Career Guide: Veterinarian

  • Veterinarians can pursue private practice and work with companion animals such as dogs and cats.
    Veterinarians can pursue private practice and work with companion animals such as dogs and cats.

    Career Guide: Veterinarian

    For centuries, the lives of humans and animals have been deeply intertwined. People have cared for animals as pets and raised them as livestock, and animals have aided humans in their daily work. Therefore, it's natural for people to be passionate about improving animal life and understanding animal behavior.

    Do you want to turn your love for animals into a career? Are you considering a path in veterinary medicine? Read on to learn more about becoming a veterinarian:

    What do veterinarians do?
    Veterinarians are animal doctors. They care for and improve the health and well-being of pets, livestock and other animals. They diagnose and treat animal health issues, and research diseases and medical conditions associated with animals.

    The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) considers veterinary medicine to be "a well-respected profession because veterinarians make significant contributions to improving the health and well-being of the animals and people they serve. Preventing disease and healing animals is at the heart of what veterinarians do, but they also do so much more." For veterinarians, this means not only examining animals and performing medical procedures on them, but also advising owners on proper care for their animals, controlling the spread of animal diseases, and ensuring the safety of food supply.

    What career options do veterinarians have?
    Veterinarians have several job options they can pursue:

    • Private practice: Veterinarians can work in private veterinary hospitals or clinics. They can also put up their own practice and focus on working with companion animals such as dogs and cats.
    • Government work: Veterinarians can work with government agencies on agricultural animal health, biosecurity, food supply medicine, meat inspection and public health. They can also serve as consultants on controlling the spread of animal-to-human diseases and formulating public policy on animal health and welfare.
    • Teaching: The AAMVC notes that over the next 10 years, 40 percent of faculty will be eligible for retirement. Thus, there's a need to fill teaching positions in veterinary schools.
    • Research: Veterinarians can conduct research on animal health, behavior, medicine and other animal-related subjects in universities or research centers.
    • Shelter medicine: Veterinarians can monitor the health and well-being of animals housed in shelters.

    The AAVMC has a list of other veterinary career options.

    How do you become a veterinarian?
    Veterinarians are required to obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary medicine college. The four-year degree program includes a mix of classroom, laboratory, and clinical work. The final year of the program usually involves clinical rotations in a veterinary hospital or medical center.

    Veterinary medical school applicants must have an undergraduate degree. The AAVMC notes that prospective students should acquire the necessary math and science prerequisite courses, such as biology and chemistry. Previous work experience in some form of health science can be an advantage, as well as working on farms or volunteering with animal shelters.

    After completing a veterinary medicine degree, veterinarians must be licensed to practice their profession. They should pass a national licensing exam and may be required to pass a state exam based on their state of practice.

    Other veterinarians also opt to specialize in aquatic animal medicine, emergency animal medicine, marine biology, wildlife animal medicine and other specialty fields through advanced training and certification.

    What skills are important for veterinarians to have?
    Aside from the requisite medical skills, veterinarians must also be good communicators and problem-solvers. Communication skills are necessary for veterinarians to effectively explain treatment options and recommendations to animal owners, while problem-solving skills are essential in identifying animal health problems and their corresponding treatment. Manual dexterity is also a must, as performing animal surgery calls for precision in hand movements.

    Handling animals can be physically demanding, so veterinarians must be able to work outdoors in different weather conditions. Veterinarians are often required to visit farms, slaughterhouses and other facilities in remote areas, so veterinarians should be amenable to travel. They should also be willing to respond to emergency calls outside of scheduled work hours.

    Above all, veterinarians must have compassion toward animals and their owners. Kindness, respect, and sensitivity go a long way when responding to the health needs of animals and the concerns of their owners.

    Career outlook for veterinarians
    Veterinarians are expected to have an 18 percent growth in jobs through 2026, a faster rate than the average for other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In terms of pay, the BLS reports that the median annual wage for veterinarians in May 2016 was $88,770.

    Veterinarians should expect a positive career outlook in their field. More people are becoming pet owners, and in 2016 alone, $15.95 billion was spent on veterinary care, according to the American Pet Products Association. This is a good driver of employment for veterinarians working with companion animals. The BLS also says that job opportunities will become available for new veterinarians as others retire. Advancements in veterinary medicine are another good indicator for veterinarian employment.

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