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ActivitiesDiagnose and treat diseases and dysfunctions of animals. May engage in a particular function, such as research and development, consultation, administration, technical writing, sale or production of commercial products, rendering of technical services to commercial firms or other organizations, and inspecting livestock.

OutlookAverage job growth

Median Income$82,040 year in 2010

Work Context & ConditionsVeterinarians often work long hours. Veterinarians often work long hours. Some work nights or weekends, and they may have to respond to emergencies outside of scheduled work hours. About 1 in 4 veterinarians worked more than 50 hours per week in 2010.

Minimum Education RequirementsD.V. M.

SkillsLearning Strategies, Monitoring, Management of Financial Resources, Critical Thinking, Instructing, Active Listening, Writing, Service Orientation, Equipment Selection, Time Management, Mathematics, Active Learning, Complex Problem Solving, Judgment and Decision Making, Coordination, Reading Comprehension, Speaking, Science

AbilitiesOral Expression, Speech Recognition, Deductive Reasoning, Problem Sensitivity, Written Comprehension, Speech Clarity, Inductive Reasoning, Oral Comprehension

InterviewsTanya BVideo Icon

Job Description
Job CategoryHealthcare Practitioners & Technical

Job DescriptionVeterinarians play a major role in the healthcare of pets, livestock, and 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 animal health. A number of veterinarians work with physicians and scientists as they research ways to prevent and treat various human health problems. For example, veterinarians contributed greatly in conquering malaria and yellow fever, solved the mystery of botulism, produced an anticoagulant used to treat some people with heart disease, and defined and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip and knee joint replacements and limb and organ transplants. Today, some determine the effects of drug therapies, antibiotics, or new surgical techniques by testing them on animals.

Some veterinarians are involved in food safety at various levels. Veterinarians who are livestock inspectors check animals for transmissible diseases, advise owners on treatment, and may quarantine animals. Veterinarians who are meat, poultry, or egg product inspectors examine slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for disease, and enforce government regulations regarding food purity and sanitation.

Working ConditionsVeterinarians 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 non-clinical 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.

Salary RangeThe median annual wage of veterinarians was $82,040 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,910, and the top 10 percent earned more than $145,230.

According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, average starting salaries of veterinary medical college graduates in 2011 varied by type of practice as follows:
food animals, exclusive $71,096; food animals, predominate $67,338;companion animal, exclusive $69,789; companion, predominate $69,654, mixed animal $62,655 and Equine (horses) $43,405.

The average annual wage for veterinarians in the federal government was $88,340 in May 2010.

Education RequiredProspective veterinarians must graduate from a 4-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree and obtain a license to practice. There are 28 colleges with accredited programs. A veterinary medicine program generally takes 4 years to complete and includes classroom, laboratory, and clinical components.
Although not required, most applicants to veterinary school have a bachelor's degree. Veterinary medical colleges typically require applicants to have taken many science classes, including biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, zoology, microbiology, and animal science. Some programs also require math and humanities or social science courses.

Admission to veterinary programs is competitive, and less than half of all applicants were accepted in 2010. Although graduates of a veterinary program can begin practicing once they receive their license, many veterinarians pursue further education and training. Some new veterinary graduates enter 1-year internship programs to gain experience. Internships can be valuable experience for veterinarians who apply for competitive or better paying positions or in preparation for a certification program

In veterinary medicine programs, students take courses on normal animal anatomy and physiology, as well as disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

In addition to satisfying pre-veterinary course requirements, applicants also must submit test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), depending on the preference of each college. Currently, 21 schools require the GRE, 5 require the VCAT, and 2 accept the MCAT.

When deciding whom to admit, some veterinary medical colleges weigh experience heavily. Formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or 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, at a stable, or in an animal shelter, can also be helpful.

Recommended High School CoursesBiology, Mathematics, English, Chemistry, Physics

Postsecondary Instructional ProgramsEducation and Training, English Language, Psychology, Administration and Management, Mathematics, Sales and Marketing, Chemistry, Biology, Customer and Personal Service, Medicine and Dentistry

Certification and LicensingAll States and the District of Columbia require that veterinarians be licensed before they can practice. The only exemptions are for veterinarians working for some Federal agencies and some State governments. Licensing is controlled by the States and is not strictly uniform, although all States require successful completion of the D.V.M. degree—or equivalent education—and passage of a national board examination.

