Many universities offer bachelor's and master's degrees in the field of animal health science. Schools vary slightly in their descriptions of the titles and may list the degrees as animal health or animal science. Bachelor's degree students complete general education requirements and get a foundational knowledge of animal health through courses in genetics, anatomy and disease prevention. The program may be focused on preparing graduates for veterinary school or careers as veterinary technicians.
At the master's level, the programs are more focused on a specific type of animals, such as aquatic animals or livestock. Students take courses, conduct research and engage in clinical work in their areas of specialization. Fieldwork may be required at both levels, and a thesis may be required at the master's level.
Prerequisites for a bachelor's degree include a high school diploma or its equivalent, and standardized test scores may also be required for admissions. A bachelor's degree in animal science or a related field is required for admission into a master's degree program.
Bachelor of Science in Animal Health Science
Some programs at the bachelor's degree level have a specific agenda. Schools may offer degrees in animal health science intended to meet the agricultural needs of the state while others are terminal degrees for aspiring vet techs. Other types of programs are specifically for pre-vet medicine or working with laboratory animals. Many programs offer hands-on training and education at land grant facilities or through internships in the U.S. and abroad. Applicants may be required to demonstrate proficiency in science and mathematics courses, and many schools encourage students to take advanced placement courses in biology and chemistry.
Basic animal health and nutrition classes are taught in all programs; however, the specific animal science emphasis will differ depending on the program's overall focus. Courses cover topics including:
- Genetics of agricultural animals
- Farm animal disease and prevention
- Microscopic cell and tissue studies
- Animal organ toxicology
- Environmental effects on animal physiology
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Master's Degree in Animal Health Science
The majority of these master's degree programs are found in schools of veterinary medicine. Degrees are offered in both thesis and non-thesis programs. Sometimes master's programs are required for students who plan to enter the same school's veterinarian medicine program. Most master's degree programs require students to demonstrate a strong background in biology and chemistry at the undergraduate level. Students usually must submit undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation and graduate record examination (GRE) scores from the general test. Some schools also require writing samples or statements of purpose from applicants.
Courses are taught in hands-on fieldwork, laboratory and seminar formats. Depending on the type of program, classes cover subjects including:
- Conservation of aquatic animals
- Wildlife disease and significance
- Vertebrate viral disease host and parasite relationships
- Zoological physiology
- Livestock Immunology
For some, this degree is a stepping-stone towards a master's degree or, in the case of aspiring veterinarians, a D.V.M. degree. However, many options are available for those with a B.S. in animal health science and related degrees, including:
- Animal caretaker
- Veterinary technologist
- Vocational agriculture teacher
- Farm manager
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Since animal health science is a broad category that enables students to pursue many types of careers, specific data for animal health scientists is not available. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does offer information for some of the available career choices (www.bls.gov). Solid employment opportunities are expected for veterinary technicians and technologists during the 2014-2024 decade, with a projected increase in jobs of 19%, much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. In May 2014, the reported median income for vet technicians and technologists was $31,800. With an increase of 9%, job growth for veterinarians is also expected to be strong during that decade, with a median salary of $88,490 reported in May 2015.
Zookeepers are included in the animal care and service workers category by the BLS; jobs for this group are expected to rise in numbers by 11%, another faster-than-average growth rate compared to all occupations. In May 2015, animal trainers earned a median salary of $26,610. Finally, agricultural and food scientist jobs were projected to increase about as fast as average, by 5%, with a median salary of $60,390 reported for animal scientists in May 2015.
Students wishing to pursue careers in advanced laboratory research may consider continuing through the Ph.D. program. To become a veterinarian, a student must continue his or her education through a school of veterinary medicine and acquire a D.V.M. degree. This program requires several more years of formal school education, internship and residency. Having completed the degree, the student will then have to pass medical boards and state license examinations.
Bachelor's and master's degree students in animal health science are trained in the foundations of animal care, physiology and genetics, and they can oftem select a course of study that best matches their specific interests. Some graduates continue their education to become researchers or go on to a school of veterinary medicine in order to become a veterinarian.