When you think of health care practitioners, you may not think of veterinarians. However, as professionals who prevent and treat illnesses in animals, they too provide hands-on medical care.
The majority of vets treat household pets, including cats, dogs, birds and reptiles, while others specialize in treating horses, zoo animals and farm animals. Regardless of the animals involved, the job description for all vets is the same. They are responsible for the following:
Examining animals to assess their health and diagnose illnesses.
Performing surgeries, either of an emergency or routine nature.
Caring for wounded animals.
Educating owners about medical or preventative care.
Euthanizing animals when needed.
Keep in mind, some veterinarians expand on their initial education to specialize in the following areas:
- Internal medicine
- Animal behavior
- Preventative medicine
- Animal welfare
- Animal and zoonotic diseases
- Public health
- Meat inspection
- Regulatory medicine
How to Become a Veterinarian
In order to become a veterinarian, you need to graduate from an accredited college of veterinary medicine. Though not technically required, most successful applicants hold bachelor's degrees in biology, zoology or a related field. Earning a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) requires at least 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.
This is how to become a veterinarian:
- Complete an undergraduate program - 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. Learn more about veterinary science degree programs
- Earn a doctorate degree - 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
- Get licensed - Licensing requirements vary by state, but licensure typically involves both state and national licenses
Like medical doctors, veterinarians often pursue a year-long internship upon receiving their DVMs. Following their internships, many vets pursue three- to four-year residency programs to specialize in fields such as surgery, internal medicine, oncology and anesthesiology.
Veterinarians who treat pets generally begin their careers working in clinics and may later choose to pursue private practice. Vets in clinics and private practice often work long hours, and they often must work with passionate pet owners and in a noisy environment. It may also be an emotionally stressful job when dealing with sick or dying animals.
Veterinarians specializing in farm animals usually live in rural areas and travel to ranches and farms to treat their patients. 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. Still others may work in labs, with limited contact with animals themselves.
Successful veterinarians are strong in math and science, know how to communicate with pet owners and, above all, love animals.
Veterinarian Salary and Career Outlook
Working as a veterinarian can be demanding, both physically and emotionally, but it can also be a rewarding profession, particularly if you enjoy animals. The road to becoming a vet includes a significant amount of schooling, but average salaries in the field may make that time in the classroom worthwhile. Here's a snapshot of veterinarian career data versus related careers, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), including job growth outlook:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Animal Control Workers||12,080||$38,490||5.8%|
|Nonfarm Animal Caretakers||199,850||$25,890||16%|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||89,480||$28,690||19.1%|
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||106,680||$35,560||19.3%|
- Occupational Employment and Wages: Veterinarians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, August 2018, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291131.htm
- "U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook (2012)," American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-Pet-Ownership-Demographics-Sourcebook.aspx
- Veterinarians, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, August 2018, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinarians.htm