Veterinarians

Summary

veterinarians image
Veterinarians check for symptoms of illnesses in pets.
Quick Facts: Veterinarians
2012 Median Pay $84,460 per year
$40.61 per hour
Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 70,300
Job Outlook, 2012-22 12% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 8,400

What Veterinarians Do

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Work Environment

Although most veterinarians work in private clinics and hospitals, others travel to farms, work in laboratories or classrooms, or work for the government.

How to Become a Veterinarian

Veterinarians must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary college and a state license.

Pay

The median annual wage for veterinarians was $84,460 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of veterinarians is projected to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Candidates can expect very strong competition for available veterinarian positions. Those with specializations and prior work experience should have the best job opportunities.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of veterinarians with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about veterinarians by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Veterinarians Do About this section

Veterinarians
Veterinarians use x rays to diagnose animals.

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Duties

Veterinarians typically do the following:

  • Examine animals to diagnose their health problems
  • Diagnose and treat animals for medical conditions
  • Treat and dress wounds
  • Perform surgery on animals
  • Test for and vaccinate against diseases
  • Operate medical equipment, such as x-ray machines
  • Advise animal owners about general care, medical conditions, and treatments
  • Prescribe medication
  • Euthanize animals

Veterinarians in private clinical practices treat the injuries and illnesses of pets and other animals with a variety of medical equipment, including surgical tools and x-ray and ultrasound machines. They provide treatment for animals that is similar to the services a physician provides to treat humans.

The following are examples of types of veterinarians:

Companion animal veterinarians treat pets and generally work in private clinics and hospitals. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 75 percent of veterinarians who work in private clinical practice treat pets. They most often care for cats and dogs, but also treat other pets, such as birds, ferrets, and rabbits. These veterinarians diagnose and provide treatment for animal health problems, consult with owners of animals about preventative health care, and carry out medical and surgical procedures, such as vaccinations, dental work, and setting fractures.

Equine veterinarians work with horses. In 2012, about 6 percent of private practice veterinarians diagnosed and treated horses.

Food animal veterinarians work with farm animals such as pigs, cattle, and sheep. In 2012, about 8 percent of private practice veterinarians treated food animals. They spend much of their time at farms and ranches treating illnesses and injuries and testing for and vaccinating against disease. They may advise owners or managers about feeding, housing, and general health practices.

Food safety and inspection veterinarians inspect and test livestock and animal products for major animal diseases, provide vaccines to treat animals, enhance animal welfare, conduct research to improve animal health, and enforce government food safety regulations. They design and administer animal and public health programs for the prevention and control of diseases transmissible among animals and between animals and people.

Research veterinarians work in laboratories, conducting clinical research on human and animal health problems. These veterinarians may perform tests on animals to identify the effects of drug therapies, or they may test new surgical techniques. They may also research how to prevent, control, and eliminate food- and animal-borne illnesses and diseases.

Some veterinarians become postsecondary teachers at colleges and universities.

Work Environment About this section

Veterinarians
Most veterinarians work in veterinary clinics.

Veterinarians held about 70,300 jobs in 2012, of which 74 percent were in the veterinary services industry. Others held positions at colleges or universities; in private industry, such as in medical and research laboratories; and in federal, state, or local government. About 18 percent of veterinarians were self-employed.

Although most veterinarians work in private clinics and hospitals, others travel to farms, work in laboratories or classrooms, or work for the government.

Veterinarians who treat horses or food animals must travel between their offices and farms and ranches. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather and may have to perform surgery, often under unsanitary conditions.

Veterinarians who work in food safety and inspection must travel to farms, slaughterhouses, and food-processing plants.

Veterinarians who conduct research work primarily in offices and laboratories and spend much of their time dealing with people, rather than animals.

Veterinarians’ work can sometimes be emotionally stressful, as they deal with sick animals and the animals’ anxious owners. Also, the workplace can be noisy, as animals make noise when sick or being handled. Working on farms and ranches, in slaughterhouses, or with wildlife can also be physically demanding.

Injuries and Illnesses

When working with animals that are frightened or in pain, veterinarians risk being bitten, kicked, and scratched. In addition, veterinarians working with diseased animals risk being infected by the disease.

Work Schedules

Veterinarians often work long hours. Some work nights or weekends, and they may have to respond to emergencies outside of scheduled work hours. About 1 in 3 veterinarians worked more than 50 hours per week in 2012.

How to Become a Veterinarian About this section

Veterinarians
Veterinarians can choose specialties such as companion animals or farm animals.

Veterinarians must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary college and a state license.

Education

Veterinarians must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. There are currently 29 colleges with accredited programs in the United States. A veterinary medicine program generally takes 4 years to complete and includes classroom, laboratory, and clinical components.

Although not required, most applicants to veterinary school have a bachelor’s degree. Veterinary medical colleges typically require applicants to have taken many science classes, including biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, zoology, microbiology, and animal science. Most programs also require math and humanities and social science courses.

Admission to veterinary programs is very competitive, and fewer than half of all applicants were accepted in 2012.

