What Does a Veterinarian Do?
Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More
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.
Veterinarian Duties & Responsibilities
The primary responsibilities of a veterinarian include:
- General procedures
- Emergency care
- Client relations
- Continuing education
Veterinarians need to provide medical care for animals in much the same way doctors provide medical care for humans—except that veterinarians cannot communicate with their patients as easily as doctors can.
In addition to being able to diagnose and treat animals, veterinarians also need to be able to communicate effectively with the animals’ owners. This includes explaining diagnoses and treatments and often explaining how owners can best comfort and restrain animals during examinations and other treatments.
As with any medical profession, it’s also important for veterinarians to keep up with the latest developments in treatments and medications in order to be sure that animals are receiving the best care available at any given time.
- Median Annual Salary: $90,420
- Top 10% Annual Salary: $159,320
- Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $53,980
Education, Training, & Certification
Veterinarians need to earn a doctor of veterinary medicine (D.V.M.) degree from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and a state-issued license to practice.
- Education: Admission to a college of veterinary medicine requires a background in biology and zoology, and students typically have degrees in one of these areas before being admitted. Different programs also may have specific prerequisites that must be met before admission
- Certifications: Every state in the U.S. 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 have their own exams.
Veterinarian Skills & Competencies
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.
- People skills: Animals have owners who ultimately will make decisions about care and pay for that care. This makes it vital for veterinarians to be able to work with animals’ owners in order to provide the best care possible.
- Love of animals: In addition to having an affection for animals, it’s also important that veterinarians have knowledge of animal behavior. They need to be able to gain the trust of animals and identify any behavioral clues that might help with diagnoses.
- Scientific aptitude: The study and treatment of animals is a science and requires professional research methods and skills.
- Analytical skills: Since animals can’t clearly explain what ails them the way people can, veterinarians need to be able to interpret all of the information available to them and decide on a course of action from that.
The demand for veterinarians is expected to grow at a rate nearly three times the average for all jobs combined for the decade ending in 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Increases in pet expenditures are driving higher demand for veterinary services, leading to an expected growth rate of 19 percent, compared to 7 percent for all jobs.
The work environment depends on the specific career path a veterinarian takes. Veterinarians who open their own practice or work in another veterinarian’s practice often see household pets at their offices during regular business hours. Some vets may treat farm animals and other large animals, which sometimes involves traveling to their patients. Other vets may work for zoos as part of a team studying and caring for the animals kept at the facility.
Schedules vary, much like the work environment, due to the focus of an individual vet. In most instances, standard office hours will be kept, but veterinarians also are frequently on call to deal with emergencies.
How to Get the Job
BIOLOGY AND ZOOLOGY
Studying animal-related sciences as an undergraduate is the best path to getting admitted to a veterinary college.
WORK WITH ANIMALS
Gain experience by working in veterinary offices or other animal-related businesses.
Admission to a veterinary college is competitive, and once that hurdle is cleared, completing the program will require a high level of dedication and commitment.
Comparing Similar Jobs
Veterinarians combine an interest in medicine with a love for animals. Other positions that focus on one area or the other include:
- Veterinary Technician: $33,400
- Physician: $208,560
- Nurse Practitioner: $110,930
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics