Veterinarian Fact Sheet

If you are interested in a career in veterinary medicine, you may want to find out more about a one or two-week program offered by Tufts University for middle school, high school, college students, and adults. Adventures in Veterinary Medicine includes clinical and surgical rotations with fourth-year veterinary students, hands-on exercises with animals, discussion, and practical advice about preparing for the challenge of being accepted to veterinary school.

Veterinarians help pet owners keep their animals well and treat sick and injured animals. They examine animal patients, vaccinate them against infection, perform surgery, diagnose and treat disease and behavioral problems, and prescribe medications. Veterinarians must enjoy working with pet owners who are often very concerned about their sick or injured pets.

Veterinarians play an important role in preserving the bond between people and their pets. A veterinarian should be a pet's next best friend -- a competent professional, wise counselor, and compassionate listener who is committed to caring for pets and educating people about their responsibilities as pet owners. People want from pets what pets want from people -- companionship. Healthy, well cared for pets are more likely to live indoors and be included in human activities. Dogs and cats who are sexually intact or lack veterinary care are at higher risk of being given up to an animal shelter. Sterilized pets tend to be more gentle and affectionate, do not suffer from diseases of the reproductive systems, and do not contribute to the tragedy of pet overpopulation. Veterinarians who refuse to perform unnatural and unnecessary cosmetic surgeries, such as ear cropping of dogs and declawing of cats when done solely for the convenience of the owner and without benefit to the animal, champion humane veterinary medicine.

Most veterinarians work with small animals such as dogs, cats, birds, and small mammals in privately-owned veterinary practices. Some veterinarians work in animal shelters, humane societies, and animal protection organizations. Others work with larger animals, such as horses, farm animals, laboratory animals, or animals at zoos and aquariums. A number of veterinarians engage in research or education and sales and technical support. For positions in research and teaching, a master's or Ph.D. degree is usually required. Veterinarians who seek specialty board certification in fields such as dermatology, radiology, or surgery, must complete two to five year residency programs and must pass an examination.

Others may find a career with a state or federal agency as regulatory agents charged with the responsibility of controlling livestock diseases and making sure those diseases don't affect the public, or for city, county, state, or federal agencies in pubic health as epidemiologists charged with investigating outbreaks of diseases, checking the safety of water supplies, or working on immunization and quarantine programs. Veterinarians are also employed in private industry in pharmaceutical companies, biomedical research firms, and pet food companies in technical support, management, and clinical research.

Students interested in a career in veterinary medicine should take science and math courses in junior and high school. Most students who decide to pursue this career obtain a three or four year college degree in a biological science and then go on to veterinary school. Completion of preveterinary requirements established by each veterinary college does not guarantee admission, which is highly competitive. In 1998 about one in three applicants was accepted into veterinary school.

There are 27 schools of veterinary medicine in 26 states accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Most are located at state universities, and residents of that state make up the largest number of applicants accepted.

In most colleges of veterinary medicine, the professional program lasts four years. In the beginning, most of the students' time is spent in the classroom and laboratory studying such subjects as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and microbiology. These are followed by courses in pathology, radiology, anesthesiology, surgery, preventive medicine, diseases, toxicology, professional ethics, and business practices in the classroom and through hands-on clinical experience.

Students who receive a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) or Veterinary Medical Doctor (V.M.D. is conferred by the University of Pennsylvania) degree from an accredited college of veterinary medicine must pass standardized national exams as well as state exams before being licensed to practice veterinary medicine. Veterinarians must be pass the state exam and be licensed in each state in which they practice. To maintain their licenses, veterinarians may be required to attend continuing education courses. The only exemptions are for veterinarians working for some federal agencies and some state governments.

The veterinary medical profession is expected to grow faster than the average profession through the year 2008 due to the need to replace veterinarians who retire or leave the labor force. In 1998, veterinarians held about 57,000 jobs, and about 30 percent of all veterinarians were self-employed. Most others were employees of a veterinary practice owned by another veterinarian or veterinarians. The federal government employed about 2,000 civilian and 500 military veterinarians.


Average starting salaries of veterinary medical college graduates in 2001 varied by the type of practice. For example small animal practice veterinarians earned a mean starting salary of $48,817 while large animal veterinarians earned a mean starting salary of $43,600. Serious consideration should be given to the length and cost of a veterinary education versus the eventual earning potential. Keep in mind that the mean educational debt among those with debt was $67,819 in 2001.

Veterinarians who work in private practice often spend 50 or more hours on the job. They may be on call for evening, night, or weekend hours and holidays responding to emergencies and unexpected appointments. They may be exposed to transmittable diseases and injury from the animals they are dedicated to treat.

If you are thinking about a career in veterinary medicine, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter or veterinary clinic. For more information about being a veterinarian, contact The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) and The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).