Like doctors for humans, veterinarians diagnose and provide treatment for sick or unhealthy animals. A veterinary degree can prepare a professional to care for animals directly or work in applied and basic animal research.
People interested in becoming a veterinary professional should love animals. They should be willing to be bitten, kicked, scratched, or otherwise attacked in some cases by sick or scared animals. Injuries can be occasionally serious, especially for veterinarians who treat large animals such as cattle or horses. Sometimes pet owners may be angry or emotional because of their pet’s health. Similar to a doctor, a veterinary professional may have to treat both a patient and care for the family at the same time. Some candidates may not be able to balance the animal and the family’s concerns at the same time.
A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) is required to begin practicing. The degree is only valid if it is from an institution accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). As of 2009, there were only 28 colleges accredited by the AVMA, making admissions highly competitive. Although most programs did not require a bachelor’s degree to apply, a majority ask applicants to have between 45 and 90 undergraduate credits.
Prior to admission, most veterinary programs require coursework oriented towards the sciences. Some commonly-required classes include:
- Animal biology
- Animal nutrition
- Cellular biology
- Inorganic chemistry
- Organic chemistry
Additionally, applicants must submit test scores from the Graduate Record Examination, Medical College Admission Test, or Veterinary College Admission Test.
Following graduation, all states require graduates to have a license before practicing veterinary medicine. Requirements for a license vary, but all states require a D.V.M. or V.M.D. and the graduate to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Licenses must be renewed on a regular basis in most states. Continuing education is a requirement for renewal in several states. AVMA certification can be obtained after a 3 or 4 year residency program. Certifications are offered in 39 different specialties related to veterinary medicine.
After graduation, it is common for veterinarians to take a 1 year internship. The experience can polish a resume and help land a better paying job in the future.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for veterinarians was $79,050 as of May 2008. Veterinarians who worked for the federal government had an average salary of $93,398 in March 2009. Self-employed veterinarians typically had a smaller initial salary as they began to build a client list. Veterinarians who were self-employed also faced high costs in beginning their practice. Medicine, office space, and specialized tools presented significant hurdles for starting a veterinary practice.