In veterinary medicine programs, students take courses on normal animal anatomy and physiology, as well as disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Most programs include 3 years of classroom, laboratory, and clinical work. Students typically spend the final year of the 4-year program doing clinical rotations in a veterinary medical center or hospital. In veterinary schools today, increasingly, courses include general business management and career development classes, to help new veterinarians learn how to effectively run a practice.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states and the District of Columbia require veterinarians to have a license. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require prospective veterinarians to complete an accredited veterinary program and to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. Veterinarians working for the state or federal government may not be required to have a state license, because each agency has different requirements.

Most states require not only the national exam but also have a state exam that covers state laws and regulations. Few states accept licenses from other states, so veterinarians who want to be licensed in another state usually must take that state’s exam.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers certification in 40 specialties, such as surgery, microbiology, and internal medicine. Although certification is not required for veterinarians, it can show exceptional skill and expertise in a particular field. To sit for the certification exam, veterinarians must have a certain number of years of experience in the field, complete additional education, and complete a residency program, typically lasting 3 to 4 years. Requirements vary by specialty.

Training

Although graduates of a veterinary program can begin practicing once they receive their license, some veterinarians pursue further education and training. Some new veterinary graduates enter 1-year internship programs to gain experience. Internships can be valuable experience for veterinarians who apply for competitive or better paying positions or in preparation for a certification program.

Other Experience

When deciding whom to admit, some veterinary medical colleges weigh experience heavily. Formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research, or some area of health science, is particularly advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm, at a stable, or in an animal shelter, can also be helpful.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Veterinarians must be compassionate when working with animals and their owners. They must treat animals with kindness and respect, and must be sensitive when dealing with the owners of sick pets.

Decision-making skills. Veterinarians must decide the correct method for treating the injuries and illnesses of animals. Deciding to euthanize a sick animal, for instance, can be difficult.

Interpersonal skills. Strong communication skills are essential for veterinarians, who must be able to discuss their recommendations and explain treatment options to animal owners and give instructions to their staff.

Management skills. Management skills are important for veterinarians who are in charge of running private clinics or laboratories, or directing teams of technicians or inspectors. In these settings, they are responsible for providing direction, delegating work, and overseeing daily operations.

Manual dexterity. Manual dexterity is important for veterinarians, because they must control their hand movements and be precise when treating injuries and performing surgery.

Problem-solving skills. Veterinarians need strong problem-solving skills because they must figure out what is ailing animals. Those who test animals to determine the effects of drug therapies also need excellent diagnostic skills.

Pay About this section

Veterinarians

Median annual wages, May 2012

Veterinarians

$84,460

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

$73,410

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for veterinarians was $84,460 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,530, and the top 10 percent earned more than $144,100.

The median annual wage for veterinarians in the federal government was $85,170 in May 2012.

Veterinarians often work long hours. Some work nights or weekends, and they may have to respond to emergencies outside of scheduled work hours. About 1 in 3 veterinarians worked more than 50 hours per week in 2012.

Job Outlook About this section

Veterinarians

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

20%

Veterinarians

12%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of veterinarians is projected to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

In private practice, demand for veterinarians will increase as more people are expected to take their pets for visits. Also, veterinary medicine has advanced considerably, and many of the veterinary services offered today are comparable to health care for humans, including cancer treatments and kidney transplants.

There also will be employment growth in fields related to food and animal safety, disease control, and public health. As the population grows, more veterinarians will be needed to inspect the food supply and to ensure animal and human health.

However, due to overall slowing growth of the veterinary services industry, employment gains of veterinarians will be slower than in the past.

Job Prospects

Candidates can expect very strong competition for most veterinarian positions. Job seekers with specializations and prior work experience should have the best job opportunities.

Although veterinary services are growing, the number of new graduates from veterinary schools has increased to roughly 3,000 per year, resulting in greater competition for jobs than in recent years. Additionally, most veterinary graduates are attracted to companion animal care, so there will be fewer job opportunities in that field, as overall growth of the veterinary services industry slows.

Job opportunities in farm animal care will be better, because fewer veterinarians compete to work on large animals. Also, there will be some job opportunities available in the federal government in food safety, animal health, and public health.

Given the training they receive from veterinary school, veterinarians are highly qualified for nontraditional industry positions in fields such as public health, disease control, corporate sales, and population studies. With potentially fewer opportunities in companion animal care, many graduating veterinarians will likely have better job prospects in these areas.

Employment projections data for veterinarians, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Veterinarians

29-1131 70,300 78,700 12 8,400 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of veterinarians.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Agricultural and food scientists

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists work to ensure that agricultural establishments are productive and food is safe.

See How to Become One $58,610
Animal care and service workers

Animal Care and Service Workers

Animal care and service workers provide care for animals. They feed, water, groom, bathe, and exercise pets and other nonfarm animals. Job tasks vary by position and place of work.

See How to Become One $19,970
Medical scientists

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.

Doctoral or professional degree $76,980
Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $187,200 per year.
Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers

Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers

Veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers look after animals in laboratories, animal hospitals, and clinics. They care for the well-being of animals by performing routine tasks under the supervision of veterinarians, scientists, and veterinary technologists and technicians.

High school diploma or equivalent $23,130
Veterinary technologists and technicians

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians

Veterinary technologists and technicians perform medical tests under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian to help diagnose the illnesses and injuries of animals.

Associate’s degree $30,290
Zoologists and wildlife biologists

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

Bachelor’s degree $57,710
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Veterinarians,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinarians.htm (visited December 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014