Veterinarian Education Requirements and Career Info
Veterinarians are trained in animal medicine, surgery and behavior. Graduates of veterinary programs tend to care for small animals, such as dogs and cats, or specialize in large animals, like horses. Due in part to an explosion in the pet industry, career opportunities in this field are expected to grow faster than average in the coming years.
Veterinarian Education Requirements
Veterinarians are required to complete a 4-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program in addition to undergraduate school. These professionals are also required to obtain licensure to practice in the profession.
Students who wish to enter a veterinary program typically obtain bachelor's degrees in science-related areas, like zoology, molecular biology, chemistry, animal science and biochemistry. In some instances, veterinary programs do not require students to hold 4-year degrees; however students may experience difficulty gaining admittance into veterinary programs without degrees. Those who have not completed undergraduate school generally need to have completed at least 45-90 semester hours.
Bachelor of Science in Animal Science
A bachelor's degree in animal science can usually be completed in four years. Studies commonly include both classroom and laboratory education. Courses that prepare students for veterinary school tend to include:
- Animal management
- Anatomy and physiology
- Animal nutrition
- Equine care
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
DVM programs take four years to complete and are generally divided into 2-year segments. The first segment typically consists of classroom instruction, while the last two years focus more on clinical practicums. Coursework typically includes:
- Animal behavior
- Veterinary pharmacology
- Animal nutrition
- Clinical pathology
- Large and small animal medicine
- Diagnostic imaging
- Anesthesia and surgery principles
In clinical practicums, students complete rotations and gain hands-on, clinical experience. They tend to complete rotations in various veterinary specialties, such as dentistry, cardiology, oncology or equine care. Students learn skills essential to veterinary medicine, such as how to:
- Treat wounds
- Prescribe medication
- Perform surgery
- Set fractures
After earning a DVM, aspiring veterinarians must become licensed. All states require veterinarians to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), a 360-question test that lasts 7.5 hours and assesses candidates' knowledge of veterinary activities and animal species (www.nbvme.org). Some states also have additional requirements, such as passage of veterinary law and clinical skills exams.
Veterinarian Career Information
Veterinarians work to improve the health of household pets as well as animals in laboratories, farms and zoos. They're skilled at treating and diagnosing dysfunctions and diseases in such animals, which may include using preventative measures, surgery and sophisticated technology. They also spend a great deal of time interacting with pet owners, offering advice on feeding, grooming and breeding.
While veterinarians are best known for pet care, some work in private, food-animal practices and provide care for livestock like horses, sheep, cattle, goats and pigs. Some animals conduct research on animals in efforts to prevent humans from contracting the diseases that are carried by animals. Other common veterinarian duties include using diagnostic and lab equipment, setting broken bones, euthanizing chronically ill animals and birthing animals.
Employment settings for veterinarians include group or individual clinical practices, government agencies, research laboratories and universities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of veterinarians was expected to increase by 33% between 2008 and 2018, which is much faster than average among other careers (www.bls.gov). Veterinarians who are willing to work in rural settings where there's less competition may experience greater opportinities.
According to the BLS, veterinarians earned a mean annual wage of $92,570 in May 2010. The upper ten percent earned more than $145,230 per year, while the lowest ten percent earned less than $49,910. Those who worked in scientific research and development, pharmaceutical manufacturing and animal production support brought in the highest wages, earning more than $100,000 per year.
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