Veterinarian Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A veterinarian's mean annual salary is around $98,000, but is it worth the required education? Get the truth about job duties and career outlook to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Veterinary Medicine

Veterinarians care for and monitor the health of all types of animals. They must have an undergraduate degree and attend veterinary school. Read on to see pros and cons of becoming a veterinarian.

Pros of Being a Veterinarian
Choice of 39 recognized veterinary specialties**
High potential earnings (average salary of around $98,000 as of May 2014)*
Opportunities in a variety of sectors (private practice, federal government, corporate sales, etc.)*
Excellent job opportunities (due to limited number of graduates)*

Cons of Being a Veterinarian
Long and irregular hours (evening, weekends and on-call)*
Work environment can be noisy and stressful*
Potential for injuries (bites, scratches and other serious injuries)*
Stiff competition to enter graduate programs (only 28 accredited programs available)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Veterinarians examine animals and detect injuries, prescribe medication, perform surgeries, operate diagnostic equipment, vaccinate animals, advise pet owners and educate the public on diseases. You could focus on one type of animal, such as horses or exotic animals, or work with a variety of animals. Some of the 39 veterinary specialties recognized by the AVMA include feline care, dentistry, radiology, swine health management and nutrition.

Recent graduates of veterinary school might join an established pet care practice before considering opening their own businesses. However, while most individuals picture a veterinarian caring for Fido or Fluffy at a local practice, the field of veterinary medicine also extends to scientific research labs, corporations and the federal government, among other places. With veterinary training, you might find work as a public health officer, food inspector, animal safety expert, teacher or researcher.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

According to the BLS, most vets earned between $52,000 and $157,000 as of May 2014. The highest wages were found in scientific research, company and enterprise management, and employment services.

Veterinarians should experience average employment growth (12% from 2012-2022), and the demand for companion animal care was expected to grow faster than other services. As more pet owners consider their pets to be part of the family, they will pay more for their health care. If you're looking to work for the federal government, you'll find the best opportunities with training in animal health, food safety and public health. While work opportunities will be good in all locations, they should be especially promising in rural areas.

What Are the Requirements?

A practicing veterinarian needs to hold a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and entry to veterinary school usually requires a bachelor's degree. Since competition to enter a DVM program is fierce, you'll want to maintain a high GPA throughout your undergraduate studies and score well on the Graduate Record Examinations, Veterinary College Admission Test or Medical College Admission Test.

DVM programs usually last four years and feature a strong medical and science curriculum, as well as hands-on professional training. Upon graduation from a DVM program, you'll need to become licensed before practicing in the field. Licensing requirements vary by state, but you'll likely need to pass the standardized North American Veterinary Licensing Exam.

Recent Job Postings

Veterinary jobs that involve supervising other employees generally require previous related experience. Specific certifications or education might be required for jobs working with particular types of animals. See below for a selection of jobs posted by real employers on in March 2012:

  • A scientific staffing company posted for a veterinarian/microbiologist in Kansas. The worker would be responsible for supervising the staff of a microbiology lab and reviewing test results with customers. Either a DVM or a Ph.D. in Microbiology was required, with 3-5 years of experience working in a veterinary lab.
  • A pet hospital in the Dallas-Fort Worth area advertised for associate veterinarians to provide animal care and client education. Applicants could expect to work over 40 hours per week, including nights and weekends, and could need to travel. The ideal applicant would have a DVM and a Texas veterinary license.
  • A pet nutrition company in Minneapolis was looking for a practice development veterinarian to join the sales team and manage veterinary clinic accounts, in addition to other sales-related duties. Four years of clinical experience and a DVM were required, and candidates needed to have excellent communication and presentation skills.
  • A meat and poultry processing company in Arkansas requested a veterinarian to conduct research and provide advice on procedures in the poultry production department. Candidates needed to be certified by the American College of Poultry Veterinarians.
  • A postsecondary educational institution in South Dakota sought a resident veterinarian to care for animals and instruct students. Previous teaching experience and work with small animals was preferred.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

One of the most challenging steps in becoming a veterinarian can be gaining admission to veterinary school. Undergraduate students should take pre-veterinary courses in the sciences, such as microbiology, chemistry, animal science, zoology and genetics. Some veterinary schools might also require a background in math. You also should seek out relevant internships or jobs working with animals since veterinary schools heavily consider previous experience. In general, you'll need to demonstrate that you're driven and passionate about caring for animals.

Get Specialized

One way to get an edge on the competition is to specialize in an area of veterinary medicine. Veterinarians typically gain specialized education and experience after they've completed a DVM program through postgraduate certificate or degree programs, residencies and/or fellowships. Certification is granted through veterinary specialty organizations that have been recognized by the AVMA.

Other Careers to Consider

Veterinary Technician or Technologist

Maybe you're concerned about paying for a DVM program, but you know you want to work in animal health. If that's the case, consider going to school to become a veterinary technician or technologist, which would allow you to work with animals under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Both 2- and 4-year degree programs are available, and a state licensing exam may be required before you can practice. Projected job growth for vet techs was 52% from 2010-2020; however, the average annual salary was significantly lower than that of a licensed veterinarian at $32,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS.

Animal Care Worker

If you know you want to work with animals but don't think the medical aspect is for you, you might consider becoming an animal care worker. Employment of these workers was expected to grow by 23% from 2010-2020, stated the BLS. With some on-the-job training, you could work anywhere from an aquarium to a boarding kennel. Duties typically include grooming, feeding and exercising animals. As of May 2011, the average wage for animal care workers was about $22,000.

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