Becoming an Veterinary Assistant in Pennsylvania

Veterinary assistants play a critical role on veterinary teams. They work closely with both veterinarians and veterinary technicians to care for and treat animals. Most carry out clerical duties as well. The state of Pennsylvania does not have a specific definition of the duties of a veterinary assistant working in the state, so it is left up to the employer to determine exactly what their vet assistants do. In most practices, veterinary assistants will perform tasks such as communicating with pet owners by explaining procedures and treatments, scheduling appointments and following up, answering calls, managing and filing records, feeding, cleaning and exercising animals, cleaning cages and assisting the veterinarian with surgical procedures.

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There are currently over 2,500 veterinary assistants employed in the state of Pennsylvania, with the largest number of them being employed in Philadelphia. Currently there are no educational requirements for working as a veterinary assistant in Pennsylvania, but most animal hospitals and clinics in the state prefer employees who have at least a high school diploma or GED, and one year or more of experience working with animals.

Pennsylvania Veterinary Assistant Programs and National Certification

Although completing a formal veterinary assistant training program is not required in Pennsylvania, doing so is recommended. Students will learn a lot of the skills that they will be expected to perform once they are employed, as well as gain firsthand experience through clinical training and externships in veterinary practices.

Beaver County Career and Technology Center has a veterinary assistant training program that is not only available to adult students but high school students (in grades 10-12) in Beaver County as well. Adults can attend either the daytime or evening classes, and high school students can attend half-day classes at BCCTC while still attending high school. Students will learn veterinary career skills, medical terminology, animal anatomy and physiology, medical records-keeping, lab and radiology procedures, animal nursing skills and more. High school students can attend this program at no cost. Adult students interested in attending can contact the school for more information on tuition.

Dauphin County Technical School is a public career and technical high school that offers half-day classes to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors and evening classes to adults. High school students in the following Pennsylvania school districts can attend DCTS at no cost: Central Dauphin, Derry Township, Halifax Area, Harrisburg, Lower Dauphin, Middletown Area and Susquehanna Township. High school students residing in other districts may also attend, but on a tuition basis. The high school program teaches handling and restraining animals, small and large animal nursing, examination procedures, and lab, radiology and surgical procedures. The adult program last approximately nine months and teaches the same skills as the high school program, as well as exotic animal nursing procedures and office procedures. The cost of tuition for the adult program is $3,500 and can be paid in installments.

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The veterinary assisting program at Franklin County Career and Technology Center is open to high school students in the Chambersburg, Fannett-Metal, Greencastle-Antrim, Shippensburg, Tuscarora and Waynesboro school districts. It is a three-year program, meaning students can take it in their sophomore, junior and senior years of high school. Coursework includes medical terminology, animal care and management, clerical tasks and relations, anatomy and physiology, and surgical assisting. Since this is a dual-enrollment program for high school students, there is no cost to them.

Lancaster County Career and Technology Center provides students who attend any of the 16 public high schools in Lancaster County an opportunity to participate in a veterinary assistant training program. In this program students will learn clinical and customer service skills, as well as care for animals in a clinical setting. This career tech program is open mainly to high school seniors, but some juniors are also able to enroll. There is no cost for tuition.

Great Lakes Institute of Technology has a 10-month veterinary assistant program for college students and adults. An externship at a local veterinary practice is included in this program. Students will learn how to restrain animals, how to check animal vitals, how to assist veterinarians with surgical procedures, how to perform lab tests, administer medications and more. Those interested in this program can contact the school for more information, including tuition costs. Financial aid, scholarships and payment plans are available.

In addition to completing a veterinary assistant training program, you may also be interested in becoming nationally certified as an Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA). This is not required in the state of Pennsylvania, but it may increase your chances of being hired. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) recognizes colleges that have veterinary assistant programs that will qualify students to become nationally certified as an AVA. Except for Great Lakes Institute of Technology, all programs mentioned above are NAVTA approved. Once you have completed any of these programs, you can pay a $100 fee to take the certification test and once you pass, you will be nationally certified.

