Veterinarians usually provide on-the-job training for veterinary assistants, though you can get a head start through a short postsecondary training program. If you're interested in a position with a little more responsibility, you can get an associate's degree to work as a veterinary technician or a bachelor's degree to become a veterinary technologist.
Associate's-level programs generally take two years or less to complete, while bachelor's degrees take four years. A veterinary assistant certificate program can usually be finished in a year or less. All of these program types are offered in a traditional campus setting, though you can also find online options that allow flexibility in your studies.
Vet assistants don't have any certification requirements, though there are options available if you choose to get credentialed. However, you'll typically need to get licensed to become a vet technician or technologist. For this, states require you to pass an examination, which can result in a license, certification or registration; the exact credential varies by state.
Veterinarian Assistant Certificate
Certificate programs for veterinary assistants can 6-12 months to complete, depending on the school. Some schools have specific entrance requirements, like heath insurance or submitting to a background check. The programs blend classroom training with hands-on experience with live animals. Some schools offer the training fully or partially online, though it's fairly uncommon, particularly since lab or practicum training is required. Training you'll receive in these programs include:
- Surgical assisting
- Administering medication
- Animal handling and nutrition
- Working with vet equipment and technology
- Maintaining patient records
Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology
An Associate of Science degree program in veterinary technology introduces students to a number of basic veterinary topics, such as animal health care and management. Students learn animal anatomy and physiology and may engage in practical, clinical experience with live animals at a local veterinary office. Some course topics might include:
- Animal anatomy
- Small animal breeds and behavior
- Animal nursing
- Animal physiology
- Large animal diseases
- Animal medicine
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Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Technology
The Bachelor of Science degree in veterinary technology is earned through a four-year curriculum. Students in such a program may take many of the same courses available in an associate's degree program, such as veterinary pharmacology and veterinary radiology. The B.S. program may be more comprehensive and prepares students to assist with more complicated procedures and tests. Clinical study at a nearby veterinary office is usually included in the curriculum and may be expected for graduation. Course topics might include:
- Principles and prevention of livestock diseases
- Intro to veterinary anatomy
- Functional histology
- General pharmacology and toxicology
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated veterinary assistants made a median yearly wage of $26,140 as of May 2017. The BLS also states that from 2016 to 2026, the employment for these assistants is expected to grow 19%, adding at least 16,300 job openings. Vet technicians and technologists earned a median salary of $33,400 and are projected to see similar job growth - 20% from 2016-2026, which would be around 20,400 job openings.
Continuing Education Information
Although the process may differ by state, all states require veterinary technicians and technologists to be credentialed in some fashion. Veterinarian assistants can earn optional certification. The credentialing process usually includes passing written, oral and practical portions of an exam. All three positions can get certified through the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America.
To keep your certification up-to-date, you'll need to complete continuing education. Workshops, courses and seminars may be available to veterinarian assistants and vet techs who would like to stay current on new types of veterinary equipment and advances in treatment. General veterinary conferences often include workshops or courses that relate directly to veterinarian assistants.
There are certificates programs as well as associate's and bachelor's degree programs designed to prepare aspiring veterinarian assistants and vet techs for employment. State credentialing is required for vet techs, though optional certification is available for all three positions, which requires passing an examination and completing continuing education.