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Overview of Veterinary Medicine
Veterinary medicine is the area of study and practice concerned with the health and treatment of animals in a medical capacity. Individuals in this field are trained and educated to provide healthcare to animals of varying types, and depending on one’s education, be able to perform surgery in order to facilitate in the health of the animal.
What is a Veterinarian?
A veterinarian is a doctor trained and licensed to provide animals specialized care and treatment. Veterinarians are ultimately responsible for accurate, timely communication regarding treatment plans and injuries associated with animals and pets. Job duties of a veterinarian include the following:
- Perform surgery on animals
- Assess and Diagnose Animal's Health & Wellness
- Dress and Dress for Wounds
- Vaccinate and Test Animals for Illness & Disease
- Prescribe Medication
- Operate Medical Equipment
- Euthanize Animals
- Protect Humans from Disease Carried by Animals
- Performing Clinical Research
- Communicating & Counseling Animal Owners
Veterinarians at an animal hospital, veterinary hospital, or animal clinic work side-by-side with veterinarian assistant and veterinary technicians to diagnose and treat animals. The veterinary team splits surgical, technical, administrative, and clerical duties to ensure a smooth running operation.
How to Become a Veterinarian
In order to become a veterinarian, a student must follow a series of steps predicated upon the other. We will cover them in a series of easy to follow steps below for clarity purposes.
Step 1 – Research Veterinary Schools
The initial phase in your journey to become a veterinarian is to research accredited universities and colleges that fit your vocational aspirations and goals. In the United States, there are approximately three dozen veterinarian programs to choose from for prospective students which we have listed below in a centralized fashion. You can also utilize our proprietary matching portal to quickly filter schools and accelerate your college search.
Step 2 – Meet Medical Prerequisites
After receiving admissions information from your top school choices, you will need to ensure you meet all prerequisite requirements. Gaining admissions to an accredited veterinary program may or may not require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree while many mandate a threshold number of credit hours. Additionally, applicants will need to sit for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), GRE (Graduate Record Examination), or VCAT (Veterinary College Admission Test) depending on the school’s requirements.
Step 3 – Apply to Ved Med Schools
After meeting all prerequisites and sitting for the appropriate standardized test, you can apply to veterinary schools. During your application process, make sure to take the time to illuminate all related work experience associated with animal care. From summer jobs working on a farm to volunteering at an animal shelter or clinic, practical experience will help you stand out from other applicants. It is important to understand the competitive nature of veterinary programs and with acceptance rate of less than fifty percent, you need to put your best foot forward.
Step 4 – Ved Med College
After gaining admissions to a veterinary medicine school, you will need to sit down with your advisor and sign up for classes. Given a veterinary’s job requirements, students should not be surprised to learn pre-veterinary courses typically include animal science, anatomy, microbiology, zoology, biology, chemistry and physiology along with general education courses like philosophy, math, business administration, and English. Veterinarian programs are divided between hands-on clinical work, traditional classroom academics, and laboratory work. In fact, in the final year of a 4-year veterinary program students will perform a set of clinical rotations at approved veterinary medical facilities or animal hospitals.
Step 5 – Graduate, Exams, Certification, & Licensure
Upon graduating from an accredited college or university, you will receive a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) or VMD (Veterinary Medical Doctor) designation. Licensing requirements for veterinarians will vary from state to state, so be sure to research the requirements of your location. Most will need to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination for each of the state’s you will be practicing in before being allowed to begin working. In addition to earning a veterinarian license, you may choose to add on a specialty certification. Veterinarian certifications can help you land a great job or upskill in a particular area of interest like microbiology, surgical procedures, or internal medicine.
College Requirements for Veterinarians
Veterinary studies is a graduate level degree that requires a student to have earned a related bachelor’s degree prior to enrollment in a program. Upon completion the student will earn a doctorate, doctor of veterinary medicine (D.V.M.), which typically takes four years. Individuals will study a variety of topics related to healthcare, animal biology, physiology and more, as well as becoming familiarized with diseases and other ailments that may be common a given species.
A curriculum may include:
- Animal Biology
Veterinary programs are highly competitive. Acceptance rates at the accredited veterinary medicine schools in the United States range from 6.7% to 34%. An ideal school will provide resources and facilities that are up to date and allow for practical education alongside more traditional classroom courses. Students will work with experienced professionals and will be required to participate in clinical rotations on a path to obtaining licensure.
Most Popular Careers for Veterinarians
Like medical doctors treating human patients, a veterinarian can elect to specialize in medical areas during college or even after graduation. The 5 primary areas of concentration for a veterinarian include: research, inspection & food safety, food animals, equine, and companion. An overview of each is listed below to help you better understand the differing specialty fields within veterinary medicine.
