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Veterinary Assistant

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QUICK FACTS
Veterinary Assistant and Laboratory Animal Caretakers
2010 Median Pay $22,040 per year
$10.60 per hour
Entry-Level Education High school diploma or equivalent
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Short-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2010 73,200
Job Outlook, 2010-20 14% (About as fast as average)
Employment Change, 2010-20 10,400

What Veterinary Assistants Do

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers look after nonfarm animals in laboratories, animal hospitals, and clinics. They care for the well-being of animals by doing routine tasks under the supervision of veterinarians, scientists, or veterinary technologists or technicians.

Work Environment

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers work mainly in clinics, animal hospitals, and research laboratories. Their work may be physically or emotionally demanding.

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

There is no postsecondary education requirement for becoming a veterinary assistant or laboratory animal caretaker. However, most workers entering the occupation have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Pay

The median annual wage of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was $22,040 in May 2010.

Job Outlook

Employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers is expected to grow 14 percent from 2010 to 2020, as fast as the average for all occupations. Job opportunities are expected to be excellent.


What Veterinary Assistants Do

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers look after nonfarm animals in laboratories, animal hospitals, and clinics. They care for the well-being of animals by doing routine tasks under the supervision of veterinarians, scientists, or veterinary technologists or technicians.

Duties

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers typically do the following:

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers do many daily tasks, such as feeding, weighing, and taking the temperature of animals. Other routine duties may include giving medication, cleaning cages, or providing nursing care before and after surgery or other medical procedures.

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers play a large role in helping veterinarians and scientists with surgery and other procedures. They may prepare equipment and pass surgical instruments and materials to veterinarians during surgery. They may also move animals and hold or restrain them during testing and other procedures.

Veterinary assistants work mainly in clinics and animal hospitals, helping veterinarians or veterinary technicians and technologists treat the injuries and illnesses of animals.

Laboratory animal caretakers work in laboratories under the supervision of a veterinarian, scientist, veterinary technician, or veterinary technologist. Their daily tasks include feeding animals, cleaning kennels, and monitoring the general well-being of laboratory animals.


Work Environment

In 2010, about 84 percent of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers were employed in the veterinary services industry, which includes private clinics and animal hospitals. Most of the others were employed in laboratories, colleges and universities, and research facilities.

Although the majority of veterinary assistants work in clinics and animal hospitals, others may work outside. Laboratory animal caretakers tend to animals indoors in laboratories and research facilities.

The work of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers may be physically or emotionally demanding. They may witness abused animals or may need to help euthanize sick, injured, or unwanted animals.

Injuries

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers experience a work-related injury and illness rate that is much higher than that of most occupations. When working with scared or aggressive animals, they may be bitten, scratched, or kicked. A worker may be injured while holding, bathing, or restraining an animal.

Work Schedules

Many clinics and laboratories must be staffed 24 hours a day, so veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers may be required to work nights, weekends, or holidays.


How to Become a Veterinary Assistant or Laboratory Animal Caretaker

Most veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers have a high school diploma and learn on the job. Experience working with animals can be useful.

Education

There is no postsecondary education requirement for becoming a veterinary assistant or laboratory animal caretaker. However, most workers entering the occupation have a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Training

Most veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers are trained on the job, but some employers prefer candidates who already have experience working with animals.

Certifications

For laboratory animal caretakers seeking work in a research facility, the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) offers three levels of certification: assistant laboratory animal technician (ALAT), laboratory animal technician (LAT), and laboratory animal technologist (LATG). Although certification is not mandatory, it allows workers at each level to demonstrate competency in animal husbandry, health and welfare, or facility administration and management. To become certified, candidates must have work experience in a laboratory animal facility and pass the AALAS exam.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must treat animals with kindness and be compassionate to both the animals and their owners.

Detail oriented. These workers must follow strict instructions. For example, workers must be precise when sterilizing surgical equipment, monitoring animals, and giving medication.

Dexterity. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must handle animals and use medical instruments and laboratory equipment with care.

Physical strength. Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must be able to handle, move, and restrain animals.


Pay

The median annual wage of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers was $22,040 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,490, and the top 10 percent earned more than $33,780.

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers working in research positions often earn more than those in clinics and animal hospitals.

Many clinics and laboratories must be staffed 24 hours a day, so veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers may be required to work nights, weekends, or holidays.


Job Outlook

Employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers is expected to grow 14 percent from 2010 to 2020, as fast as the average for all occupations.

Employment of veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers is concentrated in veterinary services, an industry that is expected to grow very quickly during the projection decade. Fast industry growth will be spurred by a growing pet population and advancements in veterinary medicine. Although veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers will be needed to assist veterinarians and other veterinary care staff, some veterinary practices are expected to increasingly replace veterinary assistants with higher skilled veterinary technicians and technologists, thus slowing the demand for veterinary assistants.

Continued support for public health, food and animal safety, and national disease control programs, as well as biomedical research on human health problems, is expected to contribute to demand for laboratory animal caretakers.

Job Prospects

Overall job opportunities for veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers are expected to be excellent. Although some establishments are replacing veterinary assistant positions with higher skilled veterinary technicians and technologists, growth of the pet care industry means that the number of veterinary assistant positions should continue to increase. Furthermore, veterinary assistants experience a high rate of turnover, so many positions will be available through workers leaving the occupation.

Projected Employment, 2020

83,600 (14% growth from 2010)

 Search jobs for "Veterinary Assistant"


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor
Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition

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