Veterinarian Assistant Training Programs and Requirements

Veterinarian assistants work with veterinarians and help them with a variety of tasks. Assistants may be referred to as veterinary technicians or veterinary technologists. Although veterinary technicians perform many of the same duties veterinary technologists do, technologists may have completed additional training and be qualified for more advanced positions.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

Most veterinarians require that assistants hold at least an associate's degree in veterinary technology from an accredited community college or technical school. Associate's-level programs generally take two years or less to complete. Some students, particularly those interested in veterinary technologist positions, may choose to complete a 4-year bachelor's degree program in the field.

All states require prospective veterinarian assistants to pass an examination before seeking employment. This exam may result in a license, certification or registration; the exact credential varies by state.

On-the-job training is common for new veterinarian assistants, who may be hired as trainees. The length of the trainee period varies depending on the candidate's previous experience and education.

Formal Education

Students interested in becoming a veterinarian assistant usually begin their training by enrolling in an associate's degree program in veterinary technology. Additional education at the bachelor's level is recommended for students who wish to pursue a more advanced career in the field. At both the 2-year and 4-year level, it's important that the degree program be accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA); the AVMA accredited approximately 160 programs in 2009.

Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology

An Associate of Science degree program in veterinary technology is a 2-year undergraduate program that 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.

Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Technology

The Bachelor of Science degree in veterinary technology is earned through a 4-year undergraduate degree program. 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.

Job Experience

Many degree programs in veterinary technology offer students the chance to take part in hands-on lab work at a local clinic. Some programs may provide students with summer internship opportunities as well. These experiences may prove useful when applying for positions at a veterinary office, and a newly hired veterinary technician or technologist with ample clinical experience may require a shorter trainee period. Most veterinarians expect their assistants to have at least some practical experience treating animals before applying for a position.

Licenses and Certification

Although the process may differ by state, all states require veterinary technicians and technologists to be credentialed in some fashion. The credentialing process usually includes passing written, oral and practical portions of an exam. Many states use the National Veterinary Technician (NVT) exam.

Workshops and Seminars

Workshops may be available to students who are interested in veterinary technology and would like to know more about the field. Other courses and seminars may be available to veterinarian assistants 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.

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