Veterinarian Career Profile

Veterinarian with kitten
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Veterinary medicine is perhaps the most high-profile career path in the animal industry. Pursuing a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree requires a significant educational and financial commitment, but the job outlook is strong for those pursuing this popular profession.


Veterinarians are licensed animal health professionals who are qualified to diagnose and treat pets, livestock and exotic animals. A vet can work in a variety of environments, but they will generally interact with both animal patients and human clients. The typical routine for a vet in small animal practice includes well pet exams, scheduled surgeries (such as spay/neuter procedures), and post-surgical follow-up exams. Vets in large animal practices may work out of a traditional clinic or, more frequently, travel to visit their clients on the farm.

 Additional duties for veterinarians include taking x-rays, writing prescriptions, suturing wounds, giving vaccinations, and advising owners on proper follow-up care. Vets are usually assisted by veterinary technicians while performing their duties.

Career Options

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 75 percent of vets work in the private practice setting. The majority of private practice veterinarians choose to work with small animals, but there are many other areas to focus on including large animal medicine, equine medicine, wildlife medicine, mixed practice medicine, or a variety of board-certified specialty options (such as anesthesiology, surgery, ophthalmology, and internal medicine). Outside of private practice, vets also find work as college professors or educators, pharmaceutical sales representatives, military personnel, government inspectors, and researchers.

Education, Training, and Licensing

All vets must graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree before seeking professional accreditation in the state where they intend to practice medicine. There are currently 30 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States, as well as many international options in areas such as the Caribbean and Europe. These institutions employ a highly competitive admissions process, and it is not uncommon for an applicant to apply more than once before gaining acceptance. Upon graduation, vets must also pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE).

Approximately 4,000 vets graduate and enter the field each year.


The median wage for veterinarians in 2012 was $84,460 according to the most recent salary survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In the BLS study, earnings ranged from less than $51,530 for the lowest 10 percent of vets to more than $144.100 for the highest 10 percent of vets. According to data collected by the AVMA, small animal vets fared the best in terms of average starting salary with earnings of $71,462 per year; large animal vets started out at an average of $68,933. Higher salaries are generally earned by veterinarians who have achieved board certified in a particular specialty area (ophthalmology, oncology, surgery, etc).

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the veterinary profession will expand at a rate of approximately 12 percent, which is about the same rate as the average for all professions, over the decade spanning from 2012 to 2022. Demand for large animal veterinarians, particularly in under-served rural areas, will be considerably stronger. According to research conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, there were 102,584 veterinarians practicing in 2014. A majority of those practitioners (58,148) were female, indicative of the change in veterinary medicine moving from being a male-dominated profession to being a female dominated profession.

Women are expected to continue to enter the profession in increasing numbers; recent vet school enrollment data showed that women held 76.6 percent of the available seats.