Education and Training: Advanced degree
Salary: Median—$66,590 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Veterinarians, also called doctors of veterinary medicine, study, treat, and control animal injuries and diseases. They immunize healthy animals against disease and inspect animals and meat products to be used as food. Veterinarians also perform surgery, set broken bones, establish diet and exercise routines, and prescribe medicines for animals.
Most people think of veterinarians as doctors who treat the family cat or dog; however, of the more than sixty-one thousand veterinarians that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates are working in the United States, only about one-third treat small pets exclusively. Small-animal veterinarians usually have private practices. Many large-animal veterinarians are employed by farms, ranches, and even zoos. They immunize cattle and treat diseases contracted by the animals. Some veterinarians who specialize in the treatment of large animals are self-employed.
A large number of veterinarians are employed by federal and state governments as meat and livestock inspectors. Some of these doctors inspect all the meat that is to be fed to members of the armed services. Other veterinarians are employed by meat and poultry packing houses to inspect meat that is to be sold to the public.
Veterinarians also work for pharmaceutical companies, helping to develop drugs and vaccines for animals, and for the federal government's space programs. Some veterinarians are employed by universities in teaching and research positions. Much of the research currently being conducted by veterinarians involves studying the relationship between animal and human disease and how animal diseases are transmitted to humans.
Education and Training Requirements
To earn the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree, candidates must graduate from one of the twenty-eight schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, or they may study abroad. To become licensed to practice veterinary medicine, candidates must also pass your state's oral and written licensing examinations.
Prospective veterinarians must have at least two years of undergraduate training at a college or university before applying for admission to a veterinary college. Preveterinary study should emphasize physical and biological sciences. Many students earn a bachelor's degree before they apply for admission. Because there are so few schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, it is very difficult to be accepted into a program. Only students with the best academic records are admitted.
Getting the Job
Many recent graduates enter the field by becoming associated with an established veterinarian. Candidates can contact local veterinarians, clinics, and animal hospitals and inquire about opportunities for employment. Those interested in a government job should apply directly to state and federal agencies that employ veterinarians. School placement offices may help graduating students find a job. Prospective veterinarians can also answer advertisements placed in newspapers and professional journals.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Veterinarians who are in private practice advance by expanding their practice and by developing a good reputation in their community. Those who work for government agencies or private corporations generally receive regular promotions. Some veterinarians who work for large organizations are promoted to supervisory or management positions.
Although there will be competition among graduates in establishing new practices, the employment outlook for veterinarians is very good through the year 2014. Veterinarians will be needed to treat the increasing number of household pets and to care for and prevent diseases in animals raised for food. Those veterinarians specializing in toxicology, laboratory animal medicine, animal behavior, and pathology will have increasing job opportunities. Farm animal specialists will also have better prospects, because most veterinarians prefer to work in cities.
Veterinarians in private practice establish their own office hours, although they may be called out in the middle of the night for emergencies. Private practitioners often work well over forty hours a week, especially if they must travel to farms and ranches to treat animals. Most veterinarians work outdoors at least part of the time, especially those who treat large animals on farms.
Where to Go for More Information
American Animal Hospital Association
12575 W. Bayaud Ave.
Lakewood, CO 80228
American Veterinary Medical Association
1931 North Meacham Rd., Ste. 100
Schaumburg, IL 60173
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings vary depending on experience, location, and whether the veterinarian is salaried or in private practice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income of veterinarians is $66,590 per year. The average salary for those working for the federal government is $78,769 per year. Benefits for salaried veterinarians include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans. Self-employed veterinarians must provide their own benefits.
Veterinarians are doctors who diagnose and treat the diseases and injuries of animals. Their duties vary depending on the specific type of practice or specialization. In North America, 80 percent of veterinarians are in private practice. The remaining 20 percent work at zoos, inspect meat and poultry for the federal or state government, teach at veterinary universities, or conduct research. When serving in the U.S. Army, Air Force, or Public Health Service, veterinarians are commissioned officers.
Veterinarians who practice general veterinary medicine are similar to family practitioners. They carry out a number of health services, including giving general checkups, administering tests and immunizations, and advising pet owners on feeding, exercising, and grooming. Veterinarians are called upon to perform routine spaying or neutering, as well as surgery to correct a health problem. Most veterinarians treat small animals and pets exclusively, but others specialize in larger animals such as cattle, horses, and sheep. Veterinarians usually have set office hours, although they may be called to take care of an emergency at any time. Large-animal veterinarians may also be required to visit a farm or ranch when an animal is injured, ill, or expected to give birth under difficult circumstances.
A veterinarian must get along with animals and should have an interest in science. There are a limited number of colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States, and entrance is competitive. Individuals must complete six years of college to receive a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree. Coursework during the first two years emphasizes physical and biological science. The remaining four years involve classroom work; practical experience in diagnosing and treating animal diseases; surgery; lab courses in anatomy and biochemistry; and other scientific and medical studies. In addition, veterinarians are required to pass an examination in the state, including the District of Columbia, in which they wish to practice.
Stephanie A. Lanoue
Encyclopedia of Careers and Vocational Guidance. Chicago: Ferguson Publishing Company, 2000.
Field, Shelley. 100 Best Careers for the Year 2000. New York: Prentice Hall, 1992.
VGM's Careers Encyclopedia, 4th ed. Chicago: NTC Publishing Group, 1997.
Becoming a veterinarian is a challenging yet rewarding process. A veterinarian is someone who has earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or a Veterinary Medical Doctor (VMD) degree from an accredited college or university. The veterinary program consists of four years of a combination of lecture classes, practical laboratory work, and clinical experience. Many veterinary programs allow students to choose an area of emphasis (usually small animals, equine, food animals, exotic animals, or mixed), although this varies among programs. While an undergraduate degree is not required to enter a veterinary program, the great majority of veterinary students have a degree, usually a Bachelor of Science in a biological science, and many may also have a Master of Science degree. Every veterinary program's entry requirements are different, but most include undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, biochemistry, animal science, and animal nutrition. The high school student interested in pursuing a veterinary degree would be wise to take as many science and math courses as possible. Experience in handling animals is also a necessity for admission to a veterinary program, whether in a paid position or on a volunteer basis. Excellent grades are necessary: entrance into a veterinary program is very competitive because of the small number of veterinary programs in the United States.
The great majority of veterinarians are employed in private practice, but this is not the only employment opportunity. Veterinarians are needed in government to serve on medical and agricultural committees, to inspect meat and meat products, and to work in laboratories. Colleges and universities hire veterinarians to teach undergraduate and graduate courses and to conduct research. Overseas veterinary mission and Peace Corps work is available. Large research and pharmaceutical companies often have veterinarians on their staffs. A veterinary degree is extremely versatile and useful, particularly when combined with an undergraduate degree in a biological science.
Amy L. Massengill
Hurwitz, Jane. Choosing a Career in Animal Care. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 1999.