Career in veterinary medicine offers a variety of options

By Melanie Caviness

For the Reporter

I am often asked about careers in veterinary medicine. It takes a well trained team of people to provide quality veterinary care and there are many career paths available. The doctors at any veterinary facility rely strongly on their support staff to deliver care to their patients and educate the pet owners.

Many people want to become a veterinarian. The requirements for earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree can be found at the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine Web site,

In a nutshell, high school students should focus on math and science classes. In college it usually takes 2-4 years to achieve the requirements to apply to vet school. Once admitted, the course work takes four years to complete the DVM degree. The average grade point average for successful applicants in 2007 was 3.77, so applicants earned very high grades in their undergraduate work.

For people who may not want to spend as much time and money earning a DVM degree, another option is to earn a degree in veterinary technology and become a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT). Pierce College and Yakima Valley Community College both offer two year degree programs. Both have great Web sites for more detailed information on pre requisites and course work. LVTs are the RNs of the veterinary medical community. They help the doctors provide care for the hospitalized and surgical patients, perform dental cleanings, perform lab testing, educate clients on their pet’s care and more.

Another level of nursing care in animal hospitals is the veterinary assistant. Veterinary assistants do not have licenses. There are training courses for veterinary assistants, but most assistants are trained in the hospitals or clinics where they work. Assistants are not legally allowed to perform as many tasks as LVTs. Some smaller facilities may not have LVTs and the assistants are the main care provider in the hospital, leaving the veterinarian solely responsible for procedures the assistant cannot legally provide, such as anesthesia. Many assistants will go on to become LVTs. The differences between what LVTs and assistants can perform is detailed in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 246-946-050, which is available on line.

Yet another position in an animal hospital is kennel assistant. This is the entry level position and a good place for people considering pursuing a career in animal care to get their feet wet. Most of the time, the kennel assistant is a younger person, such as a high school student. This isn’t a glamorous job. Kennel assistants have the important job of keeping the hospital and the patients clean and comfortable. Many kennel assistants are also trained in some veterinary assistant duties.

Up to this point I have been discussing the positions that relate to medical and patient care. Another very important job description in any animal hospital is the front staff. Receptionists or client service representatives are the front line of an animal hospital; they are answering the phones, communicating with the clients, making appointments and charging out clients at the end of their visit to the animal hospital. They need excellent communication skills, basic understanding of medical information and most of all, compassion and understanding to help people who call get the appropriate care for their pets.

No one job is more important than the other in a well functioning clinic. Everyone has an important part in the delivery of care to the patients and the pet owners. Different jobs have different levels of contact with animals. I have often heard people say, “I want to be a veterinarian, because I don’t like dealing with people.” Well, general practice isn’t the way to go for that person, because most of what we do is communicating with the pet owners and helping them make the best decisions for their pet’s health care. And there are huge ups and downs in the day of animal hospital personnel, and there are times that are very happy but also times that can be very sad. I have to say, after 20 years of practice I still love what I do and think any career in animal care can be rewarding and fulfilling.

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or comments, You can also check out my Web site for previous articles,