Just because you have seen every episode of Swamp People or know more about calling ducks that the guys on Duck Dynasty doesn’t mean that you would be a good veterinary assistant. True, it is helpful to have a background dealing with animals, but there are many other considerations when deciding to adopt veterinary assistance as your career.
Veterinary assistants are organized, logical and good with people. Since they work primarily with owners rather than pets, good communication skills are essential. Many veterinary assistants help clean and organize around the veterinary office, often preparing surgical areas, mopping up after pets and filing important paperwork. In addition, the best veterinary assistants have a knack for learning veterinary terminology and dealing with insurance companies.
Although veterinary assistants are sometimes involved in advanced medical procedures, they are not required by any states to have a license or a particular certification. Still, many employers prefer an assistant that has completed a certificate or associate’s degree program approved by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). Upon completing these 3-12 month programs, students may sit for the Veterinary Assistant National Exam. At this point, the title of Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) may be conferred on them. This nationally-recognized vet assistant certification can be an asset when competing for high-paying jobs.
Requirements for Veterinary Assistant Certification
The requirements for a veterinary assistant certification are almost identical from state to state. Since the field has just recently begun to move towards standardizing the education of veterinary assistants, most of the certification guidelines are maintained by NAVTA. Although there are some exceptions, in states like California and Texas for example, in most states adhering to these guidelines is the only way to obtain a veterinary assistant certification.
The first main criterion is education. Only programs that meet the NATVA requirements allow students to be eligible for a veterinarian assistant certification. Students must complete a minimum of 150 contact hours by the time they complete their training, including significant hands-on experiences in veterinary labs. They must also have exposure to both large and small animals, as well as clearly defined goals and assessments that show their progress in working with these animals. Finally, licensed veterinary technicians or veterinarians must teach all the courses.
The second key ingredient to obtaining a vet assistant certification is taking and passing the national exam. Most states require a passing score on the Approved Veterinary Assistant Examination (AVA) as an element to be a certified veterinary assistant. The test consists of 100 questions to be completed in 150 minutes. Students passing with 75% or better are considered Approved Veterinary Assistants (AVA). This designation, along with an NATVA-approved education program meet the requirements for certification in most states.
There are some exceptions to this rule. The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) offers an alternative certification program to the AVA designation. Through their Certified Veterinary Assistant (CVA) program, students are held to a much higher standard than the NATVA program. Requirements include 600 hours of hands-on training, a California-based mentor veterinary technician or veterinarian and a 100-question certification exam. The Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA) has less stringent of requirements for their CVA program, including a 90-day work experience with a qualified vet tech or veterinarian and a 70% passing score on their certification exam. It may be possible to complete these state-level exams and get the same benefits as completing the NATVA vet assistant certification process. Similarly, the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) provides an alternative to the AVA designation. Students must complete 90 days of work experience under the supervision of a veterinarian or registered veterinary technician and must show 100% competency in the required skill sets to pass the certifying exam.
Value of Certification & Specializations
Because veterinary assistance does not require a certification or in-depth training, the job market is full of vet assistants who have only a high school degree. Choosing to become nationally or locally certified can be an excellent way to advance in this career field. Not only can it allow you to get a better-paying veterinary assistant job, but many of these certifications can be used towards a veterinary technician degree.
Although working in a veterinary office without additional training will expose you to many of the important lessons to be learned about veterinary assistance, continuing education allows for higher-paying jobs and more opportunities. For example, the highest paying positions are usually found in state and city animal shelters and control centers. To remain competitive for these jobs, it is wise to have additional certification and specializations.
Unfortunately, for veterinary assistants, there are not many specializations to choose from. If you attend a NAVTA-approved veterinary training program, you might be able to specialize in large or small animals. Some schools offer specializations in veterinary management or veterinary clerical work rather than the more general veterinary assistant certification program.
Veterinary Assistant Licensing Boards
Although individual bodies certify vet assistants, at this time there are no required licenses to work as a veterinary assistant. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) identifies programs that meet their requirements and offers an evaluation exam for those interested in being certified as an Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA). The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA), the Texas Medical Veterinary Association (TMVA) and the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) provide similar education and assessment before conferring the Certified Veterinary Assistant (CVA) designation.
Of all of these certifying bodies, NAVTA is the most widely recognized and valuable. Once students have passed the Approved Veterinary Assistant Examination (AVA), their education and skills are at a nationally-recognized level. This makes them much more competitive for the highest-paying veterinary assistant jobs.