A veterinarian could...
|Help a cow deliver a calf if there are complications.||Perform emergency surgery to help a pet after it has been hit by a car.|
|Nurse injured birds back to health for re-release into the wild.||Give pets their vaccines, like rabies shots, to help keep them healthy.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Veterinarians help prevent, diagnose and treat health problems in a wide variety of animals. Regardless of whether the animal is a family pet, a prize-winning race horse, a dairy cow, a circus lion, or seal in a zoo, its healthcare depends on veterinarians.|
|Key Requirements||Patience, attention to detail, good communication skills, and a love of animals|
|Minimum Degree||Professional degree (Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine, DVM)|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus; if available, biotechnology.|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Average (7% to 13%)|
|Interview||Read this interview to see what Tanya B. does as a veterinarian at the National Institutes of Health.|
Training, Other Qualifications
A career as a veterinarian requires a bachelor's degree, usually in biology, animal science, chemistry, or some other science field, followed by a four-year Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VDM) degree from an accredited program. In addition, veterinarians must pass a state licensing exam prior to practicing.
New graduates with a DVM degree may begin to practice veterinary medicine once they receive their license, but many new graduates choose to enter a 1-year internship. Interns receive a small salary, but often find that their internship experience leads to better paying opportunities later, relative to those of other veterinarians. Veterinarians who then seek board certification must also complete a 3- to 4-year residency program that provides intensive training in one of the 20 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-recognized veterinary specialties, including internal medicine, oncology, pathology, dentistry, nutrition, radiology, surgery, dermatology, anesthesiology, neurology, cardiology, ophthalmology, preventive medicine, and exotic small-animal medicine.
Education and Training
In college, students interested in veterinary medicine should emphasize the sciences, making sure to take classes in organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, general biology, animal biology, animal nutrition, genetics, vertebrate embryology, cellular biology, microbiology, zoology, and systemic physiology.
When applying to veterinary degree programs, some schools also require calculus, statistics, college algebra and trigonometry, while others require no math at all. Most veterinary medical colleges also require core college courses, including some in English or literature, the social sciences, and the humanities.
Competition for entry into veterinary school is keen. Candidates with prior veterinary and animal experience usually have an edge in admittance decisions. Formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or with scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research, or some area of health science, is particularly advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm or ranch or at a stable or animal shelter, is also helpful.
Veterinarians must have good manual dexterity. They need an affinity for animals and the ability to get along with their owners, especially pet owners, who usually have strong bonds with their pets. Veterinarians who intend to go into private practice should possess excellent communication and business skills, because they will need to manage their practice and employees successfully and to promote, market, and sell their services.
Nature of the Work
Veterinarians play a major role in the healthcare of pets and livestock, as well as zoo, sporting, and laboratory animals. Some veterinarians use their skills to protect humans against diseases carried by animals and conduct clinical research on human and animal health problems. Others work in basic research, broadening the scope of fundamental theoretical knowledge, and in applied research, developing new ways to use knowledge.
Most veterinarians perform clinical work in private practices. More than one-half of these veterinarians predominately, or exclusively, treat small animals. Small animal practitioners usually care for companion animals, such as dogs and cats, but also treat birds, reptiles, rabbits, and other animals that can be kept as pets. Some veterinarians work in mixed animal practices where they see pigs, goats, sheep, and some non-domestic animals, in addition to companion animals. Veterinarians in clinical practice diagnose animal health problems; vaccinate against diseases, such as distemper and rabies; medicate animals suffering from infections or illnesses; treat and dress wounds; set fractures; perform surgery; and advise owners about animal feeding, behavior, and breeding.
A small number of private practice veterinarians work exclusively with large animals, focusing mostly on horses or cows but may also care for various kinds of food animals. These veterinarians usually drive to farms or ranches to provide veterinary services for herds or individual animals. Much of this work involves preventive care to maintain the health of the food animals. These veterinarians test for and vaccinate against diseases and consult with farm or ranch owners and managers on animal production, feeding, and housing issues. They also treat and dress wounds, set fractures, and perform surgery, including Cesarean sections, on birthing animals. Veterinarians also euthanize animals, when necessary. Other veterinarians care for zoo, aquarium, or laboratory animals.
