What Does a Veterinary Microbiologist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Scientist examining set of petri dishes in microbiology lab
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Veterinary microbiologists are veterinarians that specialize in the study of microorganisms that cause infectious disease in animal species. These disease-causing agents may include bacteria, viruses, toxins, and parasites.

Veterinary microbiologists can specialize in several areas such as bacteriology, mycology, virology, parasitology, or immunology. They may also focus their research on one specific animal species or group of interest.

Veterinary Microbiologist Duties & Responsibilities

A veterinary microbiologist’s duties may vary based upon their specific area of interest but generally will include:

  • Examining animal tissues and fluids
  • Conducting advanced laboratory analysis with microscopes and other specialized equipment
  • Providing professional consultations when requested by general practitioners
  • Getting involved with the development of vaccines, drugs, and other animal health products
  • Conducting scientific research studies and publish the results in professional peer-reviewed journals.

Veterinary Microbiologist Salary

Veterinary microbiologists can expect to earn high-end salaries, although the salary still varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors. Private industry positions tend to have the greatest levels of compensation for research and development roles.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) salary survey for general (non-veterinary) microbiologists indicated that the median salary for these scientists was as follows:

  • Median Annual Salary: $69,960 ($33.63 /hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $129,560 ($62.29/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $40,540 ($19.49/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

Education, Training & Certification

The veterinary microbiologist position involves fulfilling education and training requirements as follows:

  • Education: Veterinary microbiologists must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and additional requirements before being qualified to sit for the certification exam in this specialty area. Provided that a candidate has two diplomates willing to sponsor their application, there are a few educational routes by which they may qualify for the exam. The first route requires a candidate to have completed a Ph.D. degree with a major emphasis in veterinary microbiology (which includes bacteriology, mycology, parasitology, virology, and immunology). The second route requires a candidate to have completed a Master’s degree along with significant additional experience equal to that which would be earned by a Ph.D. candidate. This additional experience could include full-time research roles, teaching at a university, or practice in a diagnostic laboratory. The third route does not require a Master’s or Ph.D. degree, but the candidate must have equivalent experience and demonstrate increasing levels of responsibility in their role.
  • Exam: The board certification exam itself has two parts. The first is a general microbiology exam (with 240 multiple choice questions). The second is a specialty exam in one of four areas: bacteriology/mycology, virology, immunology, or parasitology. The specialty exams consist of 100 multiple choice questions that test practical knowledge using slides and other visual aids. Candidates may take one, two, three, or all four specialty exams with the approval of the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists (ACVM) board within a five-year period. After completing the general and specialty phases of the exam, the candidate must submit at least 10 potential questions for possible use on future exams. If successful in all areas, a candidate is granted diplomate status in the field of veterinary microbiology. The ACVM administers the certifying exam for the veterinary microbiology specialty in the United States. The American Veterinary Medical Association reported that there were 216 diplomates in the field of veterinary microbiology during the survey conducted in December of 2011. There were 42 specialists in bacteriology/microbiology, 48 specialists in immunology, 60 specialists in general microbiology, and 66 specialists in virology.

    Veterinary Microbiologist Skills & Competencies

    In addition to education and other requirements, candidates that possess the following skills may be able to perform more successfully in the job:

    • Attention to detail: Microbiology work involves a great amount of detail
    • Analytical skills: You must be able to analyze and problem solve
    • Excellent IT skills: Much of the work, analysis, reporting and other tasks must be performed using a computer and advanced software programs
    • Communication and interpersonal skills: You must be able to communicate results and issues clearly and effectively

    Job Outlook

    While the BLS does not separate the specialty of veterinary microbiology from the data collected for all veterinary careers, the most recent survey does indicate that there will be a pattern of steady growth for the entire profession of veterinary medicine.

    The projected rate of growth is estimated to be greater than 19% for 2016 through 2026, which is much faster than the average 7% rate of growth for all professions. This should ensure strong job prospects for all veterinary students who graduate and enter professional practice.

    The extremely small number of certified veterinary microbiologists should translate to very strong demand for those who are able to complete the rigorous qualifications and testing to become certified in this specialty field.

    Work Environment

    Most veterinary microbiologists work in a laboratory setting and keep regular office hours. Veterinary microbiologists may find employment with a variety of organizations including commercial manufacturers of animal health products, colleges and universities, diagnostic laboratories, research laboratories, and government agencies. Positions may include research, product development, teaching, or advisory roles.

    Work Schedule

    Veterinary microbiologists typically work a 40-hour work week.

    How to Get the Job

    PREPARE

    Brush up your resume to highlight relevant skills and previous experience. Prepare a cover letter that you can customize for prospective employers.


    APPLY

    Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit your college career center to locate job openings. You can expect to find positions with universities, laboratories, research institutions, government agencies, and hospitals, to name a few employers. Check to see if these organizations have websites with a "careers" section that lists job openings.

    Play up any useful experience that can help set you apart, such as relevant internships.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in a veterinary microbiologist career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

    • Agricultural or Food Scientist: $64,020
    • Medical Scientists: $84,810
    • Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists: $63,420