Veterinarian salary & career outlook

Veterinarians prevent and treat illnesses in animals. The majority of vets treat household pets, including cats, dogs, birds and reptiles, while others specialize in treating horses, zoo animals and farm animals.

Veterinarians who treat pets generally begin their careers working in a clinic and may later choose to pursue private practice. Vets in clinics and private practice often work long hours and must tolerate passionate pet owners and a noisy work environment. Veterinarians specializing in farm animals usually live in rural areas and travel to ranches and farms to treat animals. A growing number of veterinarians are involved in food safety and inspection. These vets inspect livestock, poultry, food processing plants and slaughterhouses to ensure sanitary conditions and prevent disease transmission.

Successful veterinarians are strong in math and science, know how to communicate with pet owners and, above all, love animals.

Veterinarian salaries

Most people love their pets and want the best for them, including health care. Because of this, veterinarians often enjoy financially rewarding careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians earned a median salary of $82,040 in 2010. The top 10 percent of earners enjoyed a median salary of $145,230, while the bottom quartile earned a median salary of $64,390. As in other industries, veterinarian salaries vary with location, industry and experience.

Average veterinarian salaries were highest in the following industries in 2010:

  1. Animal production - $123,960
  2. Scientific research and development - $115,420
  3. Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing - $111,290
  4. Professional services (including clinical practice) - $92,520
  5. Federal government (food safety and research) - $88,340

Location also factors into veterinarian salaries. The following states and districts offered the highest average veterinarian salaries in 2010:

  1. Connecticut - $126,550
  2. New Jersey - $125,790
  3. Washington, D.C. - $120,000
  4. Pennsylvania - $113,810
  5. Delaware - $112,070

While the above states are relatively populous, the demand for veterinarians is also great in rural areas in states like Arkansas and Texas, where fewer veterinarians are available to serve animals on farms and ranches.

Becoming a veterinarian

In order to become a veterinarian, you need to graduate from an accredited college of veterinary medicine. Admission to veterinarian schools is highly competitive, and, though not technically required, most successful applicants hold a bachelor's degree in biology, zoology or a related field. Earning a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) requires four years of full-time study and prepares you to take state licensing exams. State exams vary, but veterinarians in all states must be licensed before they can begin practicing.

Like medical doctors, veterinarians often pursue a year-long internship upon receiving their DVM. Following their internships, many vets pursue three- to four-year residency programs to specialize in fields such as surgery, internal medicine, oncology and anesthesiology.

After graduating from veterinarian schools and completing internships and residencies, the majority of vets work in clinics and eventually begin a private practice.

Veterinarian career outlook

While admittance to veterinarian schools is competitive, graduates enjoy promising job prospects. According to the BLS, employment of veterinarians is expected to increase by 33 percent from 2008 to 2018. This faster-than-average growth will be fueled by a growing pet population, particularly cats and dogs, and pet owners' increasing interest in advanced health care for their pets. Health insurance for pets is also becoming more common, which will allow owners to pursue more expensive medical treatments.

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