Veterinarians prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases, disorders, and injuries
in animals. Those who do similar work for humans include chiropractors,
dentists, optometrists, physicians and surgeons, and podiatrists. Veterinarians
have extensive training in physical and life sciences, and some do scientific
and medical research, similar to the work of biological scientists and medical
Animal care and service workers and veterinary technologists and technicians
work extensively with animals. Like veterinarians, they must have patience and
feel comfortable with animals. However, the level of training required for these
occupations is substantially less than that needed by veterinarians.
Veterinarians play a major role in the healthcare of pets, livestock, and
zoo, sporting, and laboratory animals. Some veterinarians use their skills to
protect humans against diseases carried by animals and conduct clinical research
on human and animal health problems. Others work in basic research, broadening
the scope of fundamental theoretical knowledge, and in applied research,
developing new ways to use knowledge.
Most veterinarians perform clinical work in private practices. More than 50
percent of these veterinarians predominately, or exclusively treat small
animals. Small-animal practitioners usually care for companion animals, such as
dogs and cats, but also treat birds, reptiles, rabbits, and other animals that
can be kept as pets. About one-fourth of all veterinarians work in mixed animal
practices, where they see pigs, goats, sheep, and some nondomestic animals in
addition to companion animals. Veterinarians in clinical practice diagnose
animal health problems; vaccinate against diseases, such as distemper and
rabies; medicate animals suffering from infections or illnesses; treat and dress
wounds; set fractures; perform surgery; and advise owners about animal feeding,
behavior, and breeding.
A small number of private-practice veterinarians work exclusively with large
animals, mostly horses or cows; some also care for various kinds of food
animals. These veterinarians usually drive to farms or ranches to provide
veterinary services for herds or individual animals. Much of this work involves
preventive care to maintain the health of the animals. These veterinarians test
for and vaccinate against diseases and consult with farm or ranch owners and
managers regarding animal production, feeding, and housing issues. They also
treat and dress wounds, set fractures, and perform surgery, including cesarean
sections on birthing animals. Veterinarians euthanize animals when necessary.
Other veterinarians care for zoo, aquarium, or laboratory animals.
Veterinarians who treat animals use medical equipment such as stethoscopes,
surgical instruments, and diagnostic equipment, including radiographic and
ultrasound equipment. Veterinarians working in research use a full range of
sophisticated laboratory equipment.
Veterinarians can contribute to human as well as animal health. A number of
veterinarians work with physicians and scientists as they research ways to
prevent and treat various human health problems. For example, veterinarians
contributed greatly in conquering malaria and yellow fever, solved the mystery
of botulism, produced an anticoagulant used to treat some people with heart
disease, and defined and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip
and knee joint replacements and limb and organ transplants. Today, some
determine the effects of drug therapies, antibiotics, or new surgical techniques
by testing them on animals.
Some veterinarians are involved in food safety at various levels.
Veterinarians who are livestock inspectors check animals for transmissible
diseases, advise owners on the treatment of their animals and may quarantine
animals. Veterinarians who are meat, poultry, or egg product inspectors examine
slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for
disease, and enforce government regulations regarding food purity and
Veterinarians often work long hours. Those in group practices may take turns
being on call for evening, night, or weekend work; solo practitioners may work
extended and weekend hours, responding to emergencies or squeezing in unexpected
appointments. The work setting often can be noisy.
Veterinarians in large-animal practice spend time driving between their office
and farms or ranches. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather and may have to
treat animals or perform surgery under un-sanitary conditions. When working with
animals that are frightened or in pain, veterinarians risk being bitten, kicked,
Veterinarians working in nonclinical areas, such as public health and research,
have working conditions similar to those of other professionals in those lines
of work. In these cases, veterinarians enjoy clean, well-lit offices or
laboratories and spend much of their time dealing with people rather than
Veterinarians held about 61,000 jobs in 2004. About 1 out of 5 veterinarians
was self-employed in a solo or group practice. Most others were salaried
employees of another veterinary practice. The federal government employed about
1,200 civilian veterinarians, chiefly in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture,
Health and Human Services, and, increasingly, Homeland Security. Other employers
of veterinarians are state and local governments, colleges of veterinary
medicine, medical schools, research laboratories, animal food companies, and
pharmaceutical companies. A few veterinarians work for zoos, but most
veterinarians caring for zoo animals are private practitioners who contract with
the zoos to provide services, usually on a part-time basis. In addition, many
veterinarians hold veterinary faculty positions in colleges and universities.
