Career OverviewIt is the primary purpose of the veterinarian to maintain good health in animals. This may be through healing sick or injured animals, or by performing regular checkups on healthy ones. When necessary, vets perform surgery and prescribe medicine. This is a highly technical and detail oriented job, and the vet must be highly skilled. If there is a problem with an animal’s health, the vet must be able to find it by observation, x-ray, manual exam, or running tests. The patient cannot tell the vet where it hurts. Veterinarians must have an excellent bedside manner because they frequently are dealing with worried pet owners.
Vets may specialize in different types of animals. Most vets specialize in small animals like cats and dogs. Many vets, however, treat farm animals like cows and horses. All zoos employ vets, who must be familiar with a wide range of wild or exotic animals. Even aquariums have vets that specialize in fish and water mammals.
Most vets have their own offices and work between 40 – 50 hours per week with some weekend hours. Veterinarians just starting their own practices tend to work longer hours. Farm animal vets travel to the site of their work, and the hours may be more irregular.
Veterinarians who are employed by government agencies, laboratories, colleges, and commercial firms often have responsibility for large animal health programs and manage large numbers of people.
Most Veterinarians have their own offices or private clinics. These vets derive satisfaction from helping owners keep their animals well, and from treating sick or injured animals. In addition to just dogs, cats, and horses, today’s private practice vets treat a wide variety of animals including pet birds, small mammals (e.g. hamsters and gerbils) and aquarium fish. It is not even unusual for a vet to treat a llama, cat fish, or ostrich. Farm, or large animal, vets travel to the site of their work. They work out of well equipped vehicles, and may have to drive considerable distances. These vets often work outside in all kinds of weather. Veterinarians sometimes have to euthanize an animal or pet. When a pet dies, the vet must deal with the owner’s grief and loss with understanding and kindness.
Career RequirementsVeterinarians must complete an undergraduate degree in a related field such as animal science, biology or medical field. After completion of the undergraduate degree the student must then attend an accredited College of Veterinary Medicine for four years to obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. The vet must then meet all state licensing requirements to practice within a specific area as well as passing an exam that tests the candidate’s knowledge of legal regulations with regard to prescription of medications and procedures.
Job OutlookThere will always be a need for trained, compassionate veterinarians. Opportunities for small animal vets are expected to grow more rapidly then those for larger farm animal vets. However, the need is growing for vets who can treat unusual and exotic pets and animals. The United States Department of Labor indicates that the increasing demand for vets in most areas of specialization will continue until the year 2014.
Career TrackMany vets start their careers working for other vets in areas of practice of interests. Some vets may also start working for state or federal agencies. With experience many vets open their own clinics or work into partnerships with established vets. Some vets will also return to teaching or may work for research companies or pet product developers completing research or marketing.
CompensationThe median pay for this job is $51,400 for vets working as employees of clinics or in state agencies. Beginning or entry level salary is around $31,000 but this rapidly increases with experience. The higher end of the salary range is over $107,000, with owners of large successful clinics earning higher wages but also having greater risks with regards to finances.