Veterinarian: Job Duties, Occupational Outlook and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for veterinarians. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Veterinarians may focus on providing medical care for common household pets, like cats, dogs, rabbits and birds. They can also treat large farm animals, including horses and cattle. The following chart provides an overview of the requirements for a job as a veterinarian.

Degree Required Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
Key Responsibilities Examine, diagnose and treat animals; prescribe and administer animal medications; take cell and tissue samples and perform diagnostic tests; perform surgery on animals
Licensure or Certification All states require veterinarians to be licensed; certifications in numerous veterinary specialties are available
Job Growth (2012-2022) 12%*
Median Salary (2013) $86,640*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Are the Job Duties of Veterinarians?

Veterinarians' duties depend upon the areas in which they work. Many veterinarians treat small companion animals. As a small animal vet, you may perform services such as spaying and neutering, setting broken bones, treating wounds and providing geriatric care for older pets. You might also take X-rays and dispense prescription medicine for animals with illnesses. Other job duties include inoculating pets against diseases and performing surgeries and euthanasia if necessary.

Veterinarians who care for large animals often engage in production medicine, which involves treating an entire herd to prevent disease. As a large animal vet, you may also advise farm owners on animal feeding and production concerns, as well as maintaining sanitary conditions. Working in food inspection as a veterinarian, you must ensure that animals are free of communicable diseases. Your duties might include placing animals in quarantine and investigating meat processing facilities to ensure they are in compliance with government regulations.

What is the Occupational Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS), jobs for veterinarians were projected to grow by 12% between 2012 and 2022, about the same as most occupations (www.bls.gov). Although demand for veterinarians remains high, growth in this industry has slowed, resulting in more competition for jobs in this field. There may be less competition in farm animal veterinary practices. The BLS reported that the median salary for veterinarians was $86,640 in 2013.

What Are the Education Requirements?

Your pre-veterinary bachelor's curriculum includes coursework in animal biology, genetics, chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physics and animal nutrition. Aspiring veterinarians must then attend one of 28 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-accredited schools of veterinary medicine and earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Curricula for these programs usually include courses such as veterinary immunology, advanced surgical techniques, veterinary physiology and zoological medicine.

To practice veterinary medicine, you must be licensed by your state. Requirements for licensing include a DVM degree and successful completion of the comprehensive North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. You might also be required to pass a jurisprudence examination, which deals with state regulations. You may choose to complete an internship before joining or opening a veterinary practice. To become a board-certified vet, you must complete a residency program, which will allow you to specialize in such areas as surgery, cardiology or preventive medicine after an additional four years of training.

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