The majority of States also require candidates to pass a State jurisprudence examination covering State laws and regulations. Some States also do additional testing on clinical competency. There are few reciprocal agreements between States, making it difficult for a veterinarian to practice in a different State without first taking another State examination.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers certification in 40 different specialties, such as surgery, microbiology, and internal medicine. Although certification is not required for veterinarians, it can show exceptional skill or expertise in a particular field. To sit for the certification exam, veterinarians must have a certain number of years of experience in the field, complete additional education, or complete a residency program, typically lasting 3 to 4 years. Requirements vary by specialty.

Skills, Abilities, & Interests
Interest Area
InvestigativeInvolves working with ideas and requires an extensive amount of thinking.

Work Values
Social StatusLooked up to by others in their company and their community.
AchievementGet a feeling of accomplishment.
VarietyDo something different every day.
CreativityTry out your own ideas.
SecurityHave steady employment.
Ability UtilizationMake use of individual abilities.
ActivityBusy all the time.
AutonomyPlan work with little supervision.
RecognitionReceive recognition for the work you do.
AuthorityGive directions and instructions to others.
CompensationGet paid well in comparison with other workers.
ResponsibilityMake decisions on your own.

Learning StrategiesUse multiple approaches when learning or teaching new things.
MonitoringAssess how well someone is doing when learning or doing something.
Management of Financial ResourcesDetermine how money will be spent to get the work done and account for these expenditures.
Critical ThinkingUse logic and analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.
InstructingTeach others how to do something.
Active ListeningListen to what other people are saying and ask questions as appropriate.
WritingCommunicate effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
Service OrientationActively look for ways to help people.
Equipment SelectionDetermine the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.
Time ManagementManage one's own time and the time of others.
MathematicsUse math to solve problems.
Active LearningWork with new material or information to grasp its implications.
Complex Problem SolvingSolving novel, ill-defined problems in complex, real-world settings.
Judgment and Decision MakingBe able to weigh the relative costs and benefits of a potential action.
CoordinationAdjust actions in relation to others' actions.
Reading ComprehensionUnderstand written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
SpeakingTalk to others to effectively convey information.
ScienceUse scientific methods to solve problems.

Oral ExpressionAble to convey information and ideas through speech in ways that others will understand.
Speech RecognitionIdentify and understand the speech of another person
Deductive ReasoningAble to apply general rules to specific problems to come up with logical answers, including deciding whether an answer makes sense.
Problem SensitivityAble to tell when something is wrong or likely to go wrong. This doesn't involve solving the problem, just recognizing that there is a problem.
Written ComprehensionAble to read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.
Speech ClarityAble to speak clearly so listeners understand.
Inductive ReasoningAble to combine separate pieces of information, or specific answers to problems, to form general rules or conclusions. This includes coming up with a logical explanation for why seemingly unrelated events occur together.
Oral ComprehensionAble to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.

More Information
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Job OutlookEmployment of veterinarians is expected to grow 36 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.
The need for veterinarians will increase to keep up with the demands of a growing pet population. Many people consider their pets to be a part of their family and are willing to pay more for pet care than owners have in the past. Also, veterinary medicine has advanced considerably, and many of the veterinary services offered today are comparable to health care for humans, including cancer treatments and kidney transplants.  

There also will be employment growth in fields related to food and animal safety, disease control, and public health. As the population grows, more veterinarians will be needed to inspect the food supply and ensure animal and human health.  

Overall job opportunities for veterinarians are expected to be good. Although veterinary medicine is growing quickly, there are only 28 accredited veterinary programs in the United States, which produce a limited number of graduates—about 2,500—each year. However, most veterinary graduates are attracted to companion animal care, so job opportunities in that field will be fewer than in other areas.
Job opportunities in large animal practice, public health, and government should be best. Although jobs in farm animal care are not growing as quickly as those in companion animal care, opportunities will be better because fewer veterinarians compete to work with large animals. There also will be excellent job opportunities for government veterinarians in food safety, animal health, and public health.

More InformationAmerican Veterinary Medical Association, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges

ReferencesBureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Veterinarians,
on the Internet at

O*Net Online on the Internet at