Veterinarians who treat animals use medical equipment, such as stethoscopes, surgical instruments, and diagnostic equipment, including radiographic and ultrasound equipment. Veterinarians working in research use a full range of sophisticated laboratory equipment. Veterinarians can contribute to human as well as to animal health. A number of veterinarians work with physicians and scientists as they research ways to prevent and treat various human health problems.
Veterinarians often work long hours. Those in group practices may take turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend work; and solo practitioners can work extended and weekend hours, responding to emergencies or squeezing in unexpected appointments. The work setting often can be noisy.
Veterinarians in large-animal practice also spend time driving between their office and farms or ranches. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather, and may have to treat animals or perform surgery under unsanitary conditions. When working with animals that are frightened or in pain, veterinarians risk being bitten, kicked, or scratched.
Veterinarians working in nonclinical areas, such as public health and research, have working conditions similar to those of other professionals in those lines of work. In these cases, veterinarians enjoy clean, well-lit offices or laboratories and spend much of their time dealing with people rather than animals.
On the Job
- Examine animals to detect and determine the nature of diseases or injuries.
- Treat sick or injured animals by prescribing medication, setting bones, dressing wounds, or performing surgery.
- Inoculate animals against various diseases, such as rabies and distemper.
- Collect body tissue, feces, blood, urine, or other body fluids for examination and analysis.
- Operate diagnostic equipment, such as radiographic and ultrasound equipment, and interpret the resulting images.
- Advise animal owners regarding sanitary measures, feeding, and general care necessary to promote health of animals.
- Educate the public about diseases that can be spread from animals to humans.
- Train and supervise workers who handle and care for animals.
- Provide care to a wide range of animals or specialize in a particular species, such as horses or exotic birds.
- Euthanize animals.
- Establish and conduct quarantine and testing procedures that prevent the spread of diseases to other animals or to humans, and that comply with applicable government regulations.
- Conduct postmortem studies and analyses to determine the causes of animals' deaths.
- Perform administrative duties, such as scheduling appointments, accepting payments from clients, and maintaining business records.
- Direct the overall operations of animal hospitals, clinics, or mobile services to farms.
- Drive mobile clinic vans to farms so that health problems can be treated or prevented.
- Specialize in a particular type of treatment, such as dentistry, pathology, nutrition, surgery, microbiology, or internal medicine.
- Inspect and test horses, sheep, poultry, and other animals to detect the presence of communicable diseases.
- Plan and execute animal nutrition and reproduction programs.
- Research diseases to which animals could be susceptible.
- Inspect animal housing facilities to determine their cleanliness and adequacy.
- Determine the effects of drug therapies, antibiotics, or new surgical techniques by testing them on animals.
Companies That Hire Veterinarians
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Does Body Size Matter?
- Dog Scents: The Super Nose of Man's Best Friend
- Dog Smarts: What's Going On Behind Those Puppy-Dog Eyes?
- Eeew, Dog Breath! Does Active Play Take Your Dog's Breath Away?
- Eggs and Hen's Diet: Can You Get Bigger Eggs for Peanuts?
- How Does a Chick Breathe Inside Its Shell?
- How Food Supplements Affect Weight Gain of Juvenile Mice
- How Much Do Different Pet Species Eat Compared to Each Other?
- Is That Cat Fat?
- Paw Preference in Pets
- Pet Poll: A Taste Test for Fluffy & Fido
- Puppy Proportions: Comparing Growth Spurts and Weight Gain in Your Dog's Early Months
- The Cat's Meow: Designing an Enrichment Toy
- Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Does Your Mouse Know the Time on the Clock?
- What Are You Blubbering About?
- Why Do Birds Fly in a V-formation?
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Veterinarian that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Veterinary Medical Association: https://www.avma.org
- Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges: https://www.aavmc.org/
- BLS. (2016). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2016 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/
- NIH Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://nihlifeworks.org/
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from https://www.onetonline.org/
- YouTube, Khan Academy. (2018, March 1). Veterinarian | What I do & how much I make | Part 1. Retrieved April 5, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcP_ad9vfsw
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
Explore Our Science Videos
Make Your Own Lava Lamp
Make a Thermometer - STEM Activity
Cotton Ball Launcher - Fun STEM Activity