All aspiring veterinarians must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree program and receive licensure. No schools offer DVM programs that specialize solely in zoological medicine. Rather, aspiring veterinarians who wish to treat exotic animals should complete a regular DVM program and then enroll in a zoological veterinary medicine residency at an accredited university. Typical degree fields include clinical treatment of wild animals in both their natural habitats and zoo settings, management of captive animals and wildlife preservation research.
DVM program requirements vary, but a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, animal biology, zoology or pre-veterinary medicine typically fulfills basic prerequisites. In lieu of a degree, some schools accept approved coursework of between 45-90 semester hours. However, with the limited number of colleges and universities offering a DVM, competition is high. Students are expected to excel in science, particularly biology, pathology, animal genetics, inorganic and organic chemistry, environmental research and cellular biology. Aside from preparatory coursework, applicants to a DVM program are also expected to achieve minimum scores on either the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before admittance.
Once students are accepted into vet school, the DVM degree takes four years to complete. Students in residency generally choose a core area of studies, such as wildlife medicine, wildlife rehabilitation, zoo medicine, exotic animal practice or aquatic animal medicine. Zoological veterinary medicine programs require completion of a residency lasting from three to five years. Online programs in this field are not typically available due to the practical nature of the work.
Residency in Zoological Veterinary Medicine
A few residency programs may offer students the opportunity to earn a master's degree or Ph.D. in zoological medicine during their training; however, many residencies don't result in a degree, since the essential part of the program is hands-on experience treating various animal species. Zoological veterinarians have a variety of responsibilities, including daily management of animals in their care, clinical and surgical treatment, preventative medical procedures, and exotic animal research. As with vