When you think of veterinary medicine, your friendly local vet may come to mind, but veterinarian careers are actually as diverse as the wild kingdom itself. Vets are animal physicians that perform clinical research, teach at veterinarian schools and are employed by government agencies. You’ll even find vets at horse racetracks, zoos and farms. One of the most famous veterinarians was “country vet” James Alfred Wight, who wrote the bestseller All Creatures Great and Small.
Just like a doctor for humans, today’s veterinarians use high-end medical equipment such as surgical instruments, stethoscopes, x-ray machines and even ultrasound. They also need to have sensitivity toward animals and diagnose an ambiguous wet nose or a pained “meow.”
The popularity of veterinary careers has steadily increased for years, but the number of U.S. veterinary colleges has stayed pretty much the same since 1983, at fewer than 30 schools. There is no particular undergraduate degree that veterinary colleges require. But some sources, such as the Princeton Review, recommend earning an undergraduate degree in pre-veterinary medicine. Other strong options would be animal science or zoology.
Upon finishing an undergrad college degree, vets-in-training need to take one or more of the following assessment tests to qualify for entrance to a veterinary college:
Veterinary college requires the completion of a four-year medical program, earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) plus licensure from the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam before practicing. And board certification entails three to four years of a residency program, which includes studying a specialty area such as exotic small-animal medicine, oncology, dentistry, surgery, dermatology, cardiology, or one of the other 20 veterinary specialties.
Veterinarians who work on farms or ranches (large-animal practices) usually spend quite a bit of time driving to their patients. A rural animal doctor helps injured or ill animals, vaccinates for diseases and advises farm owners how to care for their livestock. These country vets also set fractured bones, perform surgery and help birth animals.
Other types of vets that work in the great outdoors are livestock inspectors. They keep the food chain safe by checking animals for diseases (like Mad Cow). They inspect processing plants, slaughterhouses, and enforce government laws. Want to work on the U.S. border? There are vets who work as animal and plant health inspectors–screening exports and foreign imports.
For those prefer working indoors, there are veterinarian careers in nice clean labs. These brainy research vets conduct clinical research on both human and animal health problems. Did you know veterinarians helped solve diseases such as malaria and yellow fever? A research job is perfect for vets who like working more with people than animals.
Veterinarian employment is expected to increase 35% from 2006 to 2016, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). With Americans spending billions on their pets and the advances in veterinary medicine (hip replacements, organ transplants, etc.), the job outlook is strong for private vets who care for companion animals.
Based on a BLS report published in May 2008, the median annual income of veterinarians was $79,050.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about 70% of veterinarians work in private practice caring for domestic pets like dogs and cats. A smaller percentage of veterinarians focus primarily on the treatment of exotic animals in zoos and aquariums, horses at racetracks, or cattle (or other livestock) on farms. The following related careers could also prove a rewarding path for animal lovers.
Veterinary assistants support veterinarians and vet techs by performing office-related tasks. They often comfort animals and owners, keep facilities clean and oversee appointment scheduling.
Veterinary technologists work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian and perform a variety of tasks including: updating animal records, performing x-rays, taking blood samples, running laboratory tests and nursing sick animals.
Animal caretakers perform various tasks necessary for the survival and well-being of an animal. Duties include everything from cleaning the animals to maintaining cages. Additionally, animal caretakers provide companionship and ensure that the animals in their care are healthy and well-adjusted.
Aquatic biologists study marine life and their surroundings. They also examine the environmental impact of industry and other human activities on aquatic organisms and advise others on environmental policies and regulations for the protection of marine life.