This year, BVNA are working on raising the profile of Veterinary Care Assistants (VCAs). Dependent on the setting, the VCA may currently be known by a variety of different names or job titles – but their role is vital in order to support vets and veterinary nurses to provide care to patients, and ensure the smooth running of the practice.

In this blog we hear from Jayden Boulton, a VCA currently working just outside Bristol. Jayden discusses the diverse role of the VCA, including the breadth of skills and knowledge required to provide such a supportive role within the veterinary team.

Are you a VCA looking for more support? As the professional representative for veterinary nursing, BVNA are here for you too! Join us so your voice can be heard – more information about our Associate membership package can be found here;

“My name is Jayden, and I live in a small town just North of Bristol. Since my early childhood, I have always had a keen interest in working with animals, and I knew it was the direction I wanted my career path to take.

After completing my animal care courses in college, and partaking in work experience, I managed to break into the veterinary industry. I have been in this line of work ever since, and I would not change it for the world.

Outside of work, I have a variety of pets keeping me on my toes including Nimbus the tarantula, Wilbur the guinea pig, and a large bunch of tropical fish.”

Whenever I meet somebody new, an inevitable subject always makes an appearance. Work. Of course, there is nothing wrong with asking a person what they do for work. I often find myself asking the same question when meeting others for the first time. It is a good conversation starter after all, and you may even find yourself connecting over the careers you have pursued. Still, I consistently receive the same response when I say that I am a veterinary care assistant (VCA); “Wow that is really cool, but what do you actually do?” My initial response usually involves me fumbling with my words to try and simplify a career that is anything but simple. In the end the best I can muster up is “I do so many things.”

Indeed, this answer does not provide the VCA job title with the representation that it truly deserves and, therefore, I am going to delve into much more detail in the hopes of shedding some light on a career that I not only love, but am proud to be a part of.

The cleaner

Love it or loath it, cleaning – and importantly, infection control – makes up a significant part of the VCA role. There is the typical mopping of floors after a procedure has taken place, or in the waiting room after that cute spaniel attempts to forever cement its scent into the ground. Floors, however, are only a small portion of the cleaning tasks that I undertake. After an operation has taken place, for example, comes a surgical kit and gown needing to be sterilised – unless you are fortunate enough to have disposable ones at your fingertips! Moreover, this is by no means limited to merely one kit or gown. It can be as many as three, four, or five depending on how many operations we have booked in on that day.

It is not just the equipment needing to be taken care of either, the entire room needs to be cleaned – and when you have had a rather bloody dental, I can assure you that this is by no means an easy task. Naturally animals are a constant presence within a veterinary practice, and any that have graced us with their presence results in a kennel needing to be thoroughly cleansed with disinfectant. This also includes the laundering of bedding, and scrubbing of bowls used for that particular patient. Furthermore, the cleaning becomes even more rigorous if we have an infectious patient stay with us.

Even when all of this has been completed, and our doors have closed to the public, my cleaning duties are far from over. After all, there are multiple consult rooms that need to be tidied up so that they may look presentable for when we open once more.

The setter upper

Whether you work in a small practice or a large veterinary hospital, at some point there will be something that inevitably needs to be set up, which can encompass a variety of things. For example, it can be the straightforward task of getting kennels ready. It can also entail a more complex endeavor, such as getting a particular piece of equipment like our ultrasound machine, or the preparation for any surgical procedures we have booked in.

When it comes to procedure preparation, this involves me going through a mental checklist to ensure everything is in order. Typically, my checklist has the following:

  • Are there blankets on the prep table?
  • Is the oxygen turned on and is there enough left in the cylinder?
  • What is the level of isoflurane in the chamber? Does this need a top up?
  • Is the scavenging system turned on?
  • Is the correct anesthetic circuit attached to the machine?
  • Is the equipment needed for catheterisation present? E.g. t-connector, saline flushes, bandage materials, tape, and the catheters themselves of course
  • Is the equipment needed for anesthetic induction in place?
  • Is the blood pressure machine charged and working correctly?
  • Are there plenty of GA forms available?

At this point you may be thinking, is that not something the veterinary nurses should be doing? While there is a certain amount of crossover between a VCA and a veterinary nurse, they are still their own job titles in their own right. For example, as a VCA there are tasks that I legally cannot do, such as placing an intravenous catheter, or taking a blood sample from a patient. Veterinary nurses, however, are allowed and trained to do this. Veterinary nurses undertake the tasks I previously mentioned too – but by VCAs relieving them of some of these tasks, we provide them with extra support, and make their already hectic work lives that little bit easier.

