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Medical Technician Assistant
Significant Points

This series includes all classes of positions the duties of that are to supervise and perform technical work which is subordinate to professional work in medicine and dentistry, in penal and correctional institutions.

Organization of the Medical Service of the Bureau of Prisons

The medical care activities are administered by the Medical Director of the Bureau of Prisons. The personnel responsible for carrying out the medical care services in the Federal penal and correctional institutions are Public Health Service employees.

The size and composition of the medical staffs vary with the size and special requirements of each institution. At one institution the medical staff may consist of the chief medical officer, other medical officers, consultants, dentists, psychologists, and medical technical assistants. At another institution the medical staff may consist of only a part-time medical officer or consultant and one or more medical technical assistants.

At the larger institutions, one or more medical technical assistants may be assigned to each of three shifts. Medical officers are usually on duty from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but are available for emergencies on a 24-hour basis. In cases where 24-hour nursing care is required, medical technical assistants are assigned to provide the service. Inmate help is utilized to provide the nursing care required during the night, except for the administration of narcotic and certain sedative drugs.

Inmates are trained at the institution by medical technical assistants to perform regular nursing functions, and to assist with or perform laboratory, x-ray, pharmacy, dental, and physical therapy functions. They are also trained in record-keeping.

At the smaller institutions, the plans of operation must be adjusted to provide the maximum medical care with a limited number of professional and nonprofessional medical personnel.

It is necessary for medical technical assistants to be capable of caring for emergencies until the services of medical officers can be obtained, and to exercise good judgment as to when a medical officer should be called.

Medical technical assistants are usually assigned to rotating shifts and to all services or departments within the medical care facility auxiliary to the work of the medical and dental officers. This description of functions is not intended to reflect the grade-level of work performed in each specialization, nor is it intended to be all-inclusive. Specific grade-level information must be obtained from the classification standards covering each specialization.

Medical technical assistants play an important role in maintaining continuity of medical service in penal institutions. (This is especially true at the smaller institutions where part-time or only one medical officer is assigned.) The assignments of medical officers are usually changed at least every two years, while the assignments of assistants remain stable. Assistants also help to orient newly assigned medical officers to the peculiarities of the medical service that must be provided by penal institutions.

Medical Care Procedures

Inmates, on arrival at an institution, are retained in a special admission and orientation unit, usually for 30 days, and are given a complete physical examination and inoculations for smallpox, typhoid fever, tetanus, and, for youthful offenders, polio. During this special retention period, the presence of any communicable diseases is detected and psychological tests and psychiatric, social, and other interviews are conducted for classification purposes. The medical technical assistants make a preliminary inspection which is later followed by complete physical examinations, including tests, by medical officers.

Sick lines are usually conducted once a day, while emergencies must be cared for as they arise. Medical technical assistants arrange for scheduling the hospitalization of patients for diagnosis, treatment, or surgical procedures, as directed by the medical officer. After physical examination of the inmates by the medical officer, medical technical assistants advise custodial staffs as to work details and recreation for each patient. Because of the monotony of life in penal and correctional institutions, a large number of inmates report for medical attention when there is no actual condition present which warrants attention, i.e., symptoms and complexes which are caused by emotional problems arising from incarceration. It is impracticable for a medical officer to examine every inmate reporting at sick call. The preliminary screening of the inmates requiring medical attention from those who are feigning illness is one of the most important and most difficult and responsible elements in the medical technical assistant positions.

I. General medical duties:

As assistants to the medical officers and under their supervision medical technical assistants perform a wide variety of general medical duties, of which the following are representative but not all-inclusive examples. These duties are performed throughout the medical facility. Medical technical assistants interview to obtain medical history, and make preliminary screening examinations of new inmates and those reporting to sick line. They perform such tasks as taking blood pressure and temperature; checking eyes, ears, nose, and throats for gross abnormalities and inspecting for the presence of vermin, venereal disease, and other conditions which are obvious. They appraise the reported symptoms, and classify conditions, discriminating between those which are indicative of an emergency or serious nature and those which are chronic.

Medical technical assistants determine, from conditions found, whether patients should be referred to medical officers, hospitalized for observation and treatment, given minor treatment, excused from work detail, or returned to full duty. Cases which show characteristics of an emergency or serious nature are given emergency treatment, and are referred to medical officers or are hospitalized until such time as medical officers are available.

