Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to protect public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Duties

Veterinarians typically do the following:

  • Examine animals to assess their health and diagnose problems
  • Treat and dress wounds
  • Perform surgery on animals
  • Test for and vaccinate against diseases
  • Operate medical equipment, such as x-ray machines
  • Advise animal owners about general care, medical conditions, and treatments
  • Prescribe medication
  • Euthanize animals

Veterinarians treat the injuries and illnesses of pets and other animals with a variety of medical equipment, including surgical tools and x-ray and ultrasound machines. They provide treatment for animals that is similar to the services a physician provides to humans.

The following are examples of types of veterinarians:

Companion animal veterinarians treat pets and generally work in private clinics and hospitals. They most often care for cats and dogs, but they also treat other pets, such as birds, ferrets, and rabbits. These veterinarians diagnose and provide treatment for animal health problems; consult with animal owners about preventive healthcare; and carry out medical and surgical procedures, such as vaccinations, dental work, and setting fractures.

Food animal veterinarians work with farm animals such as pigs, cattle, and sheep, which are raised to be food sources. They spend their time visiting farms and ranches to treat ill and injured animals and to test for and vaccinate against disease. They may advise farm owners or managers about feeding, housing, and general health practices.

Food safety and inspection veterinarians inspect and test livestock and animal products for major animal diseases. They also provide vaccines to treat animals, enhance animal welfare, conduct research to improve animal health, and enforce government food safety regulations. They design and administer animal and public health programs to prevent and control diseases transmissible among animals and between animals and people.

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Work Environment

Veterinarians held about 84,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of veterinarians were as follows:

Veterinary services 78%
Self-employed workers 14
Government 3
Social advocacy organizations 1
Educational services; state, local, and private                            1

Most veterinarians work in private clinics and hospitals. Others travel to farms or work in settings such as laboratories, classrooms, or zoos.

Veterinarians who treat horses or food animals travel between their offices and farms and ranches. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather and may have to perform surgery, often in remote locations.

Veterinarians who work in food safety and inspection travel to farms, slaughterhouses, and food-processing plants to inspect the health of animals and to ensure that the facility follows safety protocols.

The work can be emotionally stressful, as veterinarians care for abused animals, euthanize sick ones, and offer support to the animals’ anxious owners. Working on farms and ranches, in slaughterhouses, or with wildlife can also be physically demanding.

Injuries and Illnesses

When working with animals that are frightened or in pain, veterinarians risk being bitten, kicked, and scratched. In addition, veterinarians working with diseased animals risk being infected by the disease.

Work Schedules

Most veterinarians work full time, often working more than 40 hours per week. Some work nights or weekends, and they may have to respond to emergencies outside of scheduled work hours.

Education and Training

Veterinarians must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary college, as well as a state license.

Education

Veterinarians must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) degree at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. A veterinary medicine program generally takes 4 years to complete and includes classroom, laboratory, and clinical components.

Admission to veterinary programs is competitive. Most applicants to veterinary school have a bachelor’s degree. Veterinary medical colleges typically require applicants to have taken many science classes, including biology, chemistry, and animal science. Most programs also require math, humanities, and social science courses.

Some veterinary medical colleges prefer candidates to have experience such as previous work with veterinarians in clinics, or working with animals on a farm, at a stable, or in an animal shelter.

In veterinary medicine programs, students take courses on animal anatomy and physiology, as well as disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Most programs include 3 years of classroom, laboratory, and clinical work. Students typically spend the final year of the 4-year program doing clinical rotations in a veterinary medical center or hospital.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Veterinarians must be licensed in order to practice in the United States. Licensing requirements vary by state, but prospective veterinarians in all states must complete an accredited veterinary program and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.

In addition to passing the national exam, most states require that veterinarians pass a state licensing exam. However, veterinarians employed by state or federal government may not need a state license, because government agencies differ in what they require.

Each state’s exam covers its laws and regulations. Few states accept licenses from other states, so veterinarians usually must take exams for the states in which they want to be licensed.

The American Veterinary Medical Association has an Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG) certification program, which allows foreign graduates to fulfill the educational prerequisites for licensure. 

Personality and Interests

Veterinarians typically have an interest in the Building and Thinking interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking interest which might fit with a career as a veterinarian, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Veterinarians should also possess the following specific qualities:

Compassion. Veterinarians must be compassionate when working with animals and their owners. They must treat animals with kindness and respect, and must be sensitive when dealing with the owners of sick pets.

Decision-making skills. Veterinarians must decide the correct method for treating the injuries and illnesses of animals. Deciding to euthanize a sick animal, for instance, can be difficult.

Interpersonal skills. Strong communication skills are essential for veterinarians, who must be able to discuss their recommendations and explain treatment options to animal owners and give instructions to their staff.

Management skills. Management skills are important for veterinarians who are in charge of running private clinics or laboratories, or directing teams of technicians or inspectors. In these settings, they are responsible for providing direction, delegating work, and overseeing daily operations.

Manual dexterity. Manual dexterity is important for veterinarians, because they must control their hand movements and be precise when treating injuries and performing surgery.

Problem-solving skills. Veterinarians need strong problem-solving skills because they must figure out what is ailing animals. Those who test animals to determine the effects of drug therapies also need excellent diagnostic skills.

Pay

The median annual wage for veterinarians was $95,460 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $58,080, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $160,780.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for veterinarians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Social advocacy organizations $97,010
Veterinary services 95,500
Government 90,500
Educational services; state, local, and private                            80,800

Most veterinarians work full time, often working more than 40 hours per week. Some work nights or weekends, and they may have to respond to emergencies outside of scheduled work hours.

Job Outlook

Employment of veterinarians is projected to grow 18 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Increases in consumers’ pet-related spending are expected to drive employment in the veterinary services industry, which employs most veterinarians.

Veterinary medicine has advanced considerably. Today’s veterinarians are able to offer many services that are comparable to healthcare for humans, including more complicated procedures such as cancer treatments and kidney transplants.

Job Prospects

Overall job prospects are expected to be very good.

For More Information

For more information about careers in veterinary medicine, a list of U.S. schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, and information on accreditation policies, visit

American Veterinary Medical Association

For more information about veterinary education, visit

Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges

For information about the licensing exam, visit

International Council for Veterinary Assessment

 

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