Prospective veterinarians must graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
(D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree from a 4-year program at an accredited college of
veterinary medicine and must obtain a license to practice. There are 28 colleges
in 26 states that meet accreditation standards set by the Council on Education
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The prerequisites for
admission vary. Many of these colleges do not require a bachelor’s degree for
entrance, but all require a significant number of credit hours—ranging from 45
to 90 semester hours—at the undergraduate level. However, most of the students
admitted have completed an undergraduate program. Applicants without a
bachelor’s degree face a difficult task gaining admittance.
Pre-veterinary courses emphasize the sciences. Veterinary medical colleges
typically require classes in organic and inorganic chemistry, physics,
biochemistry, general biology, animal biology, animal nutrition, genetics,
vertebrate embryology, cellular biology, microbiology, zoology, and systemic
physiology. Some programs require calculus; some require only statistics,
college algebra and trigonometry, or precalculus. Most veterinary medical
colleges also require core courses, including some in English or literature, the
social sciences, and the humanities. Increasingly, courses in practice
management and career development are becoming a standard part of the
curriculum, to provide a foundation of general business knowledge for new
In addition to satisfying preveterinary course requirements, applicants must
submit test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Veterinary
College Admission Test (VCAT), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT),
depending on the preference of the college to which they are applying.
Currently, 22 schools require the GRE, 4 require the VCAT, and 2 accept the
In admittance decisions, some veterinary medical colleges place heavy
consideration on a candidate’s veterinary and animal experience. Formal
experience, such as work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics,
agribusiness, research, or some area of health science, is particularly
advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm or
ranch or animal shelter, also is helpful. Students must demonstrate ambition and
an eagerness to work with animals.
There is keen competition for admission to veterinary school. The number of
accredited veterinary colleges has remained largely the same since 1983, whereas
the number of applicants has risen significantly. Only about 1 in 3 applicants
was accepted in 2004. AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties—such as pathology,
internal medicine, dentistry, nutrition, ophthalmology, surgery, radiology,
preventive medicine, and laboratory animal medicine—are usually in the form of a
2-year internship. Interns receive a small salary but usually find that their
internship experience leads to a higher beginning salary, relative to those of
other starting veterinarians. Veterinarians who seek board certification in a
specialty also must complete a 3- to 4-year residency program that provides
intensive training in specialties such as internal medicine, oncology,
radiology, surgery, dermatology, anesthesiology, neurology, cardiology,
ophthalmology, and exotic small-animal medicine.
All states and the District of Columbia require that veterinarians be licensed
before they can practice. The only exemptions are for veterinarians working for
some Federal agencies and some state governments. Licensing is controlled by the
states and is not strictly uniform, although all states require the successful
completion of the D.V.M. degree—or equivalent education—and a passing grade on a
national board examination. The Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary
Graduates (ECFVG) grants certification to individuals trained outside the United
States who demonstrate that they meet specified requirements for the English
language and for clinical proficiency. ECFVG certification fulfills the
educational requirement for licensure in all states. Applicants for licensure
satisfy the examination requirement by passing the North American Veterinary
Licensing Exam (NAVLE),an 8-hour computer based examination consisting of 360
multiple-choice questions covering all aspects of veterinary medicine.
Administered by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (NBVME),the
NAVLE includes visual materials designed to test diagnostic skills and
constituting 10 percent of the total examination.
The majority of states also require candidates to pass a state jurisprudence
examination covering state laws and regulations. Some states do additional
testing on clinical competency as well. There are few reciprocal agreements
between states, making it difficult for a veterinarian to practice in a
different state without first taking that state’s examination.
Nearly all states have continuing education requirements for licensed
veterinarians. Requirements differ by state and may involve attending a class or
otherwise demonstrating knowledge of recent medical and veterinary advances.
Most veterinarians begin as employees in established practices. Despite the
substantial financial investment in equipment, office space, and staff, many
veterinarians with experience set up their own practice or purchase an
Newly trained veterinarians can become U.S. Government meat and poultry
inspectors, disease-control workers, animal welfare and safety workers,
epidemiologists, research assistants, or commissioned officers in the U.S.
Public Health Service or various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. A state
license may be required.
Prospective veterinarians must have good manual dexterity. They should have an
affinity for animals and the ability to get along with their owners, especially
pet owners, who tend to form a strong bond with their pet. Veterinarians who
intend to go into private practice should possess excellent communication and
business skills, because they will need to manage their practice and employees
successfully and promote, market, and sell their services.
Employment of veterinarians is expected to increase as fast as average for
all occupations over the 2004–14 projection period. Despite this average growth,
very good job opportunities are expected because the 28 schools of veterinary
medicine, even at full capacity, result in a limited number of graduates each
year. However, as mentioned earlier, there is keen competition for admission to
veterinary school. As pets are increasingly viewed as a member of the family,
pet owners will be more willing to spend on advanced veterinary medical care,
creating further demand for veterinarians.
Most veterinarians practice in animal hospitals or clinics and care primarily
for companion animals. Recent trends indicate particularly strong interest in
cats as pets. Faster growth of the cat population is expected to increase the
demand for feline medicine and veterinary services, while demand for veterinary
care for dogs should continue to grow at a more modest pace.
Pet owners are becoming more aware of the availability of advanced care and are
more willing to pay for intensive veterinary care than in the past because many
pet owners are more affluent and because they consider their pet part of the
family. More pet owners even purchase pet insurance, increasing the likelihood
that a considerable amount of money will be spent on veterinary care for their
pets. More pet owners also will take advantage of nontraditional veterinary
services, such as preventive dental care.
New graduates continue to be attracted to companion-animal medicine because
they prefer to deal with pets and to live and work near heavily populated areas.
This situation will not necessarily limit the ability of veterinarians to find
employment or to set up and maintain a practice in a particular area. Rather,
beginning veterinarians may take positions requiring evening or weekend work to
accommodate the extended hours of operation that many practices are offering.
Some veterinarians take salaried positions in retail stores offering veterinary
services. Self-employed veterinarians usually have to work hard and long to
build a sufficient client base.
The number of jobs for large-animal veterinarians is likely to grow more slowly
than that for veterinarians in private practice who care for companion animals.
Nevertheless, job prospects may be better for veterinarians who specialize in
farm animals than for companion-animal practitioners because of low earnings in
the former specialty and because many veterinarians do not want to work in rural
or isolated areas.
Continued support for public health and food safety, national disease control
programs, and biomedical research on human health problems will contribute to
the demand for veterinarians, although positions in these areas of interest are
few in number. Homeland security also may provide opportunities for
veterinarians involved in efforts to minimize animal diseases and prevent them
from entering the country. Veterinarians with training in food safety, animal
health and welfare, and public health and epidemiology should have the best
opportunities for a career in the federal government.
Median annual earnings of veterinarians were $66,590 in May 2004. The middle
50 percent earned between $51,420 and $88,060. The lowest 10 percent earned less
than $39,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $118,430.
According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, average
starting salaries of veterinary medical college graduates in 2004 varied by type
of practice as follows: Small animals, predominantly $50,878, Small animals,
exclusively, $50,703; Large animals, exclusively, $50,403; Private clinical
practice, $49,635; Large animals, predominantly, $48,529; Mixed animals,
$47,704; Equine (horses), $38,628.
The average annual salary for veterinarians in the federal government in
non-supervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was $78,769 in 2005.
Additional Veterinarian career and job resources are presented in the paperback
Health Care Job Explosion! 4th edition by Dennis V. Damp for this
occupational group. Resources include Job Ads, Job Hotlines, Job Fairs,
Placement services, Associations, Books, Directories and Internet (Web) Sites.
Your local library may have this book in their reference section or you can
purchase a copy for $19.95 plus shipping with all major credit cards from our
toll free service at 1-800-782-7424 (Orders Only). Also available at all major
bookstores. Also explore jobs at VA hospitals and other
federal government employment options.
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) - 1931 N. Meacham Rd., Suite
100, Schaumburg, IL 60173; 847/925-8070. (http://www.avma.org,
email@example.com). Web has directory of veterinary programs in the US. Student
AVMA includes web based open mentoring. Anyone can view jobs posted on internet.
Members can post résumé and be notified when jobs come up that meet their
Careers for Animal Lovers & Other Zoological Types - by Louise Miller,
McGraw-Hill, 2000, ISBN: 0658004638 Discusses dozens of ways to pursue a passion
and make a living--including many little-known but delightful careers that will
Opportunities in Animal and Pet Care Careers - by Mary Price Lee and Richard
Lee, McGraw-Hill, 2001, ISBN: 0658010433. Offers job seekers information about a
variety of careers for animal lovers, including training and education
requirements, salary statistics, and professional and Internet resources.
Resume Writing Service - Professionally package your health care resume
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Health Care Jobs, Veterinarian Career and Jobs, Medical Jobs