Equine Veterinarians will spend their lives learning about, and working with, all types of horses. The realm of veterinarian medicine is highly competitive; but the equine industry is expanding, and specializing in this area should give veterinarians a better chance of finding employment opportunities.
It is reported that most veterinary graduates enter into small animal practices, and only about 6 percent of veterinarians specialize in equine. Furthermore, the American Horse Council estimates that the equine industry has a staggering $102 billion economic impact! There should be no shortage of demand for veterinarians specializing in the care and welfare of the world's domestic and feral equine populations.
What is an Equine Veterinarian
A veterinarian who specializes in working with horses, ponies, donkey’s, and other equine species is referred to as an Equine Veterinarian. This type of veterinarian will acquire knowledge and understanding of all things equine, and use their services to provide for the medical needs of these animals from birth to end of life — an average lifespan is 25 years for these species.
Typical medical duties of an equine vet can range from preventative care to surgery. Among other duties, they will perform routine exams, treat illnesses and injuries, collect samples for analysis, and administer inoculations. They may assist in reproduction and birthing, or consult with owners regarding proper feeding and housing. Whether caring for horses who have been abandoned or abused, who are considered beloved pets and teammates, or million dollar business deals, it is an Equine Veterinarian's duty to protect the health and welfare of these animals.
Someone interested in this line of work should be at ease around these large and often unpredictable animals. Good horsemanship, the ability to remain calm, confidence, and the knowledge to handle horses under difficult circumstances, is essential to being successful in this type of career. Other important qualities and skills to possess would be:
The life of a practicing Equine Veterinarian will most likely require long hours, a five to six day work week and often being on call for emergencies, 24/7.
Educational Requirements for Becoming an Equine Veterinarian
A doctoral or professional degree is the educational requirement for an Equine Veterinarian. Becoming an Equine Veterinarian will require many years of education and a high level of competitiveness regarding both entry into qualified veterinarian schools, and the actual process of becoming employed.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming an Equine Veterinarian
Acquire a Bachelor’s Degree
Undergraduate schools may not offer a specific educational track for pre-veterinarian degrees, but it is important to begin your education with a strong background in math and sciences, such as biology, chemistry, genetics, physics, nutrition, and zoology, as well as completing requirements in English, humanities and the social sciences. It is also wise to gain business-related knowledge.
Apply to an accredited school of Veterinarian Medicine
When applying to a vet program, it is important to make sure that the school is accredited by the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AMVA). Admission requirements can vary by school, so it is important to research ahead of time and be prepared to meet those requirements before applying.
Due to the ratio of applicants to available veterinarian schools, it can be quite difficult to gain access into these programs. In order to put yourself ahead of the pack, it is important to have high test scores, and to have excelled in your previous academics. Applicants will be required to take standardized tests for admission, including, the Veterinarian College Admission Test (VCAT), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). These tests determine eligibility, readiness, and likeliness of admittance. Again, research your specific school of interest for details.
Once accepted, students will spend the next four years working toward a Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine (DVM or VMD). The first two years will focus on classroom-based training in biomedical science courses, while preparing for clinical practice. The second two years are spent gaining hands-on experience in animal care under strict supervision of licensed veterinarians, referred to as a clinical clerkship, and the final year will include clinical rotations, with a focus on equine medicine or other specialties.
Complete a Residency
An Equine Veterinarian may choose to further focus on a number of specialities, including:
These types of specialties require an additional three to four year residency training, approved by the American Veterinarian Medical Association.
In order to gain better employment opportunities and higher pay, along with experience and honing of skills, it is important to complete an internship. The American Association of Equine Practitioners is a great resource for matching students of equine medicine with qualified veterinarians involved in intern programs.
Some individuals may wish to pursue a PhD in veterinarian medicine. While there is not a specific degree program for this, there are some dual-degree programs available, and students can attain their doctor of philosophy degree alongside the doctor of veterinarian medicine degree. This type of degree is for those seeking to explore new developments within the field of veterinarian medicine by doing extensive research, lab studies, and clinical rotations.
Education at this level will include learning about the most up-to-date scientific advances in the field, and completing a publishable dissertation. Upon graduating with a DVM/PhD, an individual can expect to be employable in any area of veterinarian science, and to lead and develop new medicines and treatments in this field.
All veterinarians must be licensed in the state in which they practice. Requirements may vary by state, but all states will require completion of a veterinarian training program, as well as taking the North American Veterinarian Licensing Exam. This exam is offered by the National Board of Veterinarian Medical Examiners.
Equine Veterinarians can become board-certified in certain specialties to show that they have met or exceeded standards of excellence in their chosen niches.
Continuing Education Requirements
As with all medical fields, there are always new developments and treatments, as well as changing laws and guidelines, so it is important to realize that the education requirements for an Equine Veterinarian will require an ongoing commitment, long after the initial education.
Understanding the Career Path
Equine Veterinarians may open private practices, or they may find employment as consultants, in teaching environments, industry positions, in animal hospitals, or other institutions, such as race tracks. More opportunities can be found in government agencies at city, county, state, and federal levels, in regulatory medicine, in public health, and even in military service. The working environment can require long hours, which may include being on call 24/7 for emergencies, along with extensive traveling, especially for those servicing farms and rural areas, where many equine veterinarians literally work from a mobile office and perform medical duties under less than desirable circumstances.
Working at one of the many horse racing tracks in the US, or around the world can be an exciting choice for equine veterinarians. Duties in this environment will include:
The majority of equine veterinarians go into private practice. A 2013 report compiled by the AVMA, reports an average first year income of $47,806 for equine vets in private practice. Typical duties include, preventative, maintenance, and surgical procedures, and will likely involve travel to the animal, often under harsh working conditions, and with tools and medical supplies carried in a vehicle or "mobile office".
Opportunities for equine veterinarians can also be found in government agencies, such as the USDA, FDA, ONADE (Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation), the military, and even national zoos. Working with one of these agencies could entail evaluating new drugs, administering treatments, caring for military horses, evaluating zebras and other equine species at national zoos, or doing scientific research or teaching. Some veterinarians even work with NASA. There are many opportunities to pursue, in more than 3000 veterinarian positions within the federal government.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for all veterinarians, as of May 2014, was $87,590, annually with the low end making $52,530, and the high end enjoying an income of around $158,000. Of course, education, location, experience, and specialty are all factors to consider. The AVMA has reported in a 2009 Biennial Economic Survey of Veterinarians that vets specializing in equine averaged a mean wage of $126,641.
For those who love horses, becoming an Equine Veterinarian can be a promising career choice; but not without hard work, dedication, competitiveness, and sacrifice. Those who have the determination and skills to succeed will be met with many opportunities by specializing in equine medicine.