Laboratory Animal Caretakers
Schools and Education
|Recommended Degree Level||Certificate or Higher|
|Number of Jobs, 2012||71,500|
|Annual Job Growth Rate||2.8%|
|Job Openings per Year (est.)||2,160|
What's needed: A veterinary assistant generally must hold a high school diploma or its equivalent. Most employers do not require veterinary assistants to obtain any further diplomas or degrees. In fact, most aspiring assistants are trained on the job. However, aspiring vet assistants who hold certain certifications may have greater access to employment opportunities and command significant salary premiums. Those with post-secondary degrees or other relevant experience may enjoy similar advantages.
What you study:
Your on-the-job training will likely include the following areas of instruction:
- Basic veterinary pharmacology
- Basic veterinary anatomy
- Confinement cleaning protocols
- Equipment sterilization protocols
- Hazardous material handling protocols
- Feeding, transport and safety procedures
Shows a brief overview of what veterinarian assistants do. Created for the US Dept. of Labor.
A Day in the Life
When you arrive at work for the day, you'll greet the animals in your work area and get down to the day's business. Although you'll be supervised by a licensed veterinarian for most of the day, you'll perform several procedures that require moderate amounts of skill and dexterity.
These might include disinfecting and cleaning cages or holding pens in preparation for new arrivals, cleaning and sterilizing surgical equipment, and administering food and water to your "inpatients." You may also need to take basic samples of blood, feces or urine and administer injections of medicines and immunizations to the animals at your facility. Depending upon where you work, you'll deal with dogs and cats as well as novel animals like birds, rodents and even livestock.
If it's a special day, you may come into contact with a wild animal that has become lost or injured. Many veterinary offices and laboratories are specially equipped to receive and care for wayward deer, coyotes, foxes and raptors. Few things are more rewarding than nursing a fawn, hawk or other adorable animal back to health and re-releasing it back into the wild.
Unfortunately, not every day will be a joyous one. On any given day, you may have to help administer euthanasia drugs or watch as an injured or sick animal succumbs to its condition. If you work in a research laboratory, you'll regularly encounter animals with terminal ailments and other disturbing conditions. When you're faced with such a situation, you'll need to maintain your composure and keep your emotions in check without compromising your natural capacity for compassion.
It's important to remember that vet assistants and laboratory animal caretakers must demonstrate certain distinctive personal qualities. Your experience as a veterinary worker will be far richer and more rewarding if you exhibit compassion, empathy and strong communication skills. By demonstrating your fondness and respect for diverse members of the animal kingdom, you'll touch the lives of the animals under your care and bring joy and comfort to their owners and trainers. You'll also be able to provide emotional support for the grieving owners of dying or deceased animals.
Certifications and Licensing
No formal certification or licensing is required for most veterinary assistant jobs. This is especially true for positions in private veterinary practices and other non-institutional settings. On the other hand, aspiring laboratory animal caretakers who wish to work in formal research settings may need to obtain specific certifications. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science issues three cumulative certificates:
- Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician
- Laboratory Animal Technician
- Laboratory Animal Technologist
The AALAS proctors exams for each respective certification. In order to obtain each certificate, a veterinary assistant with prior practical experience must pass the appropriate exam. In addition, certified laboratory animal caretakers may find it easier to transition into employment as full-blown veterinary technicians. Since many veterinary assistants ultimately pursue this career track, these three certificates are perennially in high demand.
Full-time versus part-time:
Although most work part-time and are paid on an hourly basis, veterinary assistants do not have "easy" jobs. Even though the bulk of veterinary assistants' job duties are performed during normal weekday business hours, assistants must also be on hand at all times to assist with inpatient animals. As such, these workers can expect to log several weekend and overnight shifts per month.
Virtually all veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers work on-site. Five in six workers are employed by veterinary practices and animal hospitals. Many of these workers are on the clock for between 25 and 40 hours per week.
These websites should prove helpful for aspiring veterinary assistants who wish to learn more about career options in the field.
- National Association of Veterinary Assistants in America -- NAVTA offers a succinct primer on veterinary assistants' job duties, education requirements and salary ranges. The trade organization also provides resume-building advice and up-to-date national job postings for aspiring vet assistants.
- National Institutes of Health -- As a major employer of laboratory animal caretakers in its research facilities, the National Institutes of Health maintains a comprehensive fact sheet on career opportunities in the field. It contains information about laboratory animal caretakers' earnings, job duties, education requirements and desirable personality qualities. This primer's outline of the skills necessary to thrive in a laboratory environment is especially illustrative.
- American Veterinary Medical Association -- This organization offers a comprehensive outline of the training requirements, job duties and industry outlook for veterinary assistants and other veterinary specialists. As a leading veterinary trade organization, it also features a comprehensive job-search feature as well as resume-building and interview advice for prospective veterinary assistants.
- U.S. Department of Labor -- This official government resource can serve as an excellent starting point for those who wish to learn more about becoming a veterinary assistant. It contains step-by-step instructions on obtaining proper training and provides detailed salary and job growth data. Unfortunately, the Department of Labor currently does not post active job listings on its site.