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Veterinarian (Pets): Education and Career Profile

Veterinarians working with pets require a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

They don't call them doctors for nothing: becoming a pet veterinarian requires completion of a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine. This lengthy education will enable you to provide medical care to domestic animals in a clinic or hospital setting. All veterinarians must also pass a licensing exam and complete continuing education courses throughout their career.

Essential Information

Veterinarians who treat domestic pets are the most common type of veterinarians. A veterinarian specializing exclusively in pets treats small animals, including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and other animals. All veterinarians must earn a professional degree in veterinary medicine, along with state licensure.

Required Education Doctoral or professional degree
Other Requirements State license
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9%
Median Salary (2015)* $88,490

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements for Veterinarians

Individuals interested in becoming veterinarians must complete formal training. Prior to applying to a veterinary college, they must complete undergraduate courses at four-year colleges or universities. Due to the small number of accredited veterinary colleges, admission is a highly selective process. Applicants may have to take a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or a similar test. It can take up to eight years to become a veterinarian.

Curriculum

The veterinary medicine curriculum includes course work, lab studies, lectures and seminars. Students also receive hands-on training by working directly on animals early on in the program. Students learn about animal anatomy, animal behavior, anesthesiology, veterinary ethics, radiology and small animal oncology. During the fourth year, they also complete clinical rotations focusing on different areas of veterinary medicine. Upon completion, graduates earn Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees.

Internship and Residency Options

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that many aspiring veterinarians complete internships once they've graduated from veterinary school (www.bls.gov). Typically one year in length, these unpaid internships provide students with supervised experience that often proves helpful in obtaining a higher starting salary. Veterinarians may also complete a 3-4 year residency and become board certified in a specialty of veterinary medicine.

Licensure

All states require veterinarians to be licensed before they can practice medicine on animals. To obtain their licenses, they must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). The NAVLE is a computer-based, 360-item test administered by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (www.nbvme.org). In some states, veterinarians must pass state-administered tests on clinical aptitude and veterinary law. Veterinarians must take continuing education courses to maintain licensure.

Career Summary for Veterinarians

A veterinarian provides health care and maintenance to animals by diagnosing and treating health problems. Pet veterinarians often work in small clinics or hospitals in residential or commercial areas. According to the American Medical Veterinary Association (www.avma.org), vets in private practice conduct vaccinations, treat injuries and perform surgeries.

Career and Salary Outlook

According to the BLS, employment for veterinarians was projected to grow 9% between 2014 and 2024, which is slightly faster than average. Many pet owners treat their pets as family members and wish to provide them with good veterinary care, increasing the need for veterinarians. The BLS also reports the median annual wage for veterinarians was $88,490 in May 2015.

Earning your DVM degree can take up to eight years of postsecondary education, during which you'll study both in and out of the classroom and gain valuable hands-on experience. Post-graduate internships and residencies are also common for new veterinarians prior to earning their license. Whether you choose to work in a clinic or an animal hospital, you'll treat pets of all kinds and earn a good salary while doing it.

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