Veterinarians Career Information
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Significant Points· Graduation from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and a
license to practice are required.
· Competition for admission to veterinary school is keen.
Nature of the WorkVeterinarians 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 one-half 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. Some 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, focusing mostly on horses or cows but may 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 food animals. These veterinarians test for and vaccinate against diseases and consult with farm or ranch owners and managers on animal production, feeding, and housing issues. They also treat and dress wounds, set fractures, and perform surgery—including cesarean sections on birthing animals. Veterinarians also 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, such as radiographic and ultra-sound 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 human health problems, such as cancer, AIDS, and alcohol or drug abuse. 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 treatment, 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 sanitation.
Working ConditionsVeterinarians often work long hours, with
well over one-third of full-time workers spending 50 or more hours on the job.
Those in group practices may take
turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend work; and solo practitioners
can work extended and weekend hours, responding to emergencies or squeezing
in unexpected appointments.
Veterinarians in large animal practice also spend time driving between their office and farms or ranches. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather, and have to treat animals or perform surgery under less-than-sanitary conditions. When working with animals that are frightened or in pain, veterinarians risk being bitten, kicked, or scratched.
Veterinarians working in non-clinical 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 animals.
Veterinarians held about 61,000 jobs in 2009. 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.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Prospective veterinarians must graduate from
a 4-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine with a Doctor
of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree and obtain a license to practice.
There are 27 colleges in 26 States that meet accreditation standards set by
the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The
prerequisites for admission vary by veterinary medical college. 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.
Preveterinary courses emphasize the sciences; and 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; and others require no math at all. Most veterinary medical colleges also require core courses, including some in English or literature, the social sciences, and the humanities.
Most veterinary medical colleges will only consider applicants who have a minimum grade point average (GPA). The required GPA varies by school, from a low of 2.5 to a high of 3.2, based on a maximum GPA of 4.0. However, the average GPA of candidates at most schools is higher than these minimums. Those who receive offers of admission usually have a GPA of 3.0 or better.
In addition to satisfying preveterinary course requirements, applicants must also 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 each college.
Additionally, in the admissions process, veterinary medical colleges weigh heavily a candidate's veterinary and animal experience. Formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research, or in some area of health science, is particularly advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm or ranch or at a stable or animal shelter, is also helpful. Students must demonstrate ambition and an eagerness to work with animals.
Competition for admission to veterinary school is keen. The number of accredited veterinary colleges has remained at 27 since 1983, whereas the number of applicants has risen. About 1 in 3 applicants was accepted in 1998. Most veterinary medical colleges are public, State-supported institutions and reserve the majority of their openings for in-state residents. Twenty-one States that do not have a veterinary medical college agree to pay a fee or subsidy to help cover the cost of veterinary education for a limited number of their residents at one or more out-of-state colleges. Nonresident students who are admitted under such a contract may have to pay out-of-state tuition, or they may have to repay their State of residency all, or part, of the subsidy provided to the contracting college. Residents of the remaining 3 States (Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont) and the District of Columbia may apply to any of the 27 veterinary medical colleges as an at-large applicant. The number of positions available to at-large applicants is very limited at most schools, making admission difficult.
While in veterinary medical college, students receive additional academic instruction in the basic sciences for the first 2 years. Later in the program, students are exposed to clinical procedures, such as diagnosing and treating animal diseases and performing surgery. They also do laboratory work in anatomy, biochemistry, medicine, and other scientific subjects. At most veterinary medical colleges, students who plan a career in research can earn both a D.V.M degree and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree at the same time.
Veterinary graduates who plan to work with specific types of animals or specialize in a clinical area, such as pathology, surgery, radiology, or laboratory animal medicine, usually complete a 1-year internship. Interns receive a small salary but usually find that their internship experience leads to a higher beginning salary, relative to other starting veterinarians. Veterinarians who seek board certification in a specialty must also complete a 2- to 3-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 successful completion of the D.V.M. degree—or equivalent education—and passage of a national board examination. The Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG) grants certification to individuals trained outside the U.S. who demonstrate that they meet specified requirements for the English language and clinical proficiency. ECFVG certification fulfills the educational requirement for licensure in all States except Nebraska. Applicants for licensure satisfy the examination requirement by passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), which recently replaced the National Board Examination (NBE) and the Clinical Competency Test (CCT). The new NAVLE, administered on computer, takes one day to complete and consists of 360 multiple-choice questions, covering all aspects of veterinary medicine. The NAVLE also includes visual materials designed to test diagnostic skills.
The majority of States also require candidates to pass a State jurisprudence examination covering State laws and regulations. Some States also do additional testing on clinical competency. There are few reciprocal agreements between States, making it difficult for a veterinarian to practice in a different State without first taking another State examination.
Forty-one 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 or partners 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 established one.
Newly trained veterinarians can become U.S. Government meat and poultry inspectors, disease-control workers, epidemiologists, research assistants, or commissioned officers in the U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Army, or U.S. Air Force. 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 animal owners. Additionally, they should be able to quickly make decisions in emergencies.
Job OutlookEmployment of veterinarians is expected to
Most veterinarians practice in animal hospitals or clinics and care primarily for companion animals. The number of dogs as pets is expected to increase more slowly during the projection period than in the previous decade. However, faster growth of the cat population is expected to increase the demand for feline medicine and veterinary services, offsetting any reduced demand for veterinary care for dogs. Also, as non-necessity income generally increases with age, those who own pets may be more inclined to seek veterinary services. Small increases in the total number of household pets, coupled with the movement of baby boomers into the 34 to 59 year age group, means that the willingness by pet owners to pay for veterinary services should continue. In addition, pet owners are becoming more aware of the availability of advanced care and may increasingly take advantage of nontraditional veterinary services, such as preventive dental care, and may more willingly pay for intensive care than in the past. Finally, new technologies and medical advancements should permit veterinarians to offer better care to animals.
New graduates continue to be attracted to small animal medicine because they prefer to deal with pets and to live and work near highly 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 expected to grow slowly, because productivity gains in the agricultural production industry mean demand for fewer veterinarians than before to treat food animals. Nevertheless, job prospects may be better for veterinarians who specialize in farm animals than for small animal practitioners, because most veterinary medical college graduates do not have the desire to work in rural or isolated areas.
Continued support for public health and food safety, international and national disease control programs, and biomedical research on human health problems will contribute to the demand for veterinarians, although such positions are few in number. However, anticipated budget tightening in the Federal Government may lead to low funding levels for some programs, limiting job growth. Veterinarians with training in 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 2009. 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 2009 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|
The average annual salary for veterinarians in the Federal Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was $78,769 in 2009.
Related OccupationsVeterinarians prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases, disorders, and injuries in animals. Those who do similar work for humans include chiropractors,
For additional information on careers in veterinary medicine, a list of U.S. schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, and accreditation policies, send a letter-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope to: For information on veterinary education, write to: For information on scholarships, grants, and loans, contact the financial aid officer at the veterinary schools to which you wish to apply. Information on obtaining a veterinary position with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government’s official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978) 461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may result.
Sources of Additional Information
For additional information on careers in veterinary medicine, a list of U.S. schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, and accreditation policies, send a letter-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope to:
For information on veterinary education, write to:
For information on scholarships, grants, and loans, contact the financial aid officer at the veterinary schools to which you wish to apply.
Information on obtaining a veterinary position with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government’s official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978) 461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may result.