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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.

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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.

Bachelor's Degree

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:

  • Microbiology
  • 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

Licensing Information

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, on farms and in 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 vets conduct research on animals in an effort 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.

Economic Outlook

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 36% between 2010 and 2020, which is much faster than the average among all U.S. occupations (www.bls.gov). Vets who are willing to work in rural settings where there's less competition may find more opportunities.

Salary Information

According to the BLS, veterinarians earned a median annual wage of $84,460 in May 2012. The upper 10% earned $144,100 or more per year, while the lowest 10% earned $51,530 or less. The scientific research and development industry and pharmaceutical manufacturing were the highest-paying employers of veterinarians, paying average salaries of more than $113,000 per year.

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