Veterinarians should have an affinity for animals and the
ability to get along with their owners.
Graduation from an accredited college of veterinary medicine
and a State license are required.
Competition for admission to veterinary school is keen; however,
graduates should have very good job opportunities.
About 1 out of 5 veterinarians was self-employed; self-employed
veterinarians usually have to work hard and long to build a
sufficient client base.
Nature of the Work
Veterinarians 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 50 percent 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. About one-fourth of all veterinarians
work in mixed animal practices, where they see pigs, goats,
sheep, and some nondomestic 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,
A small number of private-practice veterinarians work exclusively
with large animals, mostly horses or cows; some 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 animals. These veterinarians
test for and vaccinate against diseases and consult with farm
or ranch owners and managers regarding animal production,
feeding, and housing issues. They also treat and dress wounds,
set fractures, and perform surgery, including cesarean sections
on birthing animals. Veterinarians euthanize animals when
necessary. Other veterinarians care for zoo, aquarium, or
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
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 the treatment
of their animals 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.
Veterinarians often work long hours. Those in group practices
may take turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend
work; solo practitioners may 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 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
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Prospective veterinarians must graduate with a Doctor of
Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree from a 4-year
program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine and
must obtain a license to practice. There are 28 colleges in
26 States that meet accreditation standards set by the Council
on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association
(AVMA). The prerequisites for admission vary. Many of these
colleges do not require a bachelor’s degree for entrance,
but all require a significant number of credit hours—ranging
from 45 to 90 semester hours—at the undergraduate level. However,
most of the students admitted have completed an undergraduate
program. Applicants without a bachelor’s degree face a difficult
task gaining admittance.
Preveterinary courses emphasize the sciences. Veterinary
medical colleges typically require classes in organic and
inorganic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, general biology,
animal biology, animal nutrition, genetics, vertebrate embryology,
cellular biology, microbiology, zoology, and systemic physiology.
Some programs require calculus; some require only statistics,
college algebra and trigonometry, or precalculus. Most veterinary
medical colleges also require core courses, including some
in English or literature, the social sciences, and the humanities.
Increasingly, courses in practice management and career development
are becoming a standard part of the curriculum, to provide
a foundation of general business knowledge for new graduates.
In addition to satisfying preveterinary course requirements,
applicants 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 the college to which they are applying.
Currently, 22 schools require the GRE, 4 require the VCAT,
and 2 accept the MCAT.
In admittance decisions, some veterinary medical colleges
place heavy consideration on a candidate’s veterinary and
animal experience. 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
or ranch or at a stable or animal shelter, also is helpful.
Students must demonstrate ambition and an eagerness to work
There is keen competition for admission to veterinary school.
The number of accredited veterinary colleges has remained
largely the same since 1983, whereas the number of applicants
has risen significantly. Only about 1 in 3 applicants was
accepted in 2004. AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties—such
as pathology, internal medicine, dentistry, nutrition, ophthalmology,
surgery, radiology, preventive medicine, and laboratory animal
medicine—are usually in the form of a 2-year internship. Interns
receive a small salary but usually find that their internship
experience leads to a higher beginning salary, relative to
those of other starting veterinarians. Veterinarians who seek
board certification in a specialty also must complete a 3-
to 4-year residency program that provides intensive training
in specialties such as internal medicine, oncology, radiology,
surgery, dermatology, anesthesiology, neurology, cardiology,
ophthalmology, and exotic small-animal medicine.
All 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 the
successful completion of the D.V.M. degree—or equivalent education—and
a passing grade on a national board examination. The Educational
Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG) grants
certification to individuals trained outside the United States
who demonstrate that they meet specified requirements for
the English language and for clinical proficiency. ECFVG certification
fulfills the educational requirement for licensure in all
States. Applicants for licensure satisfy the examination requirement
by passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE),an
8-hour computer-based examination consisting of 360 multiple-choice
questions covering all aspects of veterinary medicine. Administered
by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (NBVME),the
NAVLE includes visual materials designed to test diagnostic
skills and constituting 10 percent of the total examination.
The majority of States also require candidates to pass a
State jurisprudence examination covering State laws and regulations.
Some States do additional testing on clinical competency as
well. There are few reciprocal agreements between States,
making it difficult for a veterinarian to practice in a different
State without first taking that State’s examination.
Nearly all States have continuing education requirements
for licensed veterinarians. Requirements differ by State and
may involve attending a class or otherwise demonstrating knowledge
of recent medical and veterinary advances.
Most veterinarians begin as employees in established practices.
Despite the substantial financial investment in equipment,
office space, and staff, many veterinarians with experience
set up their own practice or purchase an established one.
Newly trained veterinarians can become U.S. Government meat
and poultry inspectors, disease-control workers, animal welfare
and safety workers, epidemiologists, research assistants,
or commissioned officers in the U.S. Public Health Service
or various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. A State license
may be required.
