What Does a Veterinarian Do?

Job Description, Salary, Skills, & More

Veterinarian infographic

Colleen Tighe, The Balance

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:

  • Administering immunizations
  • Conducting physical examinations
  • Providing emergency care
  • Performing surgery and dental procedures
  • Euthanizing animals
  • Advising clients on care of their pets

Veterinarians provide medical care for animals. In addition to being able to diagnose and treat them, veterinarians also communicate effectively with their owners. This includes explaining diagnoses and treatments.

It is essential for veterinarians to keep up with the latest developments in animal medicine. They do this by reading professional journals and attending conferences. This allows them to make sure their patients are receiving the best care available.

Veterinarian Salary

  • 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 and the District of Columbia 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.

    Veterinarian Skills & Competencies

    In addition to formal training, to be successful as a veterinarian, you need specific qualities you won't learn in school. These are called soft skills.

    • Compassion: Vets must show concern toward their patients and owners.
    • Critical thinking: This skills aids in choosing appropriate treatment methods. 
    • Interpersonal skills: These "people skills" allow vets to work with animal owners to provide the best care possible.
    • Problem-solving skills: It is essential to be able to identify problems as quickly as possible.
    • Scientific aptitude: The study and treatment of animals is a science and requires professional research methods and skills.
    • Analytical skills: Since animals can’t 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 based on that.

      Job Outlook

      The demand for veterinarians is expected to grow at a rate of 19% between 2016 and 2016, almost three times the average predicted growth for all occupations combined, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. People are expected to spend more money on their pets and this will drive the higher demand for veterinary services.

      Work Environment

      Veterinarians' work in veterinary clinics or hospitals, either their own or someone else's. Those who treat farm or other large animals must travel to their patients. Vets who work for zoos are part of a team that studies and cares for the animals at the facility.

      Work Schedule

      Vets in private practice see household pets during regular business hours, as well as on weekends and evening, when their owners can bring them in. They may also have to respond to emergencies.

      How to Get the Job


      If you are thinking about applying to veterinary school, take—and excel in—science classes while in college, including biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, zoology, and animal science.


      Gain experience by working in veterinary offices, animal shelters, or other animal-related businesses.


      Admission to a veterinary college is competitive. 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. If you would like a career that takes one or the other of these interests (or both) into account, consider these occupations:

      • Veterinary Technician: $33,400
      • Physician: $208,560
      • Nurse Practitioner: $110,930