Whilst I did say I am unable to obtain blood samples from patients for legal reasons, I can prepare for them – and this is a task I carry out on a daily basis. Moreover, I can also run these samples in our laboratory machines, which is something I not only enjoy doing, but also find rather interesting.

Setting up is such a vital task that VCAs frequently find themselves doing as it can not only make a huge difference to the animals they care for, but their colleagues too.

The animal handler

Being able to handle animals is definitely my favourite part of being a VCA, and I imagine that other VCAs feel the same way. As much as I would love to tell you that I get to hold adorable puppies and kittens every hour of the day, this is unfortunately not a reality. Of course, we do see plenty of them in my practice – which is normally for their first vaccinations, or to have a microchip implanted – and it is only fair that this comes with a healthy dose of cuddles here and there too.

There are also, however, sad moments when it comes to handling animals, and this is when they have to be put to sleep. I have restrained many animals for this and believe me, it never gets any easier. I feel I should mention that I am always cautious when using the word “restraint” whenever speaking to those who aren’t in the veterinary industry and, therefore, do not possess the same amount of knowledge of what actually happens. To an outsider it probably sounds awful and conjures up images of multiple veterinary staff pinning down a helpless animal like a WWE wrestling match. I can assure you that this is not the case.

On a lighter note, I am frequently hunted down in order to hold animals whilst they are having their anal glands expressed. Yes, I have been sprayed numerous times with the rather pleasant aroma it emanates. Trust me, it is not a scent you will forget in a hurry! Claw clips are also a regular endeavor. I normally assist by restraining the animal whilst this is being carried out, but occasionally I have been the one to do the clipping.

A personal favourite of mine when it comes to handling, however, is when a blood sample is required. I promise this is not because I am a member of a secret vampire society! I simply get a huge sense of satisfaction when the process goes smoothly, and the patient is kept as relaxed as possible in an understandably rather uncomfortable moment for them.

There are many other reasons for needing to handle patients, and I could write an entire article on this alone. From simply needing to move them from one location to another, for when an I/V catheter needs to be placed, or when they decide to have a poo explosion in their kennel. Needless to say, there is never a dull moment.

The receptionist

While this is personally not the case for me, many VCAs will tell you that they began their career in the veterinary industry as a receptionist. Indeed, it is a great way to, literally, get your foot in the door and begin your steps of progression. If that is what you wish to do, of course.

When carrying out reception duties, it is usually to help with answering phone calls, and this can lead to an array of conversations. It could be to book an appointment, put up a prescription request, or help an owner who is calling in an emergency situation. Emergency phone calls are the most challenging to deal with as you often have a very distressed owner on the other end of the line, and this can make it much more difficult to get the necessary information needed to give that animal the best possible care. Through gaining more experience in these situations, I have learnt that staying calm is imperative. I appreciate, however, that this is far easier said than done.

Along with helping to take calls, I also carry out general admin tasks, and am responsible for creating displays to go onto our waiting room noticeboards. It probably comes as little surprise that the displays are what I truly revel in, as knowing I have helped educated owners provides me with a real sense of achievement.

A vital cog in the veterinary practice machine

As you have probably gathered by now, VCAs are a vital support system to the practice. While we are often only seen as a tiny cog in a very large machine, it would not be possible for that machine to function without us. It would simply fall to pieces. Having said this, I would be lying if I said I did not feel like I had no importance at times. This is often reinforced by the fact that it is the vets who normally receive the majority of praise from clients.

Whenever I feel this way, however, I think back to the machine analogy in order to remind myself that I am very much needed. In fact, everyone in the practice is crucial to ensure everything runs smoothly. If not for the receptionists, there would be no appointments. If not for the vets, animals could not receive vital treatment. If not for the veterinary nurses, there would be nobody to monitor a patient’s anaesthetic. If not for the cleaner, the practice would look and be unhygienic.

As cringey as this may sound, teamwork really does make the dream work.

Thank you to Jayden for sharing his career story. If you’re a VCA and you’re passionate about showcasing the VCA role, we’d love to hear from you to get involved in our campaign. This could include taking part in online discussion panels, writing brief articles, or producing other resources to raise awareness of the VCA role – or any other ideas you may have of your own!

For more information, get in touch with us at