It’s important to understand that a veterinary assistant is not the same as veterinary technician. In general, vet techs are people who have received formal training, certification and licensing. A veterinary assistant is someone who usually has experience working in the animal care field but is not a licensed vet tech. Most are responsible for doing front office work in a veterinary office, clinic, or animal shelter. They can assist during surgeries or procedures as needed, but they usually cannot administer medication, give injections or do procedures on their own.
Front office work of the assistant can include the following responsibilities:
- Greeting patients
- Pulling charts
- Writing charts
- Answering phones
- Taking appointments
- Escorting animals and their owners to rooms
- Weighing animals
- Selling over the counter vet medications only available through vets, like certain types of flea control
- Taking payments
- Initiating collection or billing
A veterinary assistant may get a variety of hands-on experience with animals, but this largely depends upon the type of practice in which they work, and who the employer is. Many vets who are parents will employ their children or other teens to work as assistants so they can get field experience and decide if veterinary medicine is the right career choice. James Herriot, in his books on being a Yorkshire vet in the mid 20th century, discusses how both his children were informal assistants when he would visit farms or work at his clinic. This type of training can be great for the younger or older teens interested in the field, and Herriot relates that his son later became a vet because of all the on the job practice he received.
Though many of these jobs are paid positions, this is a field in which many volunteer opportunities exist. This is especially the case in non-profit clinics and in animal shelters, where money may be tight and vets may need as much help as they can get. If a volunteer later decides to become a paid assistant or a vet tech, volunteer experience in the past can look great on a resume and help him or her to obtain jobs or secure acceptance to vet technician or even veterinary medicine schools.