Following a year with unprecedented clinical demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of career roles in health care are experiencing immense growth and present a strong career outlook moving forward. Health care career professionals in these positions play an important role in the care of patients across the country, who rely on them…
What are you
most interested in?
What do you want to become?
How to Become a Veterinarian
Alternate Career Titles:
Vet, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, DVM
Veterinarian Job Description: Veterinarians care for the overall wellness of animals through assessing, diagnosing and treating them
Veterinarian Salary (Annual): $95,460
Veterinarian Salary Range: $58,080 to $160,780
How Long To Become a Veterinarian: 8 years
Veterinarian Requirements: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree
Become a Veterinarian
A Veterinarian is responsible for overseeing comprehensive exams of animals to provide preventative care as well as diagnose and treat those that are ill or injured. During assessment, Vets and their technicians perform a variety of tests to determine an animal’s condition. Once a diagnosis has been made the Veterinarian prescribes necessary wound care, immunizations, surgeries, treatment plans or medications.
Vets utilize specialized medical equipment for both assessment and treatment purposes to provide and advise owners about an animal’s condition and general care. In some instances, a Veterinarian may be required to euthanize an animal.
“I believe a career in veterinary medicine can mean different things to different people,” Jeff Lowery, DVM, a Veterinarian who practiced in Missouri and Kansas, shares. “Some have the passion for taking care of pets every day, while others want to do that and run a successful business.”
Some Vets choose to focus more on one aspect of animal care, like specialists in human medicine. Lowery, however, chose to develop his leadership skills to help other Veterinarians to become more successful. Other careers which can potentially involve animal care include that of a Laboratory Animal Caretaker, Radiologic Technologist, Pathologist and Toxicologist.
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Education & Training
To become a Veterinarian, professionals must obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) degree from an accredited institution. These programs typically take four years to complete and include both in-class, clinical and laboratory components. During in-class instruction, learners will receive instruction on a variety of topics including zoology, biology, chemistry, animal science, anatomy, disease prevention, math and more. The clinical component normally involves rotations in a veterinary facility or hospital, but can also be obtained through graduate internship or residency.
Important to note is that the competition to enter Veterinary programs is extremely high and, while not always specifically required, having a bachelor’s degree in a related field will improve the strength of an application. To further stand out, applicants usually demonstrate experience through volunteering or working at a shelter, research lab or farm.
“I completed four years of undergraduate studies and four years of medical training at Kansas State University,” Lowery stated. “The difficulty is relative to one’s experience and effort. There were definitely challenges absorbing all the class work and studying enough to pass the required exams.” Lowery added that other challenges included developing his time management skills and learning to navigate the educational system.
Lowery achieved his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine after passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE).
Professionals can only become licensed to practice veterinary medicine after they complete the mandatory clinical hour obligations. Although licensing requirements vary depending upon state, all Vets are required to pass the NAVLE. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes 41 specialty certifications which can also be obtained.
“Advancement begins with interest,” Lowery stressed. “Furthering a Vet career doesn’t just happen, but takes guidance from a mentor combined with setting and sticking to firm goals. Books, courses, observations and practice experiences will all help a professional decide how to best move forward.”
To advance in a career in healthcare as a Veterinarian, professionals can opt to open their own practice. While becoming a business owner can be exciting, lucrative and professionally enriching event, this decision can also begin a risky venture. Setting a business up for success involves securing adequate financial backing, obtaining permits and licenses and establishing a strong marketing plan.
If opening a private practice is not ideal, advancement can also stem from becoming an educator or through acquiring a specialty certification from the AVMA. Specialty areas of practice include internal medicine, surgery, specific animal breeds and more.
More specialty examples include:
- Zoological Medicine: Vets who work with zoo collection animals, free-living wildlife, aquatic species and companion zoological animals
- Poultry: Veterinarians who work with chickens, turkeys and/or ducks, usually in food production settings
- Dentistry: Vets who perform procedures on animals’ teeth
- Nutrition: Veterinarians working to make sure that animals’ diets meet their body’s needs for nutrients
- Food Safety and Inspection: Veterinarians tasked with inspecting and testing livestock and animal products to improve animal health and safety regulations.
Clearly there are a large number of opportunities for Veterinarians to specialize!
Experience & Skills
To be an effective Veterinarian, professionals must have strong problem-solving skills to help them make educated decisions regarding an animal’s well-being and to determine appropriate treatment plans. Vets should also be keen decision-makers, even in the most challenging and stressful situations. When an animal arrives with a terrible wound, the Vet must quickly determine if basic cleaning and dressings will suffice or if immediate surgery is necessary.
“Skills that I believe are critical are math, science, problem solving and an ability to work with people,” Lowery confirmed. “Remember, there is a person on the other end of the patient’s leash that you have to be able to communicate with to ensure their pet is going to receive the quality care the animal deserves.”
Also required in this role is great manual dexterity, allowing Vets to manipulate small instruments and equipment to make precise incisions when needed. They should also be efficient communicators to give proper instructions to staff and to keep animal owners informed and calm.
