A veterinarian squeezing a bottle into a dogs ear

A veterinarian could...


Help a cow deliver a calf if there are complications. A cow licking the face of a calf Perform emergency surgery to help a pet after it has been hit by a car. A small white dog wears a pink cast around its neck and front right leg
Nurse injured birds back to health for re-release into the wild. A bald eagle flying past a family of onlookers Give pets their vaccines, like rabies shots, to help keep them healthy. A veterinarian administering a shot to a cat
Find out more...

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.
Median Salary
Veterinarian
  $88,770
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
  $49,630
Min Wage
  $15,080
$0
$10,000
$20,000
$30,000
$40,000
$50,000
$60,000
$70,000
$80,000
$90,000
$100,000
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.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

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.

Other Qualifications

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.

Work Environment

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.

Source: BLS and NIH LifeWorks

Companies That Hire Veterinarians

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

Science Fair Project Idea
The great majority of people have a distinct hand preference. How about animals like dogs or cats? Do they show a paw preference? If you like animals, this science fair project might be for you. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever wondered how a chick breathes inside its shell? Every animal needs oxygen to survive, so the chick must get air somehow! Try this science project to discover the answer. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever wondered what goes on in your dog's mind? Even though humans have the benefit of language, trying to understand another person's thoughts can be hard enough sometimes. Your dog can't talk, so how can you find out what its brain is capable of? The obvious answer is to study its behavior. This project will show you some behavioral tests you can use to measure canine I.Q. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Everyone thinks their dog's the best, but in the case of smelling ability, all dogs possess super powers. In fact, a dog's nose can be over a 1,000 times more sensitive than a human's! In this project, learn about smell from a dog's unique perspective. There will be a whole lot of sniffing going on when you set up these fun experiments to find out what scents your dog and other canine friends find most interesting or appealing. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever been to an animal show and seen a sea lion balance a ball on his nose, or a tiger jump through a hoop? Or maybe you've met dogs who can sit, fetch, shake, or beg on command. The range of tricks that you can teach animals is amazing, but how does animal training work, and how long does it take? Find out in this trick-and-treat filled science fair project! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
What is the first thing you do when you wake up on a cold, frosty morning? Snuggle down deeper under the covers? Animals, like puppies and piglets, do not like being cold either, but they do not have hands or blankets to wrap themselves up. So when animals get chilled, they change their behavior and do things like huddle—they curl up close to other animals. In this mammalian biology science fair project, you will see just how much huddling can help reduce heat loss. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Cats are great house pets, but as every cat observer knows, they are also instinctive hunters. This experiment provides an interesting way to learn about cat behavior. You'll play bird call recordings for pet cats, and watch to see if the cat pays attention to the sound (by turning towards it) or ignores it. Will a pet cat distinguish between the calls of local birds vs. non-local birds? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Has your dog ever barked, seemingly for no reason at all? Or has your cat ever stopped and carefully smelled a spot that looked perfectly clean to you? Pets, like people, have senses that they use to learn about and to react to their world, but their senses can be stronger or weaker than people's. In this mammalian biology science fair project, you'll study your pet's sense of taste by conducting taste tests and watching how your pet acts to determine his or her favorite type, flavor, or brand… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
You have probably heard about left-brain and right-brain differences in people. The left brain is supposed to be better at language, and organizing sequential actions, the right brain is supposed to be better at visualizing orientations in space, making and listening to music, and deciphering the emotions of others. Is there evidence for left/right brain specialization in other animals? This project examines tail-wagging in dogs. Does tail-wagging show any evidence of left/right brain… Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Did you know that there are over 58 million overweight cats and dogs in the United States? Is your pet one of them? How about your neighbor's cat or your grandma's dog? In this science project you'll determine what percentage of the pets you know are overweight and how their weights compare to pets' weights throughout the United States. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Planning on getting a new puppy soon? Why not use some of your play time with puppy to study growth rates and puppy development? You can easily chart a young puppy's weekly weight and growth over several months to compare how quickly body dimensions and bone lengths change. While this project may take some time, it's well worth the effort. You might be amazed at the dramatic growth of your "canine kid," and what other project combines science with as much fun, or a more adorable subject? Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Do you love animals and want to help keep them healthy? Well, here's your chance to design and tailor a toy that will bring out your pet's most playful nature. In this science fair project, you'll evaluate the skills and activities of your pet and determine what kinds of toys most excite your pet and make him or her lively and curious. So call your furry or feathered friend, and let the frolicking begin! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Mice, rats, and other rodents are typically nocturnal animals; that is, their activity level is highest at night. For this science fair project, you will build a device that records your pet's activity by monitoring movement of its exercise wheel to see how it varies during the day and night. You can also experiment with various ways of changing your pet's cycle of activity; for example, by playing with it during the day when it's normally resting. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
As your mom and dad always tell you, a healthy diet is important to good health. This project is designed to see what happens to mice when they are allowed to load up on sugary snacks. Do you think that they will gain excess weight? Do you think that the mice will regulate their own intake and maintain a 'healthy' diet? You can try this project and find out for yourself. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
When you're chasing after your dog, do you ever stop and say, "Wait, I have to catch my breath!"? Do you think that there are times when your dog feels like that, too? Does your dog's respiration rate change when you two are playing active games together? Try this playful science project to find out! Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
If you keep chickens (lucky you!), here's an interesting project you might want to try. Read more
Science Fair Project Idea
Are you in charge of feeding your family pet? How much food do you think your pet eats compared to other kinds of pets? After adjusting for your pet's body weight, you might be surprised how it will compare to other kinds of pets. What type of pet do you think will eat the most for its body weight? Read more

Ask Questions

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.

Additional Information

Sources

Additional Support

We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:

  • Bio-Rad
  • MedImmune
  • Medtronic
Free science fair projects.