Veterinary Assistant Certificate Offers "Pawsome" Opportunity

Students in the veterinary assisting program receive hands-on training in a true-to-life clinical setting.
Rebecca A. Eckland

As millions of pet owners will tell you, there’s nothing quite like the unconditional love offered by a pet. Perhaps this is why 63.8% of American households have at least one dog or cat. According to recent statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association, this totals 76,811,305 dogs and 58,385,725 cats that cohabitate with human companions across all 50 states. Owning a fur-baby is nothing new, and perhaps these shared spaces have made you wonder: could I turn my love for animals into a career? 

According to Veterinary Nursing and Assisting faculty Erica Prucksakorn, Licensed Veterinary Technician (L.V.T.), this question is a common one, and is how many TMCC students have found their way into the TMCC Veterinary Nursing program and profession. And while a love of animals is a healthy prerequisite and predisposition to have, she warns it’s not enough to carry what can be a physically and emotionally demanding career. 

“There is a misconception that working as a Veterinary Nurse or a Veterinary Assistant is all about the puppies and kittens, but there is a lot more to this career than that,” said Prucksakorn, who explained that the role of a Veterinary Assistant is both vital and a great entry point for people who think they love animals enough to build a career around them... but who have never actually been a part of a veterinary office. 

“I was one of those students that had never been in veterinary medicine prior to becoming a student at TMCC,” she said. Once she started her journey she began working in the front office of a local veterinary practice, but soon found that the work in the back—the hands on work of a Veterinary Assistant—was what she was more interested in doing. 

As a Veterinary Assistant, Prucksakorn was the “right hand” help for both the Veterinary Nurses and the veterinarians themselves. “Veterinary Assistants are the go-to people in a clinic, and they are important in this field,” she said. “However, there is a disconnect with people not really knowing the difference between a Veterinary Assistant and a Veterinary Nurse and why both roles are important in veterinary medicine.” 

The distinction is important, too, as TMCC launches a new Veterinary Assistant Program alongside the two-year Associate of Applied Science in Veterinary Nursing. Aside from the length and number of credits required, what is the difference? 

What’s Veterinary Assisting Got to Do with It? 

According to Prucksakorn, there is no “rest” for a Veterinary Assistant: you are constantly on your feet and working with your hands. “You help set up surgeries and tear down surgeries. You keep the kennels clean, and have stocking tasks, cleaning tasks–that kind of thing,” Pruckaskorn explained. Depending on the clinic, Veterinary Assistants can also monitor anesthesia, and discharge patients that they had overseen. 

“Veterinary Assistants have a wide range of day-to-day responsibilities and expectations. It just depends on the clinic... everything a Veterinary Assistant does is under the direct supervision of a licensed Veterinary Nurse or licensed Veterinarian, depending on the task,” she said. 

Simply put: Veterinary Assistants assist in similar tasks to those performed by Veterinary Nurses, but because they are not licensed, the scope of the extent of tasks they can do is limited. 

And yet, for those students who want to see if their love of animals can also turn into a career, the Veterinary Assistant Program will enable them to get hands-on, real time experience without having to invest in a two-year degree program and licensure process. Instead, the Veterinary Assistant Program results in a Skills Certificate and can be completed in two semesters. The application for the first cohort will open on April 22 and is due July 1. 

Do YOU Have What it Takes? 

Prucksakorn, who has worked as a Veterinary Nurse for over a decade, said that there are a handful of traits that a successful Veterinary Assistant must have. “You need to have a really strong work ethic–that is so important,” she said. “It’s a lot of work on your feet. It’s a lot of physical handling, which can include restraining large animals. Not only do you have to have a love for animals, but more importantly, an understanding of animals. So, a sense of how to handle animals and how to read them is really important.”

You also have to have thick skin and handle your composure, even in the face of difficult situations. Just like a medical professional for human beings, Veterinary Assistants can face potentially traumatic situations when blood or strong smells can offer considerable challenges to help an animal in need of medical attention. 

“For students who are new to the veterinary field especially, one of the hardest things is dealing with the euthanasia part of it–and so having a positive outlook and attitude are always going to get you far in medicine, because the days can be challenging emotionally,” she said. “That’s why, above all else, work ethic, reliability, communication and passion are all vital to this career path.” 

Interested students will study the basics of this dynamic, hands-on career, learning the specific terminology of veterinary medicine, how to recognize body language and perform restraint, and basic tasks related to animal care.  These classes will be supported by hands-on clinical and lab experience at the Veterinary Programs clinical space located at the TMCC Meadowood Center. These recently renovated spaces offer students real-life clinical settings where hands-on work with animals will prepare them for the work they will do in a veterinary hospital. 

The certificate program offers students a unique opportunity to dip their toes in what could be a lifelong career in veterinary medicine. The certificate offers sufficient training to work in professional settings where you can truly see if this kind of work is what you want to do.  There is a pathway for Veterinary Assistant students if they wish to pursue Veterinary Nursing.

“I think the Veterinary Assisting Program is a really good stepping stone into the veterinary field at a nice pace. They aren’t throwing themselves into this and feeling overwhelmed and have all the responsibility of the Veterinary Nurse. It’s just a nice way to get your feet in the door, and to make sure it’s something you love and are passionate about,” she said. 

Because, bottom line: a Veterinary Assistant can make a vital difference in the life of both an animal and their human companion. “My favorite part of the job is when an animal comes in and they aren’t well and you do all the diagnostic testing to help figure out what is wrong with them… and then you can watch that animal go home and feel better. That is very rewarding.” 

For more information about TMCC’s new Skills Certificate Program in Veterinary Assisting, contact the department at 775-824-8660.