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.

> Check out online veterinarian schools and vet tech degree programs

Veterinarian Duties

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
  • Research medical conditions and the latest in food safety
  • Prevent bioterrorism and agroterrorism

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 or shelter work, corporate veterinary medicine, research and teaching, or working for the federal government or an international agency.

How to Become a Veterinarian

The practice of veterinary medicine requires extensive education and clinical preparation, and it's a highly competitive field.

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Get licensed - Licensing requirements vary by state, but licensure typically involves both state and national licenses

In addition, while you may be able to find work in many states, certain states have more opportunities than others. Learn more and explore the top schools for veterinary science degrees

Keep in mind, some veterinarians expand on their initial education to specialize in the following areas:

  • Surgery
  • Internal medicine
  • Ophthalmology
  • Animal behavior
  • Dentistry
  • Pathology
  • Preventative medicine
  • Animal welfare
  • Animal and zoonotic diseases
  • Public health
  • Biosecurity
  • Meat inspection
  • Regulatory medicine

Veterinarian Skills and Qualities

Among having general compassion for living things and animals, veterinarians typically have the following strengths:

  • Strong decision-making skills
  • Manual dexterity
  • Community skills, both written and verbal
  • Problem-solving skills

Veterinarian Salary and Career Outlook

The pay for veterinarians can differ depending on where you work, your prior experience in the field and who your employer is. Here’s an idea of how much veterinarians and those in similar careers can make each year, based on the latest data. You can also see the projected job growth for vet careers:

CareerAnnual Median WageProjected Number of New JobsProjected Job Growth Rate
Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers$27,54017,60019.1
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

To find out more about how to become a veterinarian, check out the visual guide below.

Article Sources


Article Sources

Occupational Employment and Wages: Veterinarians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, August 2018,

Veterinarians, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, August 2018,

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