal behavior can be mastered by studying this subject and frequently interacting with animals.
Physical fitness. Vet assistants carry heavy animals at times and perform strenuous tasks. Because of this, your body must be ready to lift weights and endure physical activities. Regular exercise and work-out are the keys to achieve a healthy lifestyle that veterinary work requires. This way, you can enhance your stamina, dexterity, and physical strength.
Excellent customer service and communication skills. People with different backgrounds, attitudes, and upbringing will enter the clinic to have their pet animals treated. As a vet assistant, you must practice empathy, compassion, and manners. Actively ask them about the animal patient and show your concern towards their pet.
Staying calm and focused. During high-pressure and difficult situations, vet assistants must help both the doctor and the customers remain composed and calm. You should know how to overcome distractions and work effectively in busy environments.
Critical thinking. This skill is crucial like in every career. This will help you in evaluating situations, solving problems, making decisions, and choosing the course of action with the best outcome.
How to be a vet assistant
Assuming that you are already pumped up to enter the world of vet assistance, the next step is to know the requirements to be hired. What are these?
A high school diploma is commonly the minimum requirement of vet clinics in hiring. If you are in the United States, you can enroll in the Approved Veterinary Assistant program of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). After passing the training program, exam, and graduation, you will become a much more competitive candidate for veterinary assistant jobs. If you want to be a vet assistant in a laboratory or research facility, however, you can proceed to the American Association for Laboratory Science (AALS). If you graduate from their three-level certification program, you will greatly increase your likelihood to be accepted in job hirings.
If you are an entry-level candidate, administrative support jobs you might have had before can be a good addition to your portfolio. These include secretariat roles, management positions, and record-keeping tasks. Previous experiences in pet-sitting, animal caretaking, and pet-related services can help you as well.
Some vet clinics accept assistants who do not have formal education or certification. Through a promotion-based system, applicants who have no experience in the field can start as maintenance technicians who are in charge of routine tasks and cleaning. This way, they will be acquainted with how vet clinics operate.
Let’s say that you finally became a veterinary assistant. Despite some drawbacks and inconveniences that come with the job, you find joy and satisfaction in this career. What are the steps you can take to advance in the veterinary field?
It is true that there is little job growth and mobility in veterinary assistance, and there is always an impending risk of being replaced by someone who has more certifications and educational background. But this does not mean that you may no longer advance in the field of animal care, and your experiences and wisdom as a vet assistant will greatly help your progress onwards.
You can proceed to study being a veterinary technologist, a job closely related to veterinary assistance but requires more education. Like vet assistants, they also assist vet doctors, monitor the animals’ vital signs, and take samples. However, they are further trained to conduct dental procedures, x-rays, and laboratory examinations for animals. They can perform tests with vials of blood, stool, and other necessary samples. Although they can work in clinics and hospitals, veterinary technologists are more suitable in research and laboratory settings. Their annual income ranges from US$22,880 to US$49,350, considerably higher than the total salary of veterinary assistants.
With time, money, and education, you can pursue becoming a full-fledged veterinarian. The ultimate healthcare providers for animals, veterinarians serve as the doctors for household pets, livestock, and exotic animals, depending on their chosen track. Some vets even specialize in animal ophthalmology, emergency care, pathology, and sports medicine.
Veterinarian schools require a degree in biology and zoology, and studies are followed by a veterinary licensing exam (this is the case in the United States). Their income is between US$56,540 to US$162,450.