Veterinary Microbiologist Salary and Career Outlook

Scientist examining set of petri dishes in microbiology lab
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Veterinary microbiologists are responsible for studying a variety of disease-causing microorganisms including viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

Duties

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.

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, and providing professional consultations when requested by general practitioners.

Most veterinary microbiologists work in a laboratory setting and keep regular office hours.

Veterinary microbiologists are often involved with the development of vaccines, drugs, and other animal health products. They may also conduct scientific research studies and publish the results in professional peer-reviewed journals.

Career Options

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 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.

Education & Training

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.

The board certification exam itself is comprised of 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 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 American College of Veterinary Microbiologists (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.

Salary

Veterinary microbiologists can expect to earn high-end salaries. Most veterinary specialists earn over $100,000 per year depending on the nature of their employment. 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 $65,920 per year in the 2010 survey.

The lowest ten percent earned less than $39,180 per year while the highest ten percent earned more than $115,720 per year.

Career Outlook

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (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 36 percent, a rate much faster than the average 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.