Becoming a Clinical Veterinarian: Salary Info & Job Description

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A veterinarian's annual mean salary is a little over $98,000. Is it worth the extensive education and continuous licensing requirements? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if a career as a clinical veterinarian is right for you.
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Examining the Pros and Cons of a Clinical Veterinarian Career

Veterinarians diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries in pets, livestock, wildlife and zoo animals. To come up with realistic career expectations, examine some of the pros and cons of this field.

Pros of a Veterinarian Career
Veterinarians were predicted to see an average 12% increase in job opportunities in the 2012-2022 decade*
There are almost 40 specialization fields recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association*
Favorable wage prospects (around $98,000 annual mean wage as of May 2014)*
Job opportunities available everywhere in America*

Cons of a Veterinarian Career
Extensive education and training can be costly and time consuming*
Dealing with ill and injured animals creates the risk of physical injury*
Veterinarians in rural areas may have to work in unsanitary conditions*
Few states share licensing reciprocity; new exams may be required if relocating*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

Veterinarians diagnose injuries and diseases in different types of animals, including cats, horses and birds, among others. As a veterinarian, your day-to-day duties may include examining animals, analyzing X-rays, dressing wounds and performing surgeries. Vets also interact with animal owners and may offer advice on treatments, feeding practices or play activities.

Career Paths and Specializations

Veterinarians have career options almost as varied as the species they care for. As a vet, you can work with a medical group or in your own private practice. You can also choose to focus on one of the 40 recognized American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) specialty certification fields. Some of these options are internal medicine, dentistry, neurology, preventative medicine and exotic-small-animal medicine.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians were predicted to see a 12% increase in job opportunities between 2012 and 2022. As of May 2014, the BLS noted the annual mean salary for veterinarians at around $96,000. During 2014, the top paying industry in this field included enterprise and company management, and the highest wages for vets were found in Delaware.

Career Requirements

Education and Licensing

To become a veterinarian, you need to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, which is conferred as a D.V.M or V.M.D. Only 26 schools offer programs accredited by the AVMA, and admission to these programs is competitive. Not all colleges of veterinary medicine require undergraduate degrees for admission, but most have an extensive list of prerequisite classes, such as inorganic and organic chemistry, zoology, systemic physiology and genetics. D.V.M. programs typically take four years to complete.

Licensing is required in all 50 states, but qualifications and regulations are governed by each state and vary accordingly. Two common requirements include graduation from an accredited program and successful completion of the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. In addition, aspiring vets often need to complete state-specific exams. Reciprocity between states is rare.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employment opportunities for licensed vets can be found in large animal hospitals and smaller animal care facilities. Many employers look for vets with specific academic or professional backgrounds. The following are summaries of three actual job postings found in March 2012:

  • A small animal hospital in Pennsylvania with a vet staff of three is looking for a new associate who can complete at least 30 hours of continuing education each year.
  • In Tennessee, an established practice is expanding and seeks a veterinarian with interests in dentistry, dermatology, surgery, internal medicine or ophthalmology.
  • A university in Iowa is seeking a veterinary diagnostician to work primarily with swine. The ideal candidate has a background in food animal research and at least three years of experience.

How to Stand Out in Your Field

If you want to work with a specific type of animal, many DVM programs allow you to choose a concentration. If you have your heart set on working with snakes, monkeys or porcupines, you can focus your coursework on small-exotic pets. Some schools even allow you to concentrate your entire program in a particular area, such as zoological medicine or mixed animal practice.

You can also enhance your desirability factor by enrolling in a 1-year internship after graduation. Interns generally are afforded small stipends or minimal wages, but according to the BLS, internships can lead to higher wages in the long run.

Get Certified

Earning voluntary specialty certification can also help you stand out from the crowd. The certification process is administered by AVMA-approved specialty boards, including the American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology and the American College of Veterinary Nutrition, among others. In order to earn a specialty credential, you usually need to complete a residency program - many of which are 3-4 years in length - and an exam.

Alternative Fields

Zoologist and Wildlife Biologist

If you're more interested in studying animals and their habitats, consider pursuing work as a zoologist or wildlife biologist. These professionals conduct research in areas such as population, migration patterns or behaviors. A variety of specializations are available, including marine biology and mammalogy. Unlike the veterinary field, only a bachelor's degree is required for entry, but a master's or doctoral degree may be necessary for independent research positions. According to the BLS, the number of working zoologists and wildlife biologists was expected to grow 7% between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, the BLS reported the mean annual wage for these jobs at approximately $62,000.

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians

Maybe you'd like to treat animals, but you don't want to fulfill lengthy training requirements. If so, you might enjoy working as a veterinary technologist or technician. These professionals assist vets by performing preliminary examinations, collecting fluid samples and administering treatments. While licensure and certification are still required in these occupations, technicians only need to hold associate's degrees; technologists often have bachelor's degrees. Even better, professionals in these fields are expected to see 52% job growth from 2010-2020, which is higher than that of veterinarians. However, pay is much lower. According to the BLS, veterinary technologists and technicians earned a mean salary of $30,000 as of May 2011.

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