How to Become a Veterinary Assistant: Education & Qualifications

Veterinary assistants work with veterinarians to treat and care for animals of all different kinds. For individuals looking to work with animals, meeting vet assistant qualifications could provide them with an approachable career that still leaves room for advancement. Schools offering Veterinary Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Do Veterinary Assistants Do?

Veterinary assistants work with veterinarians to treat animals and in many ways are comparable to nursing assistants in the human healthcare field. The duties listed in a veterinary assistant job description might include administering medication, collecting samples for testing, monitoring animals after surgery, and cleaning and disinfecting the facilities and equipment used by veterinarians. In smaller offices, they might also work the front desk, greeting clients and handling billing and scheduling. They might work directly under a veterinarian or with veterinary technicians and technologists, performing the essential tasks that keep an office running. While veterinarians have strict educational requirements that must be met, veterinary assistants have a lower barrier for entry than both vets and vet techs.

How to Get a Job as a Vet Assistant

Veterinary assistant requirements are fairly straightforward, since the job has little in the way of formal qualifications. Some veterinarians' offices only require that assistants hold a high school diploma or its equivalent, expecting to train new hires entirely on the job. For applicants who wish to have a leg up on the competition, there are formal training options available.

Vet Assistants at a Glance

Education Level High school diploma or equivalent
Skills & Qualifications Love of animals, compassion, strong stomach, physical strength
Certification Optional, through NAVTA

Optional Veterinarian Assistant Education

Vet assistant certificate programs are somewhat common and easily completed in under a year. These programs include material such as:

  • Animal anatomy and physiology
  • Animal restraint techniques
  • Surgery and emergency care
  • Diagnostics and pharmacy

Some veterinary assistant programs include an internship, externship, or other type of practical training. These can provide opportunities for networking and hands-on experience prior to finding a job. For the most dedicated, it may be a better option to pursue veterinary technician education to prepare for a role that's considered a step above veterinary assistant. Training for this profession is often done at the associate's degree level.

Other Veterinarian Assistant Requirements

Individuals looking to become veterinary assistants should have a love of animals, first and foremost, as they will spend most of their time in direct contact with many different species. They should have a strong stomach and no fear of dealing with bodily fluids. Veterinary assistants should be caring and compassionate, but also capable of dealing with loss and death. Since they may have to carry or hold down large animals while a veterinarian performs his or her work, veterinary assistants need a fair amount of dexterity and the ability to move heavy objects, such as pet carriers. Experience working with animals, even as a volunteer, is considered beneficial but not often required.

Veterinary Assistant Certification

While veterinary assistant certification is not required, it may be preferred by employers or at least recognized as a benefit. Certification can be earned through the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) with a credential called the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA). The certification process includes the completion of a NAVTA-approved training program and the passage of a national exam. If you intend to pursue certification, check NAVTA's list of approved programs before enrolling.

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