How to Become a Certified Veterinary Assistant

Cynthia loved being a stay-at-home mom to her three girls. However, after her divorce, she had to find a job and felt lucky to become a part-time receptionist for a local vet.

After three years, however, she discovered how much she loved animals and longed to do hands-on work caring for them. She asked her employer how to go about it and found out she’d need to go to school to be come certified to assist the veterinarians in the practice.

A veterinary assistant is term that includes both veterinary technologists and veterinary technicians. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, becoming a veterinary technician usually requires a two-year training program. Training for veterinary technologists typically takes four years. Some programs use the occupational titles interchangeably. The future employment outlook is good.

Steps to Certification

To obtain certification in the United States, students must graduate from one of the training programs accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). This organization is a not-for-profit association established in 1863. It represents more than 80,000 veterinarians in private, government, and corporate practice.

The AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities is the accrediting arm of the association. Of the 160 U.S. programs that are currently accredited, 20 offer a 4-year degree. The rest have two-year programs.

One of the trends in veterinary assistant training programs is the availability of distance education for at least some of the curriculum. Nine accredited AVMA programs offer distance learning. The AVMA site offers a drop-down menu to locate all accredited programs by state. However, there are currently no AVMA accredited veterinary assistance programs in Alaska, Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, and Rhode Island.


Many of the accredited programs are offered by community colleges. These two-year schools typically award their graduates an associate’s degree.

In addition to courses in clinical practice, hospital management, and client relations, students must complete core courses common to all associate’s degrees at the institution. One of the largest programs is the A.A.S. degree in Veterinary Technology offered by Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC).

Students must complete a total of 69 semester-hour credits to graduate. Their coursework includes a mixture of basics such as college composition and social science and career training. Typical career courses are offerings like Animal Breeds and Behavior and several Clinical Pathology courses. They must also complete an internship. To be accepted into this competitive program, students must demonstrate specified computer competencies.

The college also offers an online option to complete the A.A.S. program. However, it’s limited to students who are already working in a veterinary practice.

NVCC reports that virtually all veterinary technology programs such as theirs have limited enrollment. Despite strict enrollment guidelines, most programs have an attrition rate of around 27 percent the first year and 12 percent in the second.

AVMA accreditation assures that graduates from approved programs should be able to pass the National Board Exam and be ready for employment. NVCC indicates that 40 states regulate this progression by issuing licenses, certification or registration after graduates pass the national or state board examinations. In some states, successfully passing at both the national and state levels is required.


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