Veterinarian Career Description
Okay, so you love cats and other animals. You’ve probably thought about how great it would be to have a job where you get to be around pets in your work.
Maybe you could train to become a veterinarian.
Becoming a veterinarian is a long, hard undertaking.
It will take years of study and dedication.
It’s not for everyone.
Is it for you?
Let’s discuss a little about the job activities, typical workday, education requirements, typical salary and more.
What Does a Veterinarian Do?
Vets deliver medical care to pets and other animals.
They diagnose, consult, treat, and research medical conditions of household pets, livestock, and even sometimes wild animals.
Their work can also protect human health as well by recognizing sick animals that may be a danger to humans, such as a feral cat having rabies.
What Are Veterinarian Jobs Like?
Some of the usual duties responsibilities of a veterinarian include these:
- Answering pet-related questions from owners
- Conducting routine physical examinations and regular check-ups
- Examining and diagnosing health problems and other issues
- Giving vaccinations and immunizations
- Treating and dressing wounds or sores
- Giving and prescribing medication
- Providing emergency care
- Performing the types of surgery they are trained to do
- Advising the owner on their pet’s health and what they need to do
- When necessary, euthanizing animals, or giving advice about it
Obviously, household pets are the most common animals vets work with, but some vets will care for more exotic pets such as rabbits, lizards, ferrets or snakes; livestock; zoo animals; laboratory animals or even racetrack animals.
Like other areas of medicine, animal healthcare incorporates modern processes and technology such as ultrasound machines, x-ray machines, MRIs, genomics, various surgery, and even transplants.
The daily work of the typical vet is varied. They will see animals for regular checkups and small health concerns, but they will also treat pets injured in accidents or are in another emergency situation.
And, unfortunately, when there is nothing anyone can do to prolong or extend a pet’s life, they will also peacefully end it. It’s a difficult and emotional time for the owner, and it can be difficult for the compassionate vet as well.
What Is a Veterinarian Job Like?
Most veterinarians work in private practice, in either their own business, in a partnership, or as an employee of someone else.
Most are called companion animal vets and they see the typical assortment of common, everyday pets in their office only. They don’t make house calls.
Some clinics treat large animals, such as farm animals, pigs, sheep, cattle and horses. Obviously, those doctors must travel to where their patients are.
And just like their in-clinic counterparts, they diagnose issues, give vaccinations, offer treatments and medical procedures, suggest preventive healthcare, and communicate with the animal owners.
Some are food animal vets who work only with farm animals who are not raised as pets, but are instead intended to be food sources. They typically see farm animals like cattle, sheep, and pigs. They provide healthcare and offer recommendations to the farm owner.
Some of these individuals will further specialize in just food safety and inspection. They visit farms and test livestock and animal products for animal diseases or things that could get transmitted to a human.
They also give vaccines, conduct research in animal health, enforce government food safety regulations and help the farm owner.
Some doctors choose to specialize in one specific area. These specialties can include emergency care, surgery, anesthesia, dentistry, nutrition or preventative care.
And yet others will decide to work in laboratories doing research or testing, or in classrooms or zoos.
Research veterinarian work takes place in a lab setting where they conduct clinical research on animal health or human health problems.
Most private practice vets, food animal vets, and research vets work during regular business hours. Some work Saturdays or evenings. And a few are available to respond to emergencies no matter when they happen.
Where Do Veterinarians Work?
There are about 100,000 veterinarians working in the USA right now.
90% of them work in clinics and hospitals. The remaining 10% work for the government, or in research facilities or educational roles.
If you work in a typical clinic or as an inspector, your day may be filled with moments such as:
- Stressful and emotional situations with anxious pet owners
- Seeing abused animals
- Working with animals that are scared or in pain
- Getting scratched or bitten by a frightened pet
- Being around diseased and infectious animals
- Working in a busy and loud environment
- Farm animal vets need to travel and work outside
- Farm animal vets have to perform all their procedures outside of the office
- Inspecting food animals, processing plants or slaughterhouses can be unpleasant
- Euthanizing sick and terminal animals
Medical research veterinarians spend their days in a lab or office. Some are employed by pet food products or animal care companies.
Other Careers in Veterinary Medicine
The largest single employer of veterinarians is the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They hire vets to work in their food safety and inspection department.
