Career Information

Veterinarian Giving Bulldog A Shot
A veterinarian giving a dog an injection. LWA/Stone/Getty Images

Job Description

Veterinarians tend to the healthcare needs of animals, including pets, livestock, and zoo and laboratory animals. Most vets work in private clinics treating companion animals, for example, dogs and cats. They diagnose illnesses and perform medical procedures.

A small number are equine veterinarians who treat horses, and food animal vets who work with farm animals. There are some vets who specialize in food safety and inspection.

They check livestock for illnesses that can be transmitted to humans. Others are research veterinarians who do research on human and animal health conditions.

Employment Facts

In 2010 veterinarians held just over 61,000 jobs in the US. The vast majority had jobs in the veterinary services industry, while others worked for colleges or universities, medical or research laboratories, or the government. Approximately nine percent were self-employed.

Educational Requirements

To become a veterinarian one must 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, having one will increase your odds of getting accepted. There is keen competition for entry into this four-year program.

Why Do You Need to Know About Educational Requirements?

Other Requirements

In order to practice in the US, a veterinarian must have a license.

In addition to graduating from an accredited veterinary program, to become licensed one must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) administered by the . Many states also administer their own exams.

Although it is not required, many veterinarians choose to become certified in an area of specialization, for example, surgery or internal medicine.

Requirements vary by specialty but may include experience in that area, passing an examination, spending additional time in school or completing a three to four-year residency program.

In addition to formal training, to be successful as a veterinarian one needs certain qualities he or she can't learn in school. Number one on this list is compassion, both toward the animals they treat and their owners. He or she also needs good decision-making skills to aid in choosing appropriate treatment methods. Good interpersonal skills are also a must as one spends time communicating with animal owners, staff members, and colleagues. Manual dexterity and strong problem-solving skills are also important.

Job Outlook

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an excellent outlook for this occupation. The agency predicts it will experience faster job growth, through 2020, than most other occupations that require at least a master's degree

Why Do You Need to Know About Job Outlook?


Veterinarians earned a median annual salary of $82,900 in 2011 and median hourly earnings of $39.86.

A Day in a Veterinarian's Life

On a typical day a veterinarian working with small animals, for example, dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles, in clinical practice will:

  • diagnose animals' health problems
  • vaccinate their patients against diseases, such as distemper and rabies
  • medicate animals suffering from infections or illnesses
  • treat and dress wounds
  • set fractures
  • perform surgery
  • advise owners about animal feeding, behavior, and breeding
  • euthanize animals when necessary

On a typical day a veterinarian working with large animals, primarily horses and cows, will:

  • provide preventive care to maintain the health of food animals
  • test for and vaccinate against diseases
  • consult with farm or ranch owners and managers on animal production, feeding, and housing issues
  • treat and dress wounds, set fractures, and perform surgery


Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Veterinarians, on the Internet at (visited November 16, 2012).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Veterinarians, on the Internet at (visited November 16, 2012).

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