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What is this job like?

If you like animals and science, you might want to be a veterinarian. Veterinarians take care of sick and injured animals. Like doctors, they perform surgery and give medicine.

When an animal is sick, vets examine it to find out why. They look for clues in the way an animal looks, acts, and smells. For example, if a dog is walking in a strange way, that might be because it hurt its leg. Vets need to look carefully because animals can't say what is wrong.

Vets also give blood tests, x-rays, and other tests, looking for clues about an animal's illnesses. Then, vets decide what kind of medicine the animal needs.

Vets prevent problems by giving vaccinations and check-ups and fixing teeth. They also teach owners how to feed and train their animals.

Vets use special tools to perform surgeries. They fix broken bones, take out tumors, replace knees and hips, and more. Vets also treat and cover wounds. They need to be ready to see blood, organs, and bones.

Most vets treat small pets, including dogs, cats, and gerbils. But a few focus on large animals, such as sheep, cows, and horses. Large-animal vets usually drive to ranches and stables where their patients live. They check for infections in the animals and give advice to the animals' owners. Often, they help when the animals give birth.

A few vets work in zoos and aquariums. They care for zebras, sharks, and other wild creatures.

In addition to helping sick animals, vets can work as animal inspectors, checking to make sure that farm animals are healthy and that their living spaces are clean. Another option for vets is doing scientific research. They try to make new medicines.

Vets work in many different places. Vets who do research work in clean, dry laboratories. Most vets who take care of animals work in small clinics and hospitals. But some work in large hospitals with the most advanced equipment.

Many vets supervise technicians and assistants. And many own their own business and are their own boss.

Because animals can get sick at anytime, vets often work long hours. Many take turns working weekends or evenings and dealing with emergencies.

Many vets like their work because they can be with animals every day. But because some animals are scared or hurt, they sometimes try to bite, kick, or scratch their vets.

Vets who work with large animals often work outside in all kinds of weather. The work is sometimes dirty.

How do you get ready?

All veterinarians need to go to college. The first step for most vets is to get a bachelor's degree, which usually takes 4 years. They study biology, chemistry, physics, nutrition, and animal science. They also need to take math and English classes. Many people also get experience by working at animal hospitals or shelters.

The next step is to go to veterinary college for 4 more years. Getting into vet college is competitive. Students who get in usually have very good grades. After college, vets take a test and get a license.

In veterinary college, students learn more science. They also learn how to work with animals, do surgery, and do laboratory tests with microscopes and other equipment.

Many people also decide to learn more about a specific kind of illness or animal. They work with experienced vets during a 2-year internship. They might focus on surgery, dentistry, or wild animals, for example.

After finishing school, nearly all vets keep taking classes about new diseases and treatments.

Students who want to be vets can get ready now by taking science classes and learning about animals. They also need to take English classes and practice speaking and writing so that they will be able to explain things to animal owners.

How much does this job pay?

The middle half of all vets earned between $49,050 and $85,770 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $38,000 a year. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $123,370.

How many jobs are there?

There were about 58,000 veterinarian jobs in 2002. About 28 percent of vets were self-employed and owned their own business. Most vets worked in small clinics or hospitals. Others worked for governments, research companies, universities, and animal food companies.

What about the future?

Vets are expected to have very good job opportunities. And the number of jobs for vets is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2002 and 2012. That's because there will be more pets and animals and people will be willing to pay for more medical care for their pets.

Jobs taking care of small animals are expected to increase quickly, especially jobs taking care of cats. There will be more jobs for vets who can have advanced training and can give special kinds of care, such as dentistry.

Jobs taking care of large animals, such as horses and cows, are growing more slowly. But there will still be lots of jobs for vets who can do that work.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Animal care and service workers
  • Biological scientists
  • Chiropractors
  • Dentists
  • Doctors
  • Medical scientists
  • Optometrists
  • Podiatrists
  • Veterinary technologists and technicians
Where can you find more information?

More information about veterinarians can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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