A zoological veterinarian is a vet that focuses on exotic and wild animals. For vets and non-vets alike, it is one of the most exciting types of veterinarian practice. It is also very competitive, with only a dozen or so opportunities to study zoological medicine offered each year, worldwide.
What is a Doctor of Zoological Medicine?
Zoo veterinarians (vets) are trained to provide care to wild and exotic animals. In many cases, these animals may be kept in a zoo or wildlife refuge setting where they are given both routine and emergency medical treatment.
Zoo vets understand the behavior of different species of animals, can perform physical examinations, diagnose illnesses, treat injuries, and develop ways to keep the animals from becoming emotionally stressed in their artificial environments. They may also be involved in further care decisions like diet, activity, husbandry, interactions with people, and awareness or teaching campaigns for the public about the animals under their care.
Each day, zoo vets must maintain the best possible situation for the animals in their care. Zoos can be great places to protect endangered species and raise awareness about the ecosystem and food chains, as well as how humans affect natural habitats. However, zoo’s can also be run by business principles that put the animals at risk. Under these circumstances, zoo vets must safeguard the animals to ensure they receive the care and attention they need, while understanding the philosophy and mission of the zoo or refuge where they work.
Finally, due to the number of animals, and their interaction with exotic species, zoo vets may have to consult and work alongside other veterinarians or specialists, as they may have a more in depth knowledge of various situations. Working in teams, and having a network of people to call on is an important part of being a zoo vet.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Doctor of Zoological Medicine
The minimum educational requirement for becoming a zoological veterinarian is a doctoral degree of veterinary medicine, followed by postdoctoral training.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Doctor of Zoological Medicine
The bachelor’s degree is the first stop on an extensive academic training path that is required for working with wild and exotic animals. A bachelor’s study program that includes science coursework and requirements of veterinary colleges, is a must.
During this undergraduate training, students will need to take courses in organic and inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, biological sciences, molecular and cell biology, general biology, physics, and mathematics. All veterinary colleges in the United States and Canada list their pre-requisite course requirements for admission on their website. Ensuring that these courses are part of the undergraduate study plan is paramount to entry into veterinary college.
In addition to taking all of the necessary courses, the student must also perform well in these courses. Minimum GPA requirements are listed on veterinary college websites, and some research is needed by the student to reveal the average incoming-student GPA. This will help an aspiring student understand what it will take to be competitive for acceptance. There are also additional requirements, such as time spent in a setting focused on animal care, and/or having a veterinarian’s letter of recommendation. The sooner the student understands these requirements and guidelines, the sooner they can obtain the necessary experience, and take part in relevant activities.
Acceptance into veterinary school is quite competitive. Since there are less than thirty vet schools in the United States, students should focus as early as possible on obtaining the experience that will set them apart from other applicants. Upon application, the student will need to submit the following for consideration: Completed application, coursework and grades from undergraduate study, MCAT or GRE scores, depending on the school, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular experience that shows a dedication to the field of veterinary medicine.
Recognizing which requirements are needed for the schools a student wishes to apply to, will help them use their time wisely during undergraduate classes, to put together the best application possible.
Veterinary school is challenging. Students are required to complete four-years of study that includes an in-depth look at scientific coursework a student will need to care for animals, as well as the ethics and practice of animal medicine, and clinical experience; all of which will help prepare the aspiring vet for upcoming interactions with animals.
Much like a medical residency, post-doctoral training in zoological medicine will help a veterinarian get the experience they need in clinic and research settings that specialize in wild and exotic animal medicine. Most post-doctoral zoological training is two- to three-years, and is highly competitive, very intense and difficult. There may be no more than twelve programs worldwide any given year that are open to professionals seeking zoological medicine as their specialty.
With proper determination and focus, a future vet can find much success and fulfillment in the field of Zoological Medicine. Taking advantage of every opportunity for training and experience is key, as well as mindfully acquiring the skills and insight that will improve one’s chances of being accepted to veterinarian programs.
There is both a national exam and state licensing requirements for all veterinarians. The national exam will be taken after veterinary school, in order for the individual to be considered a veterinarian. Then, any state requirements must be met in order to practice veterinary medicine.
Since state requirements vary, it is important to look up individual states’ Board of Veterinary Medicine requirements and fulfill the initial requirements, and any continuing education, reporting, or experiential requirements to maintain licensure.
In order to be board-certified in zoological medicine, the vet must not only complete their doctoral degree in veterinary medicine, but complete a one- year zoo veterinarian internship, a three- to four-year zoo veterinarian residency, or gain six years of zoo veterinarian experience.
Understanding the Career Path
Zoo veterinarians, and veterinarians whose focus and training are focused on zoological medicine, can find employment in a variety of settings, some of which may not appear to be immediate considerations. For example, historical sites and museums can employ zoo veterinarians to care for the animals they have on their property, as part of their educational programs or exhibits. Zoos are an obvious place for employment. Animal sanctuaries, any animal refuge, and other types of non-profits that keep wild or exotic animals for any number of reasons, are additional considerations for work settings.
A zoo veterinarian has a great deal of hands-on responsibility. While there is a team of people, including veterinary technicians, dietitians, zookeepers and other staff all focused on supporting the animals welfare, a zoo vet will be the one to respond in an emergency, perform surgeries, and provide the highest level of care when an animal is in need. They also have a high-level of influence when in comes to making decisions on behalf of the animals, including keeping them safe, comfortable, and limiting their stress.
Zoo veterinarians earn slightly less than veterinarians in general. The average reported salary for a veterinarian is $96,140 while the salary for a vet, employed by a historical site or zoo, is around $78,710.
Tips for Success in the Field of Zoological Medicine from our Expert