Veterinarian Career Options, Duties and Responsibilities

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a veterinarian. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensing to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Veterinarians have a wide variety of career opportunities and deal with all types of animals. Job duties range from cleaning teeth and inspecting hooves to major surgery and animal euthanasia. In addition to an undergraduate degree, preferably in a science- or biology-related field, veterinarians must hold doctoral degrees in veterinary medicine, pass a national licensing examination and meet any other state-specific requirements for licensing or certification.

Required Education Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.); a baccalaureate degree is usually required for admission into a vet medicine program
Licensing Mandatory in all states; vets must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 12%
Median Salary (2013)* $86,640

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options for Veterinarians

Veterinarians are medical doctors who work with animals in a wide variety of settings. Most veterinarians specialize in working with small animals, large animals or with a variety of animals in zoos or wildlife parks.

Small Animal practice

According to a career study done by the University of California at Davis (sas.ucdavis.edu), veterinarians with a small animal practice deal mainly with cats, dogs, rabbits and birds. Because people often consider pets to be a part of the family, owners are often willing to pay for the care that makes small animal practice the most lucrative veterinary field. These types of veterinarians work in offices and clinics, where small animals are brought and treated.

Large Animal Practice

Large animal practice is an area of veterinary medicine that involves livestock and horses. Large animal veterinarians may care for entire herds or single animals and treat a variety of diseases and conditions. Because of the obstacles involved with transportation, many veterinarians that work with large animals must travel to farms or ranches to treat these animals.

Mixed Practice and Alternative Careers

Veterinarians who do not specialize in either large or small animals may work in a rural mixed practice and treat all types of animals. Other opportunities may be available with wildlife parks or zoos. These veterinarians must be proficient in dealing with animals in their natural environment and in captivity. Some veterinarians may even be responsible for the preservation of animals facing extinction.

Job Duties

Veterinarians administer vaccines, do health check-ups, clean teeth, fix broken bones, treat skin infections and perform surgeries. Another aspect of a veterinarian's career may involve inspecting the living spaces of animals on farms or ranches to ensure that they are free from possible sources of infection. Some veterinarians specialize in a particular disease or condition and may be consulted only in special cases.

Veterinarians have to give lethal injections to animals when they become old or terminally ill. Vets who own their own businesses may have to perform administrative duties, supervise veterinary techs and manage other staff members. Veterinarians should be comfortable with animals and people and be willing to undergo many years of schooling before entering this profession.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics