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What does a Veterinary Assistant do?

Veterinary assistants help veterinarians provide medical care to animals. Similar to a medical assistant who supports human patients, a veterinary assistant will sterilize medical equipment, prepare lab samples, clean examination rooms, and assist with administrative work and billing.

Veterinary assistants are different from medical assistants in many ways, however. Veterinary assistants will often feed and water the animals for which they are caring. They may administer medication, provide post-operative care, and clean and disinfect cages. They also may examine animals for signs of illness, disease or injury, under a veterinarian's supervision.

Educational requirements

Most veterinary assistants complete 2-year programs. Those who seek to become veterinary technologists and technicians typically complete 4-year programs. Approximately 500 students graduate from these 4-year programs each year, and those who do often compete with one another for the most coveted jobs in zoos and aquariums throughout the country. These jobs are desireable because of the low turnover rate and limited number of positions in those facilities.

There are currently more than 160 2-year programs available to students. Approximately 3,800 students graduate from these 2-year programs each year, which is fewer than required to meet demand. As a result, job prospects are excellent for all graduates.

Job outlook

The outlook for veterinary assistant and technician jobs is expected to increase by 36 percent. As pet owners become more affluent and continue to think of their animals as "members of the family," they also become more willing to seek medical care for a sick pet and willing to pay a premium for that medical care. As a result, layoffs are less likely to occur and competition for the most desirable positions should remain stiff.

The opportunity for growth and advancement in this field is great as well. Many veterinary assistants go on to receive further training, which opens the door to additional career paths. Currently, about 91 percent of veterinary assistants work in a veterinary office. However, with further veterinary technology training, former assistants go on to work in clinical settings as technologists and technicians, in biomedical facilities, in wildlife facilities, in diagnostic laboratories, and even in zoos and aquariums.

Salary earning potential

Top paying areas for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers include New Haven, Connecticut, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Boston, Massachusetts.

As you might expect, additional training improves salary prospects and opens up additional job opportunities. In high school and college, students should pursue classes in science, math and English to prepare for an exciting career as a veterinary assistant.


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