Unlike a Companion Animal Veterinarian, a Research Veterinarian will spend the bulk of their day in labs conducting clinical research. If a private research facility or government agency is considering a new surgical technique for commercial viability, they will engage a Research Veterinarian to test it within a clinical environment before large-scale decisions are made by an organization. Other aspects of a Research Veterinarian’s job may include disease prevention, refining clinical methodologies, and a variety of consulting activities.
Inspection & Food Safety Veterinarians
Food Safety and Inspection Veterinarians are specialists that test a variety of livestock and animal products, provide necessary inoculations, conduct vital research, help enforce public health programs, and work with the FDA to enforce food safety standards and updating approved processes.
Food Animal Veterinarians
The professionals that manage the health of animals that are consumed by humans falls under the purview of a Food Animal Veterinarian or Farm Animal Veterinarian. By spending their time performing site visits at farms and ranches, a Food Animal Veterinarian can help manage the quality control and processes associated with consumable food from a variety of animals such as pigs, cattle, sheep, and chickens.
Equine Veterinarians work closely with horses and their owners to help prevent diseases, provide treatment plans, and rehabilitate as needed. As an example, an equine vet may be called upon to work in conjunction with a foot specialist or farrier to improve a horse with limb deformity, balance, and lameness. They may spend substantive time around horses performing basic examinations, inoculations, drawing blood, treating wounds, prescribing medication, and performing surgery.
Companion Animal Veterinarians
Companion Animal Veterinarians are responsible for providing pet owners with a variety of help and education for the benefit of their pets. Examples can include diagnosing health related issues, providing counsel to pet owners, and performing medical tasks like broken bones, inoculations, and dental work. Per the AAVMA, 75% of Companion Animal Veterinarians work in an animal hospital or private clinic.
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Employment Opportunities in Veterinary Medicine
Veterinarians work with a variety of animal types, and specialization is possible within the field. Job growth is expected to increase rapidly over the next decade due to growing demand for professionals and an increasing pet population. Statistics show that individuals are willing to pay high premiums for pet care in this way, and as such it should be relatively easy for graduates to find employment or establish their own clinic. Advances in pet medicine and surgery also have increased demand for qualified professionals.
Where Do Veterinarians Work?
Veterinarians work for an array of private clinics, state agencies, local government, and federal government organizations. You can find veterinarians employed in a wide variety of animal hospitals, farms, laboratories, ranches, classrooms, slaughterhouses, medical offices, and think tanks.
Veterinarians that work in the food safety industry will be on-site at ranches, slaughterhouses, food processing plants, and farms. Their job will be to help the ranchers and owners comply to the FDA guidelines and enforce industry standards across all locations and animal variations. At the same time, a veterinarian that specializes in research will spend the bulk of their time in an office or lab having nominal contact with animals.
Veterinarian Job Duties
Traditional licensed vets spend the bulk their day treating wounds, examining animals, providing medical diagnosis, rehabilitating animals, performing surgery, administering tests, provide inoculations, prescribing medications, and counseling pet owners. Additionally, veterinarians are trained to treat a number of animal injuries and illnesses through the use of various medical equipment, x-ray machines, surgical tools, and ultrasound technology. A veterinarian will provide medical treatments and procedures for animals that parallel what a physician would provide for a human.
Veterinarian Salary & Career Outlook
Mean annual income for a licensed veterinarian in the United States is $101,530 which is nearly $49 an hour. The top 25% of veterinarians average $118,600 per year with the bottom twenty-five percent averaging just over seventy-thousand dollars. The variation in pay exists based on factors such as work experience, size of the veterinary hospital, scope of job duties, hours worked, and population density.
The BLS estimates there are approximately 79,600 veterinarians currently employed in the U.S. The projected growth rate is estimated to be 19% through 2026 adding over 15,000 veterinarian jobs during this time. The national average growth rate is estimated at six percent placing veterinarians on a path to grow three times the national average.
Employment forecasts indicate veterinarians will remain in high demand in the coming years. Job stability and income growth favor those that hone their craft, effectively engage with others, are empathetic, possess great time management skills, effectively manage resources, and communicate well with others.
Additional Veterinary Resources
The American Veterinary Medical Association is a professional organization that works to advance the interests of its members, as well as provide resources and guidelines the ensure the quality of its practitioners. Additional insights regarding the veterinary medicine industry can be found on our resource guide titled Complete Career Guide for Veterinarians along with Top College Degrees for Animal Lovers.