How to become a veterinarian
Many veterinarians work with companion animals in clinic or hospital settings, but they do far more than just keeping our pets healthy. Their skills and abilities allow them to help ensure the nation's food supply is safe, help control the spread of diseases, and conduct research that benefits both animals and people. For example, developing and testing farm control methods in order to better detect, limit and prevent the spread of contamination in food animals is one way veterinarians work in the food safety industry. These professionals are vital to public health because of their ability to identify potential diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
What do veterinarians do?
Combining medical skills with a high level of compassion, communication, leadership and problem-solving abilities, veterinarians provide care for companion, farm, exotic and working animals. Vets are often responsible for:
- Diagnosing illness
- Charting courses of treatment
- Prescribing medications
- Communicating general care to owners of a wide variety of animals
- Managing assistants and overseeing the business aspects of an office or clinic
Educational and professional requirements
The practice of veterinary medicine requires extensive education and clinical preparation, and it's a highly competitive field. A bachelor's degree is not a requirement for acceptance into a veterinary medicine program, according to the BLS, but most students hold one upon entrance. In order to become a practicing veterinarian, you will need a Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine degree from a program accredited by the American Veterinarian Medical Association, as well as national and state licenses.
There are numerous options for what type of office a veterinarian can work in. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), common career paths include private practice, corporate veterinary medicine, research and teaching, or working for the federal government or an international agency.
In addition, while you may be able to find work in many states, certain states have more opportunities than others. The states with the most veterinarians employed in 2013, according to the BLS, were:
- New York
These are high-population states, however, so sheer numbers might not be a sign of better opportunities for vets. As of 2013, the states with the highest concentration of jobs for veterinarians, per BLS data, are:
How much can veterinarians make?
The pay for veterinarians can differ depending on where you work, your prior experience in the field and who your employer is. The BLS reports that the following metropolitan areas had the highest mean annual wages in 2013:
- Honolulu, HI: $167,600
- Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA: $165,360
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA: $156,560
- Palm Coast, FL: $153,420
- Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA: $147,430
- Philadelphia, PA: $139,370
- Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL: $139,010
- Newark-Union, NJ-PA: $137,210
- Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT: $129,590
- Stockton, CA: $129,520
To find out more about how to become a veterinarian and see a complete list of sources, check out the visual below.
Occupational Employment and Wages: Veterinarians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
Veterinarians, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,