Becoming a Veterinarian Assistant: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a veterinarian assistant? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a veterinarian assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Veterinarian Assistant Career

If you love animals and feel passionate about helping people keep their pets healthy, you might want to consider becoming a veterinarian assistant. Read on to learn more about the positive and negative aspects of this career.

Pros of Being a Veterinarian Assistant
Education requirements are minimal*
Training can be completed on the job*
Helping ensure the health of animals can be personally rewarding**
Flexible work schedule***
Opportunities to work in exotic pet, small animal and large animal veterinary practices****

Cons of Being a Veterinarian Assistant
Low pay (median annual wage of around $24,000)*
Job risks include the possibility of being bitten or scratched*
Working with sick or injured animals can be stressful*
Job growth could be hampered by employers who replace assistants with veterinary technicians and technologists*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **North Carolina State University, ***iseek.org, ****Three Rivers Community College.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a veterinary or veterinarian assistant, you work with a variety of animals in settings that include private clinics, animal hospitals, veterinary schools and supply companies. Some of your day-to-day job duties could include feeding and bathing pets or cleaning their cages. You might also administer flea and tick vaccinations, take blood or tissue samples, and develop X-rays. Scheduling patient appointments and keeping track of medical files could also be part of your job duties. Additional responsibilities might include helping veterinarians with first aid or surgical procedures by restraining animals and preparing surgical instruments.

Job Growth and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was approximately $24,000 as of May 2014. In the same year, there were about 71,000 jobs in this field nationwide. Just over 7,000 new jobs were expected to be created during the 2012-2022 decade, which amounts to an employment growth of 10%. This is predicted due to a growing veterinary services industry. However, job growth could be tempered by employers who hire veterinary technologists and technicians instead of assistants.

Career Skills and Requirements

You'll only need a high school diploma to begin your veterinarian assistant career. Training for this position is usually completed on the job and can last up to a month. During this period, you'll want to develop some of the general skills and abilities you'll need to succeed in this field. These can include knowledge and skills in:

  • Handling animals
  • Animal illnesses and treatment procedures
  • Customer service
  • Maintaining a clean and professional work environment
  • Handling X-ray and surgical equipment, syringes and muzzles

Job Postings from Real Employers

In order to get a sense of what real employers are looking for, take a look at excerpts from real job posts that were online during April 2012. Some of the more common requirements listed were computer skills and relevant work experience:

  • A pet hospital in Michigan was seeking a veterinarian assistant with a high school education. Relevant work experience or the completion of a veterinarian assistant program approved by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America was also required.
  • A veterinary service in Louisiana was seeking a veterinarian assistant with at least one year of experience, the ability to lift 50 pounds and a valid driver's license. Job duties included handling animals and educating clients on preventative pet care.
  • An organization in Illinois was looking to hire a full-time veterinary assistant. Job tasks included preparing medications, educating clients and assisting veterinarians during procedures. This position had no special experience or education requirements other than a basic understanding of computers. Candidates with experience handling animals were preferred.

How to Stand Out in the Field

To get an edge over other job applicants in this field, you might want to look for opportunities to work with animals. According to the BLS, employers sometimes prefer candidates with previous experience.

One way to get a feeling for what it's like to handle and care for animals is to enroll in a school's veterinarian assistant certificate program. Not only can you study such topics as animal anatomy, physiology and pathology, you can also participate in clinical or cooperative work experiences. You might also consider volunteering with a local humane society or animal services department. These organizations can provide volunteers with introductory training as well as work experience.

Alternative Career Paths

Animal Care and Service Worker

If the idea of assisting with surgeries is a little more than you'd bargained for, consider becoming an animal care and service worker. This field includes such workers as pet sitters, animal caretakers, kennel attendants and groomers. Educational requirements for this position are also minimal (you'll typically only need a high school diploma). Plus, you could spend more time providing companionship to the animals in your care than you would as a veterinarian assistant. Before you pursue this career field, you might want to keep in mind that nonfarm animal caretakers only earned a median salary of around $20,000 as of May 2011. However, a faster-than-average employment growth of 23% was projected for animal care and service workers during the 2010-2020 decade, according to the BLS.

Veterinary Technician

If you're willing to enroll in a veterinary technology associate degree program and pass a credentialing exam, you could land a job as a veterinary technician. This position might allow you to take on additional job responsibilities as well as specialize in an area like dental or emergency care. Job opportunities for veterinary technologists and technicians were expected to grow 52% during the reporting decade. These professionals also earned more than veterinarian assistants. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for technicians and technologists was about $30,000 as of May 2011.

Surgical Technologist

If you're a little wary of entering a job field with such low pay, but would still like to work in a medical setting, consider a career as a surgical technologist. You'll need to complete a certificate or associate degree program before you can land a job preparing and counting surgical instruments used for operations on people, but keep in mind the fact that these professionals earned a median annual wage of just under $41,000 as of May 2011. Job opportunities in this field were expected to grow 19% between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.

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George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

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Penn Foster Career School

  • Career Diploma: Veterinary Assistant

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American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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Keiser University

  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

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Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

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Kaplan University

  • MS in Nursing
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Medical Assisting

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Health Administration

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University of Delaware

  • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Concentration

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