A veterinarian is a trained medical professional that oversees the healthcare needs of animals. Although most veterinarians work in private clinics and animal hospitals treating companion pets, they also find employment diagnosing illness and performing medical procedures on creatures that reside in zoos, animal shelters, laboratories, and any other place that houses animals. In order to gain the appropriate knowledge, skills and experience to treat animals, aspiring veterinarians must earn a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine.
The education that a veterinarian receives not only prepares him or her to assume employment positions directly related to animal health care, but also qualifies them for jobs outside of treating animals at animal clinics, hospitals and within private practices. Veterinarians enjoy employment growth seen in other fields, such as food and animal safety, disease control and public health, which benefits vets who train to identify correlations between animal and human health; perform food inspections; and conduct research.
Despite the growing need for certain employers to hire professionals trained in veterinary services, competition is still stiff as the number of new graduates from veterinary schools has increased to roughly 3,000 per year. For example, those who pursue a job related to providing companion animal care face the fewest job opportunities because it is the most popular career option for graduates. On the other hand, since fewer veterinarians seek employment related to farm animal care; more job opportunities in this field await a new graduate.
With a state license, a veterinarian is able to treat all aspects of animal health – from conducting tests to prescribing medications. Those who obtain further training and experience in a specialty often face the most attractive and profitable job opportunities within the industry. According to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), there are more than 86,000 veterinarians who actively practice in the United States.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians made between less than $51,530 and more than $144,100 in 2012, earning a median salary of $84,460. The BLS reports that the job outlook for the veterinarian occupation is anticipated to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is at a faster rate than the average of all other careers in the United States.
Browse the following information to learn more about the educational paths that an individual with an interest in becoming a veterinarian may pursue, from building experience as a veterinary technician to completing additional training after veterinary school to become a specialist in a particular area of animal-related health care:
While a veterinarian requires an advanced education in veterinary medicine, those with an interest in the field may earn a two-year associate degree to become a veterinary technician, which holds a position comparable to how a nurse assists a medical doctor.
Depending on state requirements, a technician must take a credentialing examination, and become registered, licensed or certified to work in an animal hospital, animal shelter, or research facility. They also perform clinical work in a private practice setting under the supervision of a veterinarian.
According to the BLS, there were 217 veterinary technology programs accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2013. The majority of these programs trained veterinary technicians through a two-year associate degree program; in comparison to the twenty-two colleges that offer bachelor’s degree programs in veterinary technology. Eight schools with veterinary technology programs offer the option to complete coursework through distance learning
Entry-level veterinary technicians generally receive on-the-job training under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. Those who have completed training and an education that includes extensive hands-on experience with diagnostic equipment and other laboratory/medical tools, usually undergo a shorter period of on-the-job training. With years of experience, veterinary technicians can become supervisors. They may also opt to pursue a bachelor’s degree to become a veterinary technologist, or apply to a veterinary medical college.
Although not a requirement, the majority of veterinary school applicants possess a four-year undergraduate degree. The prerequisites for admission vary by school, but all expect an applicant to have completed a predetermined number of credit hours that range from 45 to 90 semester hours at the undergraduate level. Most students admitted into veterinary medical school have completed an undergraduate program, and those without a bachelor’s degree generally face an uphill battle. Interest to study veterinary medicine on the doctorate level is high.
Veterinary medical colleges typically require applicants to have completed an array of coursework related to the biological and physical sciences, such as microbiology, chemistry, physics, physiology, zoology, and animal science. Students also take mathematics, the humanities, and social sciences to fulfill pre-veterinary course requirements.
While a few colleges and universities offer a pre-veterinary program, it is not a widespread option. Students looking to become a veterinarian gain the best preparation when they major in a related science or medical field as an undergrad, like biology, biochemistry, or animal/wildlife sciences. As mentioned earlier, some students pursue a four-year degree to become a veterinary technologist, which involves more training and experience than a veterinary technician.
Gaining entry into a veterinary program is a highly competitive process, and according to the American Medical Association’s Health Care Careers Directory, fewer than half of all applicants are accepted across the board. Completing an undergraduate education and receiving additional training in animal-related sciences increase an applicant’s chances of gaining entry into a veterinary medical school program.
Experience plays a significant role in being admitted into a veterinary medical college, and schools take into consideration many different skills and achievements when admitting new students. Applicants who have formal experience, such as directly working under a veterinarian or having past employment within an agribusiness or veterinary clinic setting, are typically considered more desirable in terms of experience. The admissions committee will also look for applicants with less formal training, such as working on a farm with animals, tending a stable, or volunteering at an animal shelter.
It is recommended that students participate in veterinary shadowing programs, internships, and volunteer to gain additional experience during their undergraduate studies.
While the specific admission requirements vary, there are basic expectations to meet when applying to a veterinary school that go beyond gaining animal and clinical experience, such as:
To meet deadlines, most undergraduate students apply to veterinary schools during the fall of their senior year. Junior year is generally spent deciding which schools to apply to, and for preparing to take standardized tests based on program prerequisites.
The majority of veterinary schools in the United States use a centralized application service overseen by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (called the Veterinary Medical College Application Service-VMCAS). This service processes applications, transcripts and letters of evaluation, and sends them to an applicant’s schools of choice. Depending on a veterinary school, an applicant may still have to submit a supplemental application in addition to using the VMCAS.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are roughly 30 colleges with accredited veterinary medicine programs in the United States for a student to consider.
Graduates of an accredited college of veterinary medicine earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree, which is required of all veterinarians. Those who have been admitted into a program most likely possess at least a bachelor’s degree, and have already completed prerequisite coursework that includes science and math subjects. It generally takes a student four years to complete a veterinary medicine program, which consists of classroom instruction, laboratory, and clinical training.
The initial two to three years of a veterinary medicine program are typically spent taking courses and completing clinical work related to normal animal anatomy and physiology, which also touches upon disease prevention, diagnosing medical conditions, and administering treatment. It is also not uncommon for students to explore general business management and career development classes during this time, which teaches future veterinarians how to effectively run a private practice.
The remaining year or so of a four-year program sees students completing clinical rotations, which generally take place in a veterinary medical center or animal hospital. Students are supervised by licensed veterinarians as they gain in-depth training and experience related to animal health which touches upon an array of subjects, such as radiology, anesthesiology and surgery.
Upon completion of an accredited veterinary program, a graduate is expected to obtain a license in order to practice in the United States. To become licensed, veterinarians take and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), as well as fulfill any other state requirements – such a completing a designated number of clinical work hours to qualify. However, veterinarians who accept a position with a state or federal government agency may not be required to possess a state license since each agency has varying requirements.
Continuing education for practicing veterinarians is a requirement by most, if not all states in the U.S., where professionals are expected to complete a certain number of course hours within a predetermined time period to maintain their credentials.
Although graduates of a veterinary program can begin practicing once they become state-licensed, some veterinarians enter 1-year internship programs to obtain further education and training. Others choose a certification program to specialize in a particular area of veterinary care, such as orthopedic surgery or cardiology. Not only does pursuing a specialization in veterinary medicine lead to a higher earning potential, but it also widens the scope of employment opportunities that a veterinarian can apply to.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the American Veterinary Medical Association offers certification in 40 specialties, including surgery, microbiology, and internal medicine.
Certification is not required for veterinarians, but completing the process demonstrates a high level of skill and expertise regarding a particular field. The requirements to gain certification vary according to the specialty, but most veterinarians must pass an exam; possess a certain number of years of experience in the field; fulfill additional education requirements; and complete a residency program, which generally lasts 3 to 4 years.
New graduates often face strong competition for most veterinarian positions, and those with specializations, certifications, and/or prior work experience related to an open position encounter increased chances of being hired.
For instance, all veterinarians can seek work at pet clinics and animal shelters, yet an equine veterinarian (who specializes in the health management of horses) is also qualified to treat ‘patients’ residing at thoroughbred stables, or make farm visits to treat lame horses. Those who can provide equine medical services are in high demand as there is an increased need for specialists qualified to treat the more than nine million horses in the United States. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) reports that nearly fifty percent of equine veterinarians treat performance horses (44.8%), while other duties include overseeing the health of pleasure/farm work (17.2%), racing animals (13.7%), and reproductive work (13.2%) .
The training that graduates of a veterinary school receive also qualifies them to pursue employment in nontraditional industry positions associated with fields such as disease control, corporate sales, population studies, and public health.
Veterinarians may opt to specialize in a field that has nothing to do with administering animal health care, but instead choose to concentrate their studies regarding other industries. For example, with the proper training, veterinarians may pursue a career in food safety and inspection, where they may check livestock for transmittable illnesses that humans can contract. Research veterinarians assume positions at colleges, universities, and other facilities to study and identify the types of conditions that affect animal health.
In conclusion, those who pursue an education in veterinary medicine enter one of the most popular yet competitive career choices related to the animal industry. Earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree requires a substantial time and financial commitment that leads to a field offering excellent, wide-ranging job opportunities associated with providing direct animal health care, as well as employment in many other industries.
 Health Care Careers Directory 2012-2013 by the American Medical Association; pg. 406.