Veterinarians Job Description, Education and Salary Potential

Veterinarians diagnose and treat diseases and dysfunctions of animals. They care for the health of pets and use their skills to protect humans from diseases carried by animals.

By Diane Wadhwa
Posted 2012

Veterinarians jobs and Careers
Veterinarians jobs and Careers

Veterinarians typically care for pets, livestock and animals in laboratories, racetracks and zoos. Some conduct clinical research on animal and human health problems. Others work in basic or applied research. Veterinarians vaccinate against diseases, diagnose animal health problems, treat and dress wounds, perform surgery, medicate animals suffering from infections or illnesses, set fractures and counsel owners about animal behavior, breeding and feeding.

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Some veterinarians research ways to prevent and treat various human health problems. The conquering of yellow fever and malaria was largely due to research by veterinarians, and they have defined and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as limb and organ transplants and hip and knee joint replacements.

Some veterinarians are involved in food safety and inspection, checking animals for transmissible diseases and examining slaughtering and processing plants. They enforce government regulations concerning sanitation and food purity. Others guard the safety of the country’s food supplies, working in food security along the country’s borders as plant and animal health inspectors. They also examine imports and exports of animal products to prevent disease in the U.S. and in foreign countries.

Veterinarians Job Summary

  • Veterinarians should love animals and be able to get along with their owners.
  • Admission to veterinary school is competitive; graduation from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and a state license are required for veterinarians.
  • Veterinarians will have excellent job opportunities in the next decade.
  • Around 80% of veterinarians work in private practice.

Work Environment for Veterinarians

Around 77% of veterinarians who work in private practice treat pets, according to the American Medical Veterinary Association. Which means that most veterinarians spend their work week caring for dogs and cats as well as birds, rabbits, ferrets, reptiles and other animals that are kept as pets. They often work long hours in a noisy indoor environment and sometimes deal with demanding or emotional pet owners. There is a risk of being bitten or scratched when veterinarians work with animals that are in pain or frightened.

Those who work with horses or food animals spend time driving between farms or ranches and their offices. They may have to perform surgery or treat animals outdoors in all kinds of weather and under unsanitary conditions.

Veterinarians in research or public health work in well-lit, clean offices or laboratories. They spend much of their time dealing with people rather than animals.

Veterinarians Education, Training and Licensing

Veterinarians must graduate from a four-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD). There are 28 colleges in 26 states that meet the accreditation standards of the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Although not all veterinary programs require a bachelor’s degree for admission, it is very difficult to gain admittance without one.

Candidates must submit test scores from the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), as well as from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Admission to veterinary programs is highly competitive with individual acceptance rates varying by program. 

After graduation from a veterinary program, many new graduates enter a one-year internship. Those who then seek board certification also must complete a three-year to four-year residency program that focuses on one of the 39 AVMA-recognized specialties.

All states and the District of Columbia require that veterinarians be licensed before practicing. This requires completing the DVM degree or equivalent education plus a passing grade on the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Most states require candidates to pass an additional examination covering state laws and regulations, and some states do additional testing on clinical competency as well.

Employment Outlook and Earnings Potential for Veterinarians

Veterinarians held about 98,230 jobs in May 2014, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most veterinarians were employed in a solo or group practice, while a few worked for the federal government, colleges, universities and professional schools, state government and social advocacy organizations.

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The BLS expects employment in this field to increase 12% from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Pet owners place a high value on their pets and will increasingly pay for advanced veterinary care. Many owners are buying pet insurance as well, and these factors will spur the demand for more veterinarians.

In May 2014, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for veterinarians was $87,590. The middle 50% earned between $68,860 and $115,310, while the lowest 10% made $52,530 or less each year. The highest 10% earned in excess of $157,390.


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