“New Veterinarians must find a strong mentorship program where they can learn the responsibilities of this career, as learning everything you will need to know through schooling is not possible,” Lowery stressed. “The mentor needed may change as a professional’s career progresses and their goals change.”
“A Veterinarian should be someone that is self-confident and who does not rely on others to constantly tell them they are performing well,” Lowery explained. “Interacting with clients can be very draining if you aren’t able to separate the emotions of the situation from the facts of the case. Just because a client can’t or won’t pay for their pet’s care doesn’t mean you have to feel bad that the pet isn’t getting that care.”
As challenging and stressful scenarios often occur in this role, such as having to deal with a frightened and violent animal, Vets must be able to remain calm and collected. Being able to supervise and manage a healthcare team, including Veterinary Technicians, during these times is important as well.
They should also possess empathy for both their animal patients and animal owners. Compassion is critical in this role because no animal wishes to be ill or injured, and no animal owner wants to have to make difficult healthcare decisions regarding the well-being of their pet.
Veterinarians must be patient when dealing with distressed animals, or when communicating with distressed owners. Dealing with the well-being of a pet who cannot communicate their condition can be extremely upsetting for animal owners, and so special considerations must be taken by the Vet and their team.
“You definitely have to have thick skin when interacting with clients who do not always agree to what you recommend for their pet,” Lowery stressed.
“Veterinarians may start their day checking on sick animals in the hospital, or evaluating the pets they will provide surgery on,” Lowery explained. They usually perform those surgeries “in-between appointments” and “talking with every client” while “directing their team to perform necessary tests and treatments.”
Most Veterinarians are employed full-time and many will work more than 40 hours a week. Some Vets may need to work evenings, nights or weekends depending on the hours their clinic or facility is open, or due to emergency situations.
Professionals in this industry should be aware that the work can be physically and emotionally stressful, especially in instances where an animal has been abused or required euthanization. When animals are in pain, overwhelmed or frightened they are more likely to potentially cause harm to the Veterinarian, so these professionals must always be aware of their scenarios.
Becoming infected by disease is another repercussion of working with diseased animals, but one that can be avoided when the appropriate prevention measures are taken.
“A practicing Veterinarian will hopefully start or end the day with some sort of exercise to keep their body strong enough to perform throughout the day and not get worn down or become ill,” Lowery advised. “They should eat appropriately to fuel their mind and body just like any athlete would.”
Now is a great time to begin the educational journey to becoming a Veterinarian! Why? Over the next decade, the employment of Veterinarians is projected to grow 18 percent. This is much faster than the average for all careers. This growth can largely be attributed to consumers spending more on healthcare for their pets because careers in veterinary medicine have greatly advanced over the years. This means there are now more services available to assist with a variety of animal health conditions.
“The career outlook is very strong and there will be a large need for Veterinarians and Veterinary Technicians to support their supervising practitioners,” Lowery shared. “Finding a place to gain experience with animals and animal care is very important so that a learner can decide if the career is really for them. Understand that the role is not just playing with puppies, and can be an emotional rollercoaster.”
Today, the vast majority of Veterinarians are employed by veterinary services. However, other Vets are self-employed, or find employment through the government, social advocacy organizations or through state, local and private educational services. The state with the highest level of employment for Vets is California, followed by Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
The median annual wage for Veterinarians is $95,460. While the highest earning 10 percent make over $160,780, the lowest 10 percent are recorded to earn less than $58,080 per year. For reference, the highest paying facilities are social advocacy organizations, veterinary services, educational services and the government. The top paying states for this occupation are Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Nevada and Massachusetts.
Lowery stressed that the veterinary industry does not compensate Veterinarians like the human medical industry would.
“If a Veterinarian isn’t comfortable charging appropriately for the care and services they provide, then they can’t expect to be compensated any differently,” Lowery stressed. Because they own their own business “Veterinary hospital owners are likely to make more money than Associate Veterinarians. Industry Veterinarians are compensated fairly for the role they perform.”
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is a non-profit organization which acts as a collective voice for participating members and for the profession as a whole. The organization is committed to advancing the shared interests of veterinary providers through a series of values and goals. A diverse and passionate group of professionals, AVMA wishes to advocate for all members and improve animal and human health while being ethical, inclusive, science-based, animal-focused, member-centric, supportive, fiscally responsible, efficient and innovative.”
- Confirm a love of medicine, math and science
- Ensure a comfort with pets, animals and their bodily secretions
- Decide that you are comfortable working with and talking to people throughout your day
- Talk to local professionals to ask questions if needed
- Find an opportunity to observe or work for a veterinary hospital, boarding or grooming facility
- Enroll in the required programs and study hard
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Jeff Lowery, DVM
Location: Missouri and Kansas
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Understand it is not just playing with puppies and kittens. It is a serious, high paced and rewarding career.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Not really understanding that it is as much or more about people than it is about pets. It is highly emotional and lives are at stake so it is not to be taken lightly.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Will the cost of gaining an education in veterinary medicine be prohibitive of the lifestyle that I want to live?”
Why did you choose to become a Veterinarian?
“I had a gift for understanding animals and a desire to help them.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Determination. Understanding people and how to influence them.”
Credentialing organization: The American Veterinary Medical Association