Pros and Cons of Becoming a Veterinary Assistant

Find out what to expect in this job.

Becoming a veterinary assistant may be a stepping stone to pursing a career in veterinary medicine.

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The first pro is that you are here, reading this article right now! The first con, however, may be that you are wondering who exactly this article is written for! You see, veterinary medicine has a plethora of job titles for everyone on the team, so you may fall into one of these categories: veterinary assistant, technician assistant, kennel staff, animal husbandry, or even “weekend help.” Be assured, this article is for YOU, and here are some thoughts about the pros and cons of the work you do.

First off, what is a veterinary assistant? The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) explains:

“While every position within the veterinary practice team is important, veterinary assistants play a pivotal role, literally … In the course of a single day, an assistant provides help to veterinarians and veterinary technicians, which in turn allows those team members to perform the tasks and responsibilities of their positions. The next minute, the assistant may be helping a client understand why having their pet's teeth cleaned is so important or providing a receptionist with a second set of hands at the front desk. Helping to fill scripts, keeping exams rooms cleaned and prepped, setting up lab work, helping with inventory, updating medical records, assisting with nursing care — there are more things that veterinary assistants do in a day than most people realize.”

Veterinary often fill several roles in the office according to Veterinary Practice News article, “How to Become a Veterinary Assistant.” They may:

  • Help administer medication to animals
  • Clean animals or their cages
  • Draw blood
  • Sterilize equipment
  • Clean an animal’s teeth
  • Do clerical work

Now on to the pros and cons.

Pro: You Get to Work With Animals

Yes, this is the biggest and best pro, and you are likely doing this job simply because you DO get to work with animals! Truth be told, that is why ALL of us are here in veterinary medicine, for the furry family members we get to work with every day. Most of us have loved animals our entire lives, and going into an animal-related field of work was just the most natural thing to do. So remember, any time that you feel down or frustrated on the job, grab you one of those furry patients and enjoy a little puppy breath or kitten cuddles.  It is, after all, the best part of the job!

Con: You Have to Work With People

Ah, yes, the things at the OTHER end of the leash! That would be the people, the family, the pet owner, the thing we may have wanted to AVOID and that was one of the drivers behind us getting a job in animal care. Well, you have got to learn to love them, or at least most of them, because you have to realize that you cannot get a hold of those furry family members, to do the healing and caring that you want to do, without consent of the non-furry person on the other end of the leash. While it is a con, and often the biggest one, you have to learn how to be okay with that part of the job.

Pro: You Get a Paycheck

Indeed, we work not just because we want to, but because from an economic standpoint, we have to. At some point in our lives, we have to learn to make a living of some sort, to support the financial responsibilities that come along with being adults. I know, I didn’t want to grow up either, but if we didn’t grow up we wouldn’t be able to drive a car and see R-rated movies! So yes, every two weeks, or twice monthly depending on your practice, you get a piece of paper signed by the boss that the bank lets you trade for monetary value. Not a bad deal at all.

Con: The Paycheck is Small

Well, okay, it may not be a TON of money, but it is money after all. Unfortunately, while I am quite certain that none of us entered animal care to get rich, it is true that most of the professions out there that care for others, whether it be people or animals, do not get paid a whole bunch. This makes a life in veterinary medicine difficult at times.  We have to set priorities, and decide do we want to work where our heart is happy, or where our bank account is happy. Some of this may depend on the stage of life you are currently in. Are you young and single?  Living at home still? Mom pays for the cell phone? Then maybe the paycheck is all you need. But are you married with kids on the way? Wanting to buy a house? Needing a new car? Would like to plan a vacation every so often? Well then you may have to really prioritize where you spend your little bundle of cash.  Most of us stay in veterinary medicine not because of the money, but in spite of it, so to speak.

So how much does a veterinary assistant actually make? According to Salary.com:

“The median annual Veterinary Assistant salary is $28,527 with a range usually between $22,985-$34,409. However, the salary for someone with the title Veterinary Assistant may vary depending on a number of factors including industry, company size, location, years of experience and level of education.”

Vet assistants have a variety of roles to play.

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A con of being a veterinary assistant: It doesn't pay that much. Salaries range from $22,985 to $34,409, according to Salary.com.

Pro: You Get to Wear Scrubs

The only thing better than wearing scrubs is wearing pajamas.  Even better yet, you could do like me and come home wearing scrubs after work, and change directly into pajamas for the rest of the day!  (That happens when the days get short like with the oncoming winter.) Just think of all the professions where you would have to dress up, that would require a suit, a tie, a jacket, pantyhose, high heels, etc. These clothes are not only uncomfortable, but expensive to purchase and keep clean! So at least our paycheck doesn’t get wasted at the dry cleaners every week. It is something to consider.

Con: You Get to Wear Poop, Anal Glands, Vomit, Etc.

Well, okay, in all honesty you do “wear” more than scrubs, now don’t you? You wear nearly every kind of bodily fluid that an animal can produce, often all at the same time.  This is why you keep an extra pair of scrubs at work, yes? So we wear dog fur and cat hair and unwelcome scents throughout the day. We can just throw them in the washer when we get home, and if you’re quick with the dryer, you don’t even have to iron!

Pro: You are Part of a Team

Admit it, you like being part of a team that is focused on one goal: Helping animals. We share our passion with those around us, knowing that we are all in this together, that we all want the same outcome. While some of us may tend to be loners in general, we feel good about being around people that understand our love of animals, and want to help us help them.

Con: The Team is Often Dysfunctional

Well, I didn’t say the team was functional, now did I? Unfortunately, we can have some interesting dynamics on our team.  When you put together people that maybe went into animal care because they did not LIKE people, and then you force them to work WITH people, well, frustrations can develop. Our work is stressful, it is either fast-paced or slow as molasses, and tensions can run high. We may have to put up with grouches and gossipers, and everything in between.  Just try to remember the Golden Rule, and treat others as you would like to be treated.  You’d be amazed how well that can work!

Becoming a veterinary assistant may be a stepping stone to become a veterinarian.

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Becoming a veterinary assistant may be a stepping stone to pursing a career in veterinary medicine.

Pro: You Get a Glimpse Of a Future Career

You may have entered into veterinary medicine as just a stepping stone on your way to somewhere else. Maybe you are still in school, and just needed a job on the weekends until you graduate. Maybe you are just not sure what you want to be when you grow up, and this job came along at the right time.  Maybe you are hoping to work into a different position there at the practice (such as a veterinary technician), and wanted to get your foot in the door while you could. Regardless, you’re here, and you just might decide to stay. The good news is, if you decide to make a career out of this, or at least for a while, you can now become certified through NAVTA.  There is a way to make your job title “official” in the profession, so consider that as you ponder your future.

Con: Your Dream Of Working in Vet Med May Dissolve

Or not. It is true that along the way, you may see enough about working in veterinary medicine that you decide to move along on a different career path.  In a way, that’s okay. At least you explored your options, you followed a lead or your heart to spend a while in the veterinary profession, and we were glad for the time you spent with us.  But if you stay, just know that it grabs you, it grips you, and it won’t let go. You may leave veterinary medicine someday, but it will never leave you … just saying, you will dream about your shifts at the practice long after you move down the road.  After all, we touched your heart in some small way while you were here — veterinary medicine has a way of doing that. Best of luck.

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