How does someone become a veterinary assistant? Start with a love of animals. Every aspect of their care should bring a smile as each morning starts because this is a hands-on job that is going to provide interaction on all levels as the work day progresses.
This is a terrific position for someone who is just starting out after high school graduation or someone returning to work as a degree is not necessary to enter the field. Considered an entry level position, much of the training comes from actually doing the work on the job. While there are definite standards of care, each veterinarian’s practice will vary to some extent based on the type of facility they operate to the scope of the care they offer. A general veterinarian who treats small animals will have a business that encompasses quite a different care level than that of a large animal vet. Add in the growing exotic species veterinarians and there is a wide range of choices for someone who is just beginning their animal care career.
Front Office Assistance: Every aspect of a veterinary practice will become known to the veterinary assistant as he or she assists other support personnel. Checking patients in and out, copying and updating records, financial transactions including payments and purchase of veterinary supplies, and even patient information are all part of this position.
Laboratory and Surgical Assistance: Requesting testing, processing specimens (or arranging for processing if there are no on-site facilities), and collecting and disseminating test results. Some veterinarians will require surgical and procedure assistance from the vet assistant, while others will need surgery prep and clean up with specific sterilization routines.
Veterinarian Assistance: Placing patients in exam rooms, obtaining animal vitals (such as weight), and providing any written and/or medicinal information and materials to patients are all a part of the veterinary assistant’s routine. He or she will help restrain animals during examination so a physical assessment can be obtained, as well as administration of any injections and oral medications. The vet assistant will also provide hands-on help to the vet for any wound care, both initially and during any follow-up procedures, such as stitch removal.
Kennel Assistance: The veterinary assistant will follow established sanitation procedures to keep all areas where animals are housed clean and free from pests and communicable diseases. The basic care of all animals will also be performed by the vet assistant, to include food, water and exercise.
For those who are thinking about entering into this aspect of the animal care field, a high school diploma or GED is pretty universally required.
Within the last several years programs have been developed to help new candidates explore and develop skills that are most utilized on the job. Computer literacy in this day and age is pretty much mandatory and for some, particularly older employees, the chance to learn the operation of scheduling, billing, and electronic record keeping is a very marketable skill.
As with any medical field, there is a specialized language to health care. Physicians do not write “take as needed”, they write “p.r.n.”. A medication is not taken orally, it is taken p.o. Understanding this basic terminology is vital for someone working with medications, particularly with animals whose owners must clearly understand what is required for their pet and his or her particular needs.
In many veterinary practices the veterinary assistant will be the one ordering any supplies that are needed. Understanding how each of the supply materials are used and at what frequency can prevent shortages during critical treatment. Exam and surgical rooms must be well stocked with items the veterinarian uses on a routine basis and it is the veterinary assistant who will make sure this is done routinely.
Disease prevention and treatment protocols is another area that will be new to many employees, yet knowing what to do and what not to do can literally mean life and death for the animals cared for by that veterinary practice. Animals cannot, of course, verbally articulate that they do not feel well and that what they have is contagious. It is up to those who are trained in animal care to correctly interpret the signs the animal does show. An animal that is being boarded at the veterinarian’s office who suddenly develops diarrhea may just be upset at being away from its owner, but it may also be one manifested sign of a more worrisome condition that may need to be managed with isolation and sterilization protocols. Even those who have cared for animals all of their lives will generally require instruction in the signs and symptoms of medical conditions.
When the sum of what makes a veterinary assistant so valuable to a veterinary practice is added up, it may be that the value is that of an employee who is familiar with and who can assist in nearly every single aspect of the operation of a veterinary facility. This is the person who often spends the most time with the animals and a nearly equal time with the patient owners. A very large part of the success of any veterinary practice must be ascribed to the person who is generally the most hands on – that of the veterinary assistant.
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