Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.
Duties of Veterinarians
- Veterinarians typically do the following:
- Examine animals to diagnose their health 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
Most veterinarians work in private clinics and hospitals. Others travel to farms, work in laboratories or classrooms, or work for the government.
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 ensure that safety protocols are being followed by the facility.
Veterinarians who conduct research work primarily in offices and laboratories. They spend much of their time dealing with people, rather than animals.
The work can be emotionally stressful, as veterinarians deal with sick animals and the animals’ anxious owners. Also, the workplace can be noisy, as animals make noise when sick or being handled. Working on farms and ranches, in slaughterhouses, or with wildlife can also be physically demanding.
Education & Training
Veterinarians must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. There are currently 30 colleges with accredited programs in the United States. A veterinary medicine program generally takes 4 years to complete and includes classroom, laboratory, and clinical components.
It's not required, but most applicants to veterinary school have a bachelor’s degree. Veterinary medical colleges usually require applicants to have taken many science classes, including biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, zoology, microbiology, and animal science. Most programs also require math, humanities, and social science courses.
Admission to veterinary programs is competitive, and less than half of all applicants were accepted in 2014.
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 all states require prospective veterinarians to complete an accredited veterinary program and to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. Veterinarians working for the state or federal government may not be required to have a state license, because each agency has different requirements.
Most states not only require the national exam but also have a state exam that covers state laws and regulations. Few states accept licenses from other states, so veterinarians who want to be licensed in another state usually must take that state’s exam.
The American Veterinary Medical Association offers certification in 40 specialties, such as surgery, microbiology, and internal medicine. Although certification is not required for veterinarians, it can show exceptional skill and expertise in a particular field. To sit for a specialty certification exam, veterinarians must have a certain number of years of experience in the field, complete additional education, and complete a residency program, typically lasting 3 to 4 years. Requirements vary by specialty.
Opportunities for Advancement
Can provide a veterinarian with up-to-date information, studies and news about the veterinary medicine industry.
Veterinarians can specialize in a specific or field of interest, so they may work in environments and with animals of their preference.
Becoming board certified can help a veterinarian prove that they are knowledgeable, hard working and ready for the task at hand.
Salary & Benefits
The median annual wage for veterinarians was $88,490 in May 2015. 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 $53,210, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $158,260.
Veterinarians often work additional hours. Some work nights or weekends, and they may have to respond to emergencies outside of scheduled work hours.
- Excellent medica, dental, and vision coverage
- 2-4 weeks of paid vacation
- Paid sick leave
- Continuing education pay
- High demand for qualified vets
- Positive job outlook; over 12% growth over the next 10 years
- Strong business & social network
- Lots of opportunities for travel (seminars, networking, research, etc)
- Able to work with animals on a daily basis
Aptitudes & Values
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 animal owners.
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.
Decision making Skills
Veterinarians must decide the correct method for treating the injuries and illnesses of animals. For instance, deciding to euthanize a sick animal can be difficult.
Management skills are important for veterinarians who manage private clinics or laboratories, or direct teams of technicians or inspectors. In these settings, they are responsible for providing direction, delegating work, and overseeing daily operations.
Manual dexterity is important for veterinarians, because they must control their hand movements and be precise when treating injuries and performing surgery.
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.