Veterinarians provide preventive and diagnostic health care services to small and large animals in settings ranging from farms to zoos. Most veterinarians provide care to small companion animals in their own private practice or animal hospital, however, veterinarians also work as inspectors in the food industry or along the country’s borders inspecting imports and exports of animal products to ensure food safety here and abroad.
Job prospects for veterinarians are excellent over the next decade. As more people own pets and increasingly spend more money on their care, additional veterinarians will be needed to meet the demand, particularly in advanced specialties such as oncology. Government work for veterinarians is also expected to increase, due to increased vigilance over the food supply.
Veterinarians diagnose and treat animal health problems, vaccinate against diseases such as rabies and leptospirosis, perform surgery, prescribe medications for animals suffering from infections, and dress and treat wounds. They provide information to animal owners on nutrition, breeding and behavior. Veterinarians use medical and diagnostic equipment, such as stethoscopes, microscopes, surgical instruments and ultrasound machines, to aid in providing treatment. All veterinarians euthanize animals when necessary using humane procedures.
Veterinarians in private practice work long hours in a noisy environment. They risk injury when treating a sick or frightened animal; the animal may bite, scratch or kick if it feels threatened. Veterinarians who treat livestock and other farm animals must drive to the farm or ranch where the animals are located, and may have to work outdoors in inclement weather.
Livestock inspectors and food safety veterinarians examine animals during all stages of meat and food production. They check animals for disease before slaughter, ensure safe processing of meat after slaughter, and enforce laws and regulations on sanitation at the processing site.
Training and Education Requirements
Prospective veterinarians must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D) degree from a four year program at one of the 28 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine. The accreditation standards for these colleges are set by the Board of Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The first two years of the program consists of academic instruction in biology, anatomy, neurology, pathology and pharmacology. Supervised clinical work at an accredited animal hospital is completed during the last two years.
Admittance to one of the accredited colleges requires that a candidate has completed up to 90 credit hours of course work at the undergraduate level of college. An undergraduate degree is not required, but the lack of a degree puts the candidate at a decided disadvantage over those who do. Competition for admittance to veterinary school is high; only about 1 in three candidates are accepted.
Salary and Wages
Salaries for veterinarians vary greatly depending on the type of animals they care for and whether they practice in an urban or rural setting. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median wage earned by a veterinarian in May 2008 was $79,050. The top ten percent earned over $143,660, and the bottom ten percent earned under $46,610; the majority earned wages in the range between $61,370 and $104,110.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
All veterinarians are required by law in every state to be licensed before practicing. All states require veterinarians to obtain a D.V.M. degree and pass the national board examination, the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Additional requirements vary by state. Some require additional testing on clinical competency, and most states require prospective veterinarians to pass examinations on state laws and regulations. Veterinarians who wish to be licensed in multiple states must pass each state’s examinations.
Board certifications are available for many clinical specialties, such as ophthalmology, anesthesiology, surgery, oncology, dermatology, dentistry and emergency care. Each certification is offered by veterinary specialty organizations that are recognized by the AMVA. Veterinarians choosing to specialize must complete a residency program that lasts three to four years beyond the D.V.M. education requirements.
For veterinarians who specialize in treating only one type of animal, the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners offers certification that these veterinarians meet high standards of clinical excellence and have superior knowledge in their chosen specialty. Ten species specific certifications are available: avian, beef cattle, canine and feline, dairy cattle, equine, exotic companion animal, feline only, food animal, reptile and amphibian, and swine health management.
Many professional associations exist for veterinarians. The largest and oldest association is the AVMA, which was founded in 1863 and represents over 80,000 veterinarians. The association has been designated as the accrediting body for veterinary medical schools in the United States by the U.S. Department of Education. Members can subscribe to two AVMA publications, the Journal of the AVMA and the American Journal of Veterinary Research; both provide news and up-to-date scientific and clinical information on veterinary practices. Board certified veterinarians may join an association specific to their specialty.
Many veterinary practices operate as animal hospitals. The American Animal Hospital Association provides services and information for veterinarians practicing at animal hospitals, and also has established accreditation standards for hospital operation and maintenance.