From the rural countryside of the United States, to today’s growing urban farm movement, veterinarians who are focused on domestic poultry have an opportunity to influence the way chickens, ducks, and turkeys are cared for, and processed. Focusing on this sub-specialty of avian veterinary practices, prepares the veterinarian to engage in research and education, develop poultry medicine practices, and provide care at the small urban farm or large poultry farm.
What is a Poultry Veterinarian?
A poultry veterinarian specializes in the heath and maintenance of poultry, usually focused on domestic poultry like chickens, ducks and turkeys. This sub-specialty of veterinary medicine is dissimilar to avian veterinarians, in that avian veterinarians typically focus on all types of birds, whereas poultry veterinarians work in animal husbandry and breeding, commercial and private, or backyard-scale operations, diseases, vaccinations and medication, and other aspects of poultry care, from hatching through adulthood.
Like all veterinarians, an aspiring poultry veterinarian should have a deep love and respect for animals, the patience to interact with animals who cannot communicate their needs orally, the understanding of how animals fit into the ecosystem, and knowledge of the advances and technology of veterinary medicine.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Poultry Veterinarian
The minimum educational requirement to become a poultry veterinarian is a doctoral degree from an accredited school of veterinary medicine.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Poultry Veterinarian
The first step to becoming a veterinarian is the completion of a bachelor’s degree. This undergraduate coursework will provide the foundation for further study as one progress through their education. Focusing on science-related coursework and laboratory experience will prepare the student for testing and acceptance into veterinary school.
The student should have a strong foundation of the biological and physical sciences in whatever degree program they pursue, and take advantage of any special programs in their area that will demonstrate their dedication to the field of veterinary medicine. For example, volunteering at a veterinary clinic or humane society, spending time around animals, and learning as much as possible about their behavior, may increase a student's standing when applying to veterinary school.
In general, the courses that are required for entry into a veterinary program are as follows, although every student should check with their school of choice for any specific requirements: General chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry including molecular or cell biology, general biology, physics, and mathematics, including calculus.
The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) or Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
Some veterinary schools require that a student submit GRE scores along with their application, while others prefer, or will accept, MCAT scores. It is important for the student applying to one of the 30 veterinary schools in the United States to know what the standardized test requirement is for the school of their choice.
Both the MCAT and the GRE are very challenging tests. All applicants to veterinary school should study and prepare for the test using all of the resources at their disposal. Many undergraduate schools, where students regularly continue on to medical school or veterinary school, offer classes or materials that provide information about these tests, including tutoring, subject review, pre-tests, practice tests, and more. The more time and effort the student commits to preparing for their exam, the better their score will likely be, and their chance of entering a highly recognized school will increase.
In addition to knowing which standardized test the school of their choice requires, students should identify minimum score requirements and average accepted student scores for that school. These numbers will give students’ an idea of how much they need to study and prepare, in order to be a competitive applicant.
Both of these tests are usually taken in the junior year of undergraduate study.
Veterinary School Applications
In order to be accepted into veterinary school, a student will need to submit a variety of documentation and information to the school that shows their ability, drive, focus, and interest in veterinary medicine. Knowing these application requirements ahead of time will help the student use their time as an undergraduate, wisely and effectively. It is recommended that students research and choose five to seven schools that fit their career goals and focus. They should then make note of each school’s requirements as soon as possible, so they have plenty of time to obtain the experience necessary to make them a strong candidate.
First, the student will be required to submit their cumulative GPA. Veterinary schools have a minimum GPA requirement for admissions, as well as an average GPA of all incoming students. Undergraduates should strive for the highest possible GPA score overall, as well as great grades in upper-division science classes taken in the third and fourth year of their bachelor’s degree.
Next, students should submit any experience with animals, and/or clinical experience that could set them apart from other applicants. Volunteering at a local clinic, shelter, or rescue facility will likely solidify the student's passion for veterinary medicine, as well as provide a way to show their dedication while applying for veterinary school. The people they meet and work with in these settings will likely make for excellent letters of recommendation, as well.
Letters of recommendation, from people who have known the student for many years, are an important part of the veterinary school application process. Spending time getting to know student advisors and course instructors, working with a local veterinarian, and developing relationships with other individuals within the community, will all help a student choose, and submit letters of recommendation that work in their favor.
Finally, additional leadership or service opportunities reflect very well on a veterinary school applicant. Some schools offer pre-vet clubs, which increase a student’s involvement in the community, give them valuable experience, and help them, succeed. Holding an officer position in one of these clubs is even more valuable.
Veterinary school is a four-year course of study that results in a student being awarded a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, D. V. M.
During their four years of veterinary school, the student will take courses that will prepare them to work with animals. These courses include: Physiology, immunology, parasitology, pharmacology, virology, and mechanisms of disease, veterinary skills, small and large animal medicine, small and large animal surgery, and much more. The time spent in veterinary school is divided between coursework, laboratory experience, and one full year of clinical experience that includes rotations, externships, and the opportunity to gain experience in a specific field of sub-specialty.
After completing veterinary school, doctors must obtain licensure based on state requirements where the veterinarian will practice. Each state has a Board of Veterinary Medicine that outlines these requirements, which may include testing, continuing education, practice policies and procedures, reporting guidelines, and more. The veterinarian should be aware of not only the initial requirements for licensure, but all ongoing requirements to maintain licensure, as a lapse in licensing can cause complications.
To find a complete listing of state contact information for veterinary licensing, one can visit the American Association of Veterinary State Boards website. Because the licensing process can take time to complete, it is important for veterinarians to be aware of the state requirements and submit all necessary materials prior to beginning practice, with time for all stages of the process to be complete.
The American College of Poultry Veterinarians (ACPV) offers a board certification for veterinarians that specialize in poultry medicine, health and management. Certification is awarded after successful completion of the board exam, which is administered annually. In addition, the ACPV offers workshops and conferences for veterinarians who wish to stay up-to-date and get information about industry changes and advances.
Understanding the Career Path
Veterinarians who focus on poultry medicine work in a wide range of environments, because their skills can be used at various levels of domestic poultry production. The rise of the urban farm, which includes backyard chickens, increases opportunities for poultry veterinarians to focus on smaller, individual needs, ensuring that people have the knowledge they need to raise healthy chickens, eliminate disease transmission, and protect the chickens from predators and malnutrition.
On a larger scale, poultry veterinarians may work with farms that raise domestic poultry, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, for sale. These farms may have their own set of concerns and considerations that would welcome a trained professional’s advice, including vaccinations and antibiotics, care and shelter, and proper processing of the animal for distribution.
Obviously, those regions of the United States that have the highest populations of poultry farmers are the best places to find work for a poultry veterinarian. Some veterinarians choose to specialize in poultry medicine, but use it only as a supplement to other work they perform when caring for animals. However, this specialty would not be wise for anyone who plans to live and work in an area where the client base is too small to specialize in poultry medicine alone.
Other industry areas where veterinarians can find work include: social advocacy programs, support systems for animal production, and professional and scientific services.
The yearly salary range for veterinarians is between $50,000 and $160,000, with a mean annual salary of $98,000 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top-paying, metropolitan areas for veterinarians are: Santa Barbara, CA; Ann Arbor, MI; San Francisco, CA; Honolulu, HI; and Fort Worth, TX. Areas of the United States that have the highest number of employed veterinarians are Kansas, Southeast Iowa, the Lower Michigan Peninsula, and South Central Wisconsin.