Prospective veterinarians must have good manual dexterity.
They should have an affinity for animals and the ability to
get along with their owners, especially pet owners, who tend
to form a strong bond with their pet. 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 promote, market, and
sell their services.
Veterinarians held about 61,000 jobs in 2004. About 1 out
of 5 veterinarians was self-employed in a solo or group practice.
Most others were salaried employees of another veterinary
practice. The Federal Government employed about 1,200 civilian
veterinarians, chiefly in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture,
Health and Human Services, and, increasingly, Homeland Security.
Other employers of veterinarians are State and local governments,
colleges of veterinary medicine, medical schools, research
laboratories, animal food companies, and pharmaceutical companies.
A few veterinarians work for zoos, but most veterinarians
caring for zoo animals are private practitioners who contract
with the zoos to provide services, usually on a part-time
In addition, many veterinarians hold veterinary faculty positions
in colleges and universities.
Employment of veterinarians is expected to increase as fast
as average for all occupations over the 2004–14 projection
period. Despite this average growth, very good job opportunities
are expected because the 28 schools of veterinary medicine,
even at full capacity, result in a limited number of graduates
each year. However, as mentioned earlier, there is keen competition
for admission to veterinary school. As pets are increasingly
viewed as a member of the family, pet owners will be more
willing to spend on advanced veterinary medical care, creating
further demand for veterinarians.
Most veterinarians practice in animal hospitals or clinics
and care primarily for companion animals. Recent trends indicate
particularly strong interest in cats as pets. Faster growth
of the cat population is expected to increase the demand for
feline medicine and veterinary services, while demand for
veterinary care for dogs should continue to grow at a more
Pet owners are becoming more aware of the availability of
advanced care and are more willing to pay for intensive veterinary
care than in the past because many pet owners are more affluent
and because they consider their pet part of the family. More
pet owners even purchase pet insurance, increasing the likelihood
that a considerable amount of money will be spent on veterinary
care for their pets. More pet owners also will take advantage
of nontraditional veterinary services, such as preventive
New graduates continue to be attracted to companion-animal
medicine because they prefer to deal with pets and to live
and work near heavily populated areas. This situation will
not necessarily limit the ability of veterinarians to find
employment or to set up and maintain a practice in a particular
area. Rather, beginning veterinarians may take positions requiring
evening or weekend work to accommodate the extended hours
of operation that many practices are offering. Some veterinarians
take salaried positions in retail stores offering veterinary
services. Self-employed veterinarians usually have to work
hard and long to build a sufficient client base.
The number of jobs for large-animal veterinarians is likely
to grow more slowly than that for veterinarians in private
practice who care for companion animals. Nevertheless, job
prospects may be better for veterinarians who specialize in
farm animals than for companion-animal practitioners because
of low earnings in the former specialty and because many veterinarians
do not want to work in rural or isolated areas.
Continued support for public health and food safety, national
disease control programs, and biomedical research on human
health problems will contribute to the demand for veterinarians,
although positions in these areas of interest are few in number.
Homeland security also may provide opportunities for veterinarians
involved in efforts to minimize animal diseases and prevent
them from entering the country. Veterinarians with training
in food safety, animal health and welfare, and public health
and epidemiology should have the best opportunities for a
career in the Federal Government.
Median annual earnings of veterinarians were $66,590 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $51,420 and $88,060.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,020, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $118,430.
According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical
Association, average starting salaries of veterinary medical
college graduates in 2004 varied by type of practice as follows:
Small animals, predominantly
Small animals, exclusively
Large animals, exclusively
Private clinical practice
Large animals, predominantly
The average annual salary for veterinarians in the Federal
Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial
positions was $78,769 in 2005
Animal care and service workers and veterinary technologists
and technicians work extensively with animals. Like veterinarians,
they must have patience and feel comfortable with animals.
However, the level of training required for these occupations
is substantially less than that needed by veterinarians.
Sources of Additional Information
For additional information on careers in veterinary medicine,
a list of U.S. schools and colleges of veterinary medicine,
and accreditation policies, send a letter-size, self-addressed,
stamped envelope to:
American Veterinary Medical Association, 1931 N. Meacham
Rd., Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360. Internet: http://www.avma.org/
For information on veterinary education, write to:
Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, 1101
Vermont Ave. N.W., Suite 710, Washington, DC 20005. Internet:
For information on scholarships, grants, and loans, contact
the financial aid officer at the veterinary schools to which
you wish to apply.
Information on obtaining a veterinary position with the Federal
Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management
through USAJOBS, the Federal Government’s official employment
information system. This resource for locating and applying
for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet
at http://www.usajobs.opm.gov/ or through an interactive
voice response telephone system at (703) 724-1850 or TDD (978)
461-8404. These numbers are not tollfree, and charges may
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,