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Veterinarian Job Description, Career as a Veterinarian, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Advanced degree

Salary: Median—$66,590 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Veterinarians, also called doctors of veterinary medicine, study, treat, and control animal injuries and diseases. They immunize healthy animals against disease and inspect animals and meat products to be used as food. Veterinarians also perform surgery, set broken bones, establish diet and exercise routines, and prescribe medicines for animals.

Most people think of veterinarians as doctors who treat the family cat or dog; however, of the more than sixty-one thousand veterinarians that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates are working in the United States, only about one-third treat small pets exclusively. Small-animal veterinarians usually have private practices. Many large-animal veterinarians are employed by farms, ranches, and even zoos. They immunize cattle and treat diseases contracted by the animals. Some veterinarians who specialize in the treatment of large animals are self-employed.

A large number of veterinarians are employed by federal and state governments as meat and livestock inspectors. Some of these doctors inspect all the meat that is to be fed to members of the armed services. Other veterinarians are employed by meat and poultry packing houses to inspect meat that is to be sold to the public.

Veterinarians also work for pharmaceutical companies, helping to develop drugs and vaccines for animals, and for the federal government's space programs. Some veterinarians are employed by universities in teaching and research positions. Much of the research currently being conducted by veterinarians involves studying the relationship between animal and human disease and how animal diseases are transmitted to humans.

Education and Training Requirements

To earn the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree, candidates must graduate from one of the twenty-eight schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, or they may study abroad. To become licensed to practice veterinary medicine, candidates must also pass your state's oral and written licensing examinations.

A veterinarian examines a bulldog in his office. (© Larry Williams & Associates/zefa/Corbis.)

Prospective veterinarians must have at least two years of undergraduate training at a college or university before applying for admission to a veterinary college. Preveterinary study should emphasize physical and biological sciences. Many students earn a bachelor's degree before they apply for admission. Because there are so few schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, it is very difficult to be accepted into a program. Only students with the best academic records are admitted.

Getting the Job

Many recent graduates enter the field by becoming associated with an established veterinarian. Candidates can contact local veterinarians, clinics, and animal hospitals and inquire about opportunities for employment. Those interested in a government job should apply directly to state and federal agencies that employ veterinarians. School placement offices may help graduating students find a job. Prospective veterinarians can also answer advertisements placed in newspapers and professional journals.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Veterinarians who are in private practice advance by expanding their practice and by developing a good reputation in their community. Those who work for government agencies or private corporations generally receive regular promotions. Some veterinarians who work for large organizations are promoted to supervisory or management positions.

Although there will be competition among graduates in establishing new practices, the employment outlook for veterinarians is very good through the year 2014. Veterinarians will be needed to treat the increasing number of household pets and to care for and prevent diseases in animals raised for food. Those veterinarians specializing in toxicology, laboratory animal medicine, animal behavior, and pathology will have increasing job opportunities. Farm animal specialists will also have better prospects, because most veterinarians prefer to work in cities.

Working Conditions

Veterinarians in private practice establish their own office hours, although they may be called out in the middle of the night for emergencies. Private practitioners often work well over forty hours a week, especially if they must travel to farms and ranches to treat animals. Most veterinarians work outdoors at least part of the time, especially those who treat large animals on farms.

Where to Go for More Information

American Animal Hospital Association
12575 W. Bayaud Ave.
Lakewood, CO 80228
(303) 986-2800
http://www.healthypet.com

American Veterinary Medical Association
1931 North Meacham Rd., Ste. 100
Schaumburg, IL 60173
(847) 925-8070
http://www.avma.org

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings vary depending on experience, location, and whether the veterinarian is salaried or in private practice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income of veterinarians is $66,590 per year. The average salary for those working for the federal government is $78,769 per year. Benefits for salaried veterinarians include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans. Self-employed veterinarians must provide their own benefits.

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