These individuals help protect the human population from animal diseases. They are busy testing cattle and other food animals in order to prevent the spread of contaminated food or other food-borne diseases.
Other agencies, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) hire vets for public health or disease prevention positions.
And even the military hires veterinarians. The U.S. Army and Air Force have working military dogs.
These dogs perform duties such as bomb-sniffing or security. These military working dogs need care.
How To Become a Veterinarian
A working vet needs to have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary college and a license from their state.
The DVM or VMD degree usually takes four years to complete.
The first three years include typical classroom, lab and clinical studies. The fourth year may consist of work done in a medical center or hospital.
There are about 30 colleges with accredited education programs around the United States a student can apply to.
Pre-Veterinary Medical Education
Admission to veterinary programs is competitive.
The prerequisites for successful admission will vary from one medical college to the next.
Some colleges do not require a bachelor’s degree for entrance, but all require a significant number of college semester hour credits. So, in practice, almost all admitted students have completed an undergraduate degree or will soon complete one.
These colleges want to see students with experience taking classes in biology and science, plus chemistry, physiology, zoology, animal science, and anatomy. Your undergraduate advisor will help you select a strong group of courses.
If your college offers pertinent electives, such as organic chemistry, animal nutrition, or animal breeding, try to take several of them.
Some schools also like to see candidates who have experience working with animals or some area of health science.
Most students apply for veterinary school after they have completed their third year.
What Is a Veterinarian School Like?
Working towards a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree is difficult and expensive. It’s a degree that requires four years of hard work to complete.
As you can imagine, the curriculum is primarily centered on animal physiology, animal anatomy, diagnosis techniques, standard treatments, and recommended prevention actions.
A student will also take courses in Immunology, Virology, Surgery, Pharmacology, Pathology and Cardiology.
There is a test, called the Veterinary Educational Assessment, which can be taken after your second year.
This exam measures a student’s general medical knowledge. It is seen as a check to see how well a student is understanding the primary coursework.
Licenses and Certifications for Veterinarians
In order to become a working veterinarian, a prospect needs to do three things:
- Complete an accredited veterinary school program
- Pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination
- Pass any required state exam or complete any state-specific requirements
Passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination
The NAVLE is given twice a year. You can take it in the Spring or Autumn.
It’s a long exam that asks questions in broad categories such as Data Gathering and Interpretation, Problem Management and Health Maintenance.
You must pass it in order to become licensed.
In addition to passing this exam, most states have a state licensing exam as well. Each state can have its own regulations. You need to have a state-specific license for any state you want to work in.
Not all jobs require a state license. Graduates who take jobs with the federal government or a state government agency may not need a state license.
Some graduates will pursue further education and training in one or more specialties such as internal medicine, surgery, or pharmacology.
How Much Does a Veterinarian Make?
The median annual earnings for veterinarians is right around $100,000. The lowest 10% are near $60,000 and the highest 10% around $160,000.
Typically, individuals who specialize in surgery tend to make the most. And earnings vary based on the type of practice and what city it’s located in.
The employment growth forecast for the decade between 2020 and 2030 is estimated at 19%. That is faster than most career fields. Overall job prospects are predicted to be very good.
Is a Veterinarian Career Right for Me?
While it may seem obvious, no one should enter this field unless they have a deep interest in animals and caring for them.
And many successful vets have a great rapport with animals. There is something about these people that many pets recognize and so they instinctively trust them.
If you weren’t born with this gift, you will learn animal behavior traits as you practice and you can develop the skills you’ll need to get along with them every day.
Training to become a vet takes a certain amount of brainpower too. Studying chemistry and biology is tough for many students. It’s not for everyone.
You will need compassion for the animals and their owners.
You will need to be able to diagnose pet problems and decide upon the right treatment method.
You will have to have decent manual dexterity to handle the tools necessary — from giving injections to performing precise surgical procedures.
And if you want your own practice one day, you will need management skills to make all the business decisions required and keep the office and clinic running.
NOTE: The articles on this site are not intended to be medical or healthcare advice. This article is not intended to be professional or veterinarian advice. For guidance concerning your career, you should consult with a professional career advisor in your area who knows you and your situation. This article is to be taken as general information only.
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FOR MORE INFO:
BLS – https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinarians.htm
American Veterinary Medical Association – https://www.avma.org/
Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges – https://www.aavmc.org/