Staff members at your dog’s veterinary office may handle everything from checking your dog in, to collecting your dog’s vital statistics, to evaluating your pup’s health, to cleaning the kennel if your dog stays overnight. While the roles can vary depending on the size or location of the practice, it helps to have an understanding of whom you might encounter on a typical veterinary visit.
Dr. Karen O’Connor, who recently opened her Coastal Georgia Veterinary Care practice in Richmond Hill, Ga., and Jessie Merritt, practice manager for Oswego Veterinary Hospital in Lake Oswego, Ore., explain the following roles:
Receptionist or Client Service Coordinator
“When you come in the front door, the first person you meet is one of the client service coordinators,” says O’Connor. Expect this staff member to welcome you, update your personal information (like your phone number and address), and to direct you to either relax in the lobby or wait in an exam room, if possible. A client service person might also weigh your dog.
Veterinary Assistant or Veterinary Technician
O’Connor considers her assistants to be similar to nurses or nursing assistants in a human practice. They’re the lifeblood of many practices, serving multiple roles. “The nurses function as a filter. They’ll get a lot of basic information, get a preliminary exam, come in the back and present the case to me,” says O’Connor. “I’ve been in practices where I feel they’re underutilized. Here, I’m working these guys to the bone. They’re having a much more enjoyable experience; they’re learning medicine.”
So, what’s the difference between a veterinary assistant and a veterinary technician? A veterinary technician has typically attended a school accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association and has passed the Veterinary Technician National Examination, says Merritt. “These individuals invested time and financial resources to receive a level of training that enables them to perform procedures unlicensed veterinary assistants are unable to legally perform,” she explains. Those functions vary from state to state and might involve such work as taking blood or X-rays.
Veterinary assistants typically train on the job and often may receive additional training through conferences or other classes, says Merritt.
Your dog’s doctor will usually take information from an assistant or technician, then talk to you about your concerns in the exam room. He or she will conduct a thorough physical exam of your pooch, then administer necessary treatments or order needed tests or procedures. Veterinarians must hold a degree in veterinary medicine and a license to practice. The competition is stiff to become a veterinarian, says O’Connor, since there are only 28 veterinary schools in the United States.
Kennel Assistants and Volunteers
These workers usually keep the kennels clean, walk dogs and help with other necessary, routine tasks.
An office manager may manage front-desk personnel, handling their scheduling and other paperwork.
A licensed veterinary practice manager will oversee the clinic’s operation. “I am a certified veterinary practice manager, which means I had to meet specific and extended requirements involving length of experience, routine duties and education, and then I sat for the CVPM exam and passed,” says Merritt. Merritt’s wide-ranging role includes human resources, business organization, labor law, marketing, accounting and internal controls, policy and procedure implementation, hiring and termination, and even team-building exercises.
Utilizing managers to handle operations frees veterinarians to focus on your dog’s care, explains O’Connor.
The Veterinary Career Path
If you think you might be interested in a vet-related career path, both O’Connor and Merritt agree it’s best to gain some hands-on experience first. Working as a volunteer or kennel assistant lets you see the inner workings of a practice and can help you decide if you want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.