Have you been craving a career in veterinary medicine but you aren’t sure you’re ready to make the time commitment to be a full-blown veterinarian or a veterinary technician? Perhaps becoming a veterinary assistant is the perfect way to dip your toes into the water and find out if animal medicine is what you want to do.
Veterinary assistants are extremely valuable members of the veterinary clinic, often becoming a technician’s “right hand” while working closely with passionate doctors. With all of the exploring you’ve been doing in regards to working in a veterinary setting, you might have some questions about what veterinary assistants do and how much they make.
Even if animals are your passion, this is your career, and it has to pay the bills even as it fulfills your lifelong dream of working in a veterinary clinic.
Getting Your Education
Even though clinics are asking their veterinary technicians to have a college degree, assistants are usually hired with a simple certificate, on the job training, or just a high school diploma. There are many community colleges and trade schools that offer accredited certificate programs. Typically, these programs take a few months to a year to complete.
The time-frame depends completely on how much time you can devote to the program. If you’re working full-time or have a busy family life, you can expect your program to take a bit longer than someone who is able to attend full-time.
As for the classes you’ll take, you’ll be expected to become proficient in animal restraint, medication administration, disease control (in regards to cleaning kennels and work areas), sterile surgical techniques, and office management.
Your education will ensure you understand important things like anatomy and physiology, infectious diseases, animal handling, and laboratory procedures.
How much you’ll make as an assistant depends completely on where you work, what kind of clinic you work in, and how much experience you have. Educated assistants don’t necessarily make more than employees who are learning on the job, but it’s easier to get your foot in the door if you have a shiny new certificate in hand.
In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a veterinary assistant makes about $22,040 per year on average. The lower end tops out at $16,490 while the top earners make $33,780.
Assistants who are on the low end of the salary range work in smaller clinics, particularly in rural or low-income areas. States with a lower cost of living also typically pay their assistants less.
The higher salaries occur in large specialty hospitals, emergency clinics, and research facilities. It’s not uncommon for some clinics to pay their assistants more based on how well the veterinarians and technicians utilize them.
What your job entails depends entirely on the clinic you work in. Some assistants have complained that they’re merely kennel workers, cleaning up after hospitalized patients or the rest of the hospital staff while getting very little contact with the hospital’s patients.
Other hospitals use their assistants in almost every aspect of the clinic, including assisting during surgery and monitoring hospitalized patients.
Typically, though, there are a few standard requirements for what your job as an assistant will entail. Assistants will:
- Care for hospitalized patients, such as feeding, washing, and exercising the animals
- Restrain animals during examinations, blood draws, and other procedures
- Administer oral medications
- Clean and sterilize surgical instruments
- Prepare the surgical suite
- Prep patients for surgery
- Disinfect and clean cages/kennels, examination rooms, and laboratory areas
- Keep accurate medical records
- Answer phones, schedule appointments, and check-in patients
- Educate clients on basic care for their animals after simple procedures like dental cleanings or spays/neuters
Places of Employment
There are a few different places that typically hire veterinary assistants. If you want to work with animals but realize the veterinary clinic isn’t the best place for you, that doesn’t mean your experience and education as an assistant will go to waste! You can easily find jobs at places like:
- Laboratories and research facilities
- Animal shelters, rescues, and humane societies
- Farms and ranches
- Universities, technical schools, and trade schools
- Food animal facilities like dairies
Being a veterinary assistant is very rewarding. It’s a great way to figure out if the medical field is a good fit for you while learning a significant amount at the hands of skilled veterinarians and experienced veterinary technicians.
The stress of being an assistant is significantly less than that of the more hands-on options of being a doctor or animal nurse, so if you like the excitement of a hospital but prefer to work on the sidelines, an assistant position could be just the career you’re looking for.