If you have taken or plan on taking a program that is not NAVTA approved, you still have options. If the program you completed included an externship or internship, that experience will enable you to take the certification test. Also, if you are already working for a veterinarian for at least 20 hours a week you are qualified to take the test. Once you become certified as an AVA you will need to renew that certification every two years by paying a $10 renewal fee and taking at least 10 continuing education credits of your choice.

Veterinary Assistant Jobs in Pennsylvania

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary assistants in Pennsylvania earn an average of $26,910 annually. The annual salary of Pennsylvania vet assistants can vary, though, depending on several factors including level of education, any certification, work experience and location. Veterinary assistants in the cities of Greensburg, Harrisburg and York have average yearly salaries of more than $28,000, and those in the cities of Allentown, Lebanon, Pittsburgh and Reading make an average of $29,000 annually. Furthermore, veterinary assistants in the cities of Philadelphia, Westchester, Doylestown and Levittown reported average annual salaries of more than $31,000.

Salaries in Pennsylvania by Region

AreaTotal EmployedAverage Hourly WageAverage Annual Salary
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ200$10.70$22,250
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA260$11.92$24,780
Lancaster, PA**$11.70$24,340
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA2,670$14.75$30,670
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD840$12.93$26,900
Pittsburgh, PA420$13.55$28,180
Reading, PA**$10.58$22,000
Scranton--Wilkes-Barre--Hazleton, PA**$11.23$23,370
York-Hanover, PA140$12.39$25,770
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA70$12.12$25,220

In the state of Pennsylvania, veterinary assistants can look for employment in veterinary clinics, animal hospitals, animal shelters, specialty clinics and zoos. Some of the larger animal hospitals and clinics found in Pennsylvania include the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), Banfield Pet Hospitals and VETCO clinics. There are 19 VCA hospitals in Pennsylvania, including locations in the cities of Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Reading and York. You can find Banfield Pet Hospitals inside of Pet Smart stores in Mechanicsburg and Lancaster. VETCO clinics are found inside of PETCO pet stores and provide preventive medicine and vaccinations to pets. There is a total of 44 clinics in Pennsylvania. The cities of Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are just a few of the places you will find a VETCO in the state.

Most veterinary practices and hospitals in Pennsylvania prefer that those applying for a veterinary assistant position have at least one year of experience working with animals. Some even require this experience. If you have never worked as a veterinary assistant and have no experience, you may want to consider volunteering or interning at an animal hospital, clinic or shelter while you are actively seeking employment.

The employment of veterinary assistants in Pennsylvania is expected to increase by nine percent over the next six years. In two years or less, you can complete a training program and intern or volunteer to get experience, and then be ready to begin working as a veterinary assistant anywhere in the state.

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College and University Listings

Erie, PA Area

Great Lakes Institute of Technology

5100 Peach Street, Erie, Pennsylvania 16509-2482
Veterinary Assistant – Certificate Program

Great Lakes Institute of Technology’s Certificate-level Veterinary Assistant program is taught at their campus in Erie in Erie County, PA. The college has around 427 students in total, with the majority of students on 2-year programs. The college is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges. The retention rate of full-time students at this college is over 80%. The cost of tuition for the Vet Tech program is usually about $12,768 yearly. Study materials can cost about $1,302. Typically, the program is completed in 8 months.

Lancaster, PA Area

Lancaster County Career and Technology Center

1730 Hans Herr Dr, Willow Street, Pennsylvania 17584
Veterinary Assistant – Certificate Program

The Certificate program at Lancaster County Career and Technology Center can be taken at their campus in Willow Street in Lancaster County. The college has around 462 students in total, with the majority of students on 2-year programs. The college is institutionally accredited by the Council on Occupational Education. The cost of tuition for the Vet Tech program is about $8,990 yearly. Study materials can cost about $145. Typically, the program is completed in 9 months.

* Tuition fees and accredition status are correct at the time of writing, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/). Confirm with college before applying.

Other Options

Pennsylvania residents have further educational options in the neighboring states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia and Ohio. You can find vet technician programs in Pennsylvania here.