Under the supervision of the medical officer medical technical assistants administer required inoculations, and they treat less serious conditions such as colds, gastric ailments, various infections, bruises, cuts, sprains, and burns. They treat emergencies, making necessary decisions, as they arise. Medical technical assistants conduct follow-up interviews to obtain information from inmates on background and environment, and assist psychologists and medical officers in conducting psychological tests.

Medical technical assistants supervise inmate workers in the cleaning of the outpatient facility, storing of supplies, sterilizing of instruments, and maintaining records.

II. Nursing:

Medical technical assistants personally perform, and train and supervise inmates in the performance of, the following duties:

General ward duties. -- This includes taking and charting temperature, pulse, and respiration; bathing patients; administering prescribed treatments; changing dressings and assisting medical officers in applying dressings; setting up surgical charts; providing pre- and post-operative care of patients in accordance with the procedures outlined; observing patients symptoms and reactions; ordering diets for patients; making beds; cleaning facilities; and caring for and sterilizing instruments. Medical technical assistants conduct inspections at intervals during each tour of duty to determine that inmate workers are carrying out functions in accordance with instructions, and make required daily reports.

Operating room duties. -- This includes cleaning and sterilization of instruments, equipment, and supplies such as linens, binders, and bandages; preparation of major and minor packs; preparation of solutions for sterilization; cleaning of operating rooms and equipment; assisting surgeons in preparation for operations; preparing and positioning patients for surgery; and following through on post-operative care of patients. Medical technical assistants issue instructions on the special preparation to be made of patients as required by the surgeon, and check supplies and equipment to determine that all required items are available in sufficient quantity.

III. Physical therapy duties:

Medical technical assistants personally perform, and train and supervise inmates in, administration of infrared, ultraviolet, hydrotherapy, massage, and other treatments in accordance with instructions or at the determination of the incumbents on the basis of interviews with patients to determine their needs.

IV. Medical laboratory duties:

Medical technical assistants personally perform, and train and supervise inmates in, urinalyses, blood tests such as blood counts, gastric analyses, icteric index, bacteria count, urethral smears, sputum and stool examinations, spinal fluid cell counts, blood chemistries, and other tests. They train inmates in the proper precautions to take in making such tests and standard procedures to use, and in keeping equipment and facilities clean, sterile, and in good operating condition.

V. Medical radiology duties:

Medical technical assistants personally perform, and train and supervise inmates in performing, x-rays of various parts of the body as requested by medical officers or as deemed necessary, depending upon the nature of symptoms. For example, if a medical technical assistant believes that a patient may have suffered a fracture, he will take or order an x-ray. They position and instruct patients, determine times of exposures and other technical factors, exercise caution to protect patients and technician trainees from radiation hazards, operate machines, develop film, examine films for evidence of gross abnormalities, maintain records, and keep equipment and facilities clean and in order. They may prepare patients for, and assist medical officers in the performance of, fluoroscopic examinations.

VI. Electrocardiography duties:

Medical technical assistants personally perform, and train and supervise inmates in performing, electrocardiographic examinations by instructing patients, attaching electrodes, calibrating and operating equipment, eliminating artifacts, making preliminary readings, processing tracings, maintaining records, and keeping equipment and facilities clean and in order.

VII. Pharmacy duties:

Medical technical assistants compound certain medications and medicinal preparations in accordance with standard pharmaceutical practice; prepare solutions, ointments, emulsions, etc.; and dispense standard biologicals, analgesic drugs, sedative drugs, poisons, and other preparations at the direction of the medical officers. Narcotics are dispensed only by order of a medical officer. They train and supervise inmates in performing such functions as the preparation of certain standard solutions, ointments, emulsions, etc.; cleaning and sterilization of equipment and facilities; and maintenance of records.

VIII. Dental duties:

Medical technical assistants personally perform, and train and supervise inmates in, keeping equipment and facilities clean and sterilized, keeping records, and in the performance of the following duties:

A. When dental officers are on duty, assistants or inmates seat and prepare patients, provide required instruments, prepare fillings, sterilize instruments, take and develop x-rays of the mouth and teeth, and otherwise assist dental officers.

B. When dental officers are not on duty, assistants and inmate helpers scale, clean, and polish teeth; give emergency care for abnormal gum conditions (e.g., gingivitis, pyorrhea, and Vincent's infection), and for the control of pain; and administer routine post-operative care as ordered.

C. Assistants or inmate helpers may perform work in construction or repair of dental prosthetic appliances.

IX. Administrative duties:

Chief medical technical assistants perform functions necessary for the administration of the medical facility. These duties include, but are not restricted to, the following: procurement of equipment and supplies, preparation of budgets, participation in meetings in which progress of inmate workers is discussed, composing medical and administrative correspondence, etc.

Medical Technical Assistant, GS-0650-06

Incumbents of positions in this class (1) are responsible for performance and supervision of nursing and two other specializations described under "Medical Care Procedures" above; and (2) are receiving training in one or more of the other specializations so described.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Veterinarians must obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and a State license. Admission to veterinary school is competitive.

Education and training. Prospective veterinarians must graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree from a 4-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. There are 28 colleges in 26 States that meet accreditation standards set by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

The prerequisites for admission to veterinary programs vary. Many programs do not require a bachelor's degree for entrance, but all require a significant number of credit hours—ranging from 45 to 90 semester hours—at the undergraduate level. However, most of the students admitted have completed an undergraduate program and earned a bachelor's degree. Applicants without a degree face a difficult task in gaining admittance.

Preveterinary courses should emphasize the sciences. Veterinary medical colleges typically require applicants to have taken classes in organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, general biology, animal biology, animal nutrition, genetics, vertebrate embryology, cellular biology, microbiology, zoology, and systemic physiology. Some programs require calculus; some require only statistics, college algebra and trigonometry, or pre-calculus. Most veterinary medical colleges also require some courses in English or literature, other humanities, and the social sciences. Increasingly, courses in general business management and career development have become a standard part of the curriculum to teach new graduates how to effectively run a practice.

In addition to satisfying preveterinary course requirements, applicants must submit test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), depending on the preference of the college to which they are applying. Currently, 22 schools require the GRE, 4 require the VCAT, and 2 accept the MCAT.

Admission to veterinary school is competitive. The number of accredited veterinary colleges has remained largely the same since 1983, but the number of applicants has risen significantly. Only about 1 in 3 applicants was accepted in 2007.

New graduates with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree may begin to practice veterinary medicine once they receive their license, but many new graduates choose to enter a 1-year internship. Interns receive a small salary but often find that their internship experience leads to better paying opportunities later, relative to those of other veterinarians. Veterinarians who then seek board certification also must complete a 3-year to 4-year residency program that provides intensive training in one of the 39 AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties including internal medicine, oncology, pathology, dentistry, nutrition, radiology, surgery, dermatology, anesthesiology, neurology, cardiology, ophthalmology, preventive medicine, and exotic-small-animal medicine.

Licensure. All States and the District of Columbia require that veterinarians be licensed before they can practice. The only exemptions are for veterinarians working for some Federal agencies and some State governments. Licensing is controlled by the States and is not uniform, although all States require the successful completion of the D.V.M. degree—or equivalent education—and a passing grade on a national board examination, the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. This 8-hour examination consists of 360 multiple-choice questions covering all aspects of veterinary medicine as well as visual materials designed to test diagnostic skills.

The Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates grants certification to individuals trained outside the United States who demonstrate that they meet specified requirements for English language and clinical proficiency. This certification fulfills the educational requirement for licensure in all States.

Most States also require candidates to pass a State jurisprudence examination covering State laws and regulations. Some States do additional testing on clinical competency as well. There are few reciprocal agreements between States, so veterinarians who wish to practice in a different State usually must first pass that State's examinations.

Other qualifications. When deciding whom to admit, some veterinary medical colleges place heavy consideration on candidates’ veterinary and animal experience. Formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research, or some area of health science, is particularly advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm, or at a stable or animal shelter, also can be helpful. Students must demonstrate ambition and an eagerness to work with animals.

Prospective veterinarians should love animals and have the ability to get along with their owners, especially pet owners, who usually have strong bonds with their pets. They need good manual dexterity. Veterinarians who intend to go into private practice should possess excellent communication and business skills, because they will need to successfully manage their practice and employees and promote, market, and sell their services.

Advancement. Most veterinarians begin as employees in established group practices. Despite the substantial financial investment in equipment, office space, and staff, many veterinarians with experience eventually set up their own practice or purchase an established one.

Newly trained veterinarians can become U.S. Government meat and poultry inspectors, disease-control workers, animal welfare and safety workers, epidemiologists, research assistants, or commissioned officers in the U.S. Public Health Service or various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. A State license may be required.

Nearly all States have continuing education requirements for licensed veterinarians. Requirements differ by State and may involve attending a class or otherwise demonstrating knowledge of recent medical and veterinary advances.

Job Outlook

Employment is expected to increase much faster than average. Excellent job opportunities are expected.

Employment change. Employment of veterinarians is expected to increase 33 percent over the 2008–18 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. Veterinarians usually practice in animal hospitals or clinics and care primarily for small pets. Recent trends indicate particularly strong interest in cats as pets. Faster growth of the cat population is expected to increase the demand for feline medicine and veterinary services, while demand for veterinary care for dogs should continue to grow at a more modest pace.

Many pet owners consider their pets as members of the family, which serves as evidence that people are placing a higher value on their pets and is an example of the human-animal bond. These pet owners are becoming more aware of the availability of advanced care and are more willing to pay for intensive veterinary care than owners in the past. Furthermore, the number of pet owners purchasing pet insurance is rising, increasing the likelihood that considerable money will be spent on veterinary care.

More pet owners also will take advantage of nontraditional veterinary services, such as cancer treatment and preventive dental care. Modern veterinary services have caught up to human medicine; certain procedures, such as hip replacement, kidney transplants, and blood transfusions, which were once only available for humans, are now available for animals.

Continued support for public health and food and animal safety, national disease control programs, and biomedical research on human health problems will contribute to the demand for veterinarians, although the number of positions in these areas is smaller than the number in private practice. Homeland security also may provide opportunities for veterinarians involved in efforts to maintain abundant food supplies and minimize animal diseases in the United States and in foreign countries.

Job prospects. Excellent job opportunities are expected because there are only 28 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, resulting in a limited number of graduates—about 2,500—each year. However, admission to veterinary school is competitive.

New graduates continue to be attracted to companion-animal medicine because they usually prefer to deal with pets and to live and work near heavily populated areas, where most pet owners live. Employment opportunities are very good in cities and suburbs but even better in rural areas because fewer veterinarians compete to work there.

Beginning veterinarians may take positions requiring evening or weekend work to accommodate the extended hours of operation that many practices are offering. Some veterinarians take salaried positions in retail stores offering veterinary services. Self-employed veterinarians usually have to work hard and long to build a sufficient client base.

The number of jobs for farm-animal veterinarians is likely to grow more slowly than the number of jobs for companion-animal veterinarians. Nevertheless, job prospects should be excellent for farm-animal veterinarians because of their lower earnings and because many veterinarians do not want to work outside or in rural or isolated areas.

Veterinarians with training in food safety and security, animal health and welfare, and public health and epidemiology should have the best opportunities for a career in the Federal Government.


Median annual wages of veterinarians were $79,050 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $61,370 and $104,110. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,610, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $143,660.

The average annual salary for veterinarians in the Federal Government was $93,398 in March 2009.

According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, average starting salaries of veterinary medical college graduates in 2008 varied by type of practice as follows:

Small animals, exclusively $64,744
Large animals, exclusively 62,424
Small animals, predominantly 61,753
Mixed animals 58,522
Large animals, predominantly 57,745
Equine (horses) 41,636
Sources of Additional Information

For additional information on careers in veterinary medicine, a list of U.S. schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, and accreditation policies, send a letter-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

  • American Veterinary Medical Association, 1931 N. Meacham Rd., Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Internet:

For information on veterinary education, contact:

  • Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, 1101 Vermont Ave. NW., Suite 301, Washington, DC 20005. Internet:

For information on scholarships, grants, and loans, contact the financial aid officer at the veterinary schools to which you wish to apply.

For information on veterinarians working in zoos, see the Occupational Outlook Quarterly article “Wild jobs with wildlife,” online at

Information on obtaining Veterinarian positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

Last Modified Date: March 5, 2011

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