What You Need to Know About Being a Veterinarian

Veterinarian Giving Bulldog A Shot
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Veterinarians tend to the healthcare needs of animals, including pets, livestock, and zoo and laboratory animals. Commonly called vets, most work in private clinics, treating companion animals, such as dogs and cats. They diagnose illnesses and perform medical procedures.

A small number of people who work in this field are equine veterinarians who treat horses, and food animal vets who work with farm animals who are raised to become food sources.

Some vets specialize in food safety and inspection. They check livestock for illnesses that animals can transmit to humans. Others are research veterinarians who study human and animal health conditions.

Quick Facts

  • In 2017, veterinarians earned a  median annual salary of $90,420.
  • Almost 79,600 people work in this occupation.
  • Most jobs are in veterinary offices and hospitals. Some vets work in laboratories and classrooms, and others visit farms to provide medical services. 
  • The job outlook for this occupation is excellent, according to predictions from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This government agency expects employment to grow about 19 percent, which is much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026. New veterinarians will find good job prospects because of the retirement of their older colleagues.
  • 13 percent of all veterinarians are self-employed.

A Day in a Veterinarian's Life

To learn about typical job duties in this field, we perused job listings on Indeed.com.

They listed the following tasks:

  • "Perform general procedures, surgery, and dentistry" (Hospital)
  • "Build rapport with clients by gathering information and listening to, and empathizing with, their concerns" (Hospital)
  • "Evaluate and treat the shelter cats in our care" (Animal Shelter)
  • "Provide preventative medical, clinical, and surgical care to research animals" (Laboratory)
  • "Stay current on new medical information and changes in veterinary medicine" (Emergency Vet)
  • "Perform all common surgeries, including the use of all standard medical instruments, equipment, and anesthesia protocols. (Hospital)

The Truth About Being a Veterinarian

  • Most veterinarians are on-call around the clock because emergencies can occur at any time. Schedules may include evenings, weekends, and holidays.
  • Dealing with sick animals and their distraught owners can be very stressful.
  • Sick or frightened animals may bite, kick, or otherwise injure those who are treating them.

Education, Training, and Licensing Requirements

To become a veterinarian you will have to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree from an accredited college of veterinary medicine. Although many schools admit applicants who don't have a bachelor's degree, earning one will increase your odds of gaining admission. There is keen competition for entry into this four-year program.

You will need a state-issued professional license to practice. Every state requires candidates for licensure to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) administered by the International Council for Veterinary Assessment.

 Many states also give their own exams.

Although it is not mandatory, many veterinarians choose to become certified in a specialty, for example, surgery or internal medicine. Requirements vary for each but may include getting experience in that area, passing an examination, spending additional time in school, or completing a three- to four-year residency program.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

In addition to formal training, to be successful as a veterinarian, you need specific qualities you won't learn in school. Number one on this list is compassion, both toward the animals you will be treating and their owners. You will also need outstanding critical thinking skills to aid in choosing appropriate treatment methods. Excellent interpersonal skills are also a must since you will spend time communicating with animal owners, staff members, and colleagues.

Manual dexterity and strong problem-solving skills are essential as well.

What Do Employers Expect From You?

We again took a look at Indeed.com to find out what qualities employers are looking for in job candidates. This is what we learned:

  • "Ability to work hours designed to suit our clients’ needs"
  • "Professional comportment and appearance, with excellent interpersonal skills and a positive, friendly attitude"
  • "Able to work with a team as well as independently, while creating and maintaining strong relationships with referring hospitals and doctors"
  • "Must have good communication skills and be able to handle a busy patient load while maintaining a positive attitude"
  • "Commitment to ongoing educational development and growth"
  • "Has commitment and dedication to improving the lives of animals"

Is This Career a Good Fit for You?

Your interestspersonality type, and work-related values must be a good match for any career you are considering. If you have the following traits, you could excel as a veterinarian:

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionAnnual Salary (2016)Educational Requirements
Veterinary TechnicianHelps vets diagnose and treat animals.$33,400Associate degree in veterinary technology
PhysicianTreats patients who have diseases or injuries.

Varies by specialty: 

$208,560 (general practitioners); $251,890+ (surgeons)

Medical degree (M.D. or D.O.), following a bachelor's degree.

Nurse Practitioner

Provide primary care and specialty care to patients.$110,930Master's degree, after becoming a registered nurse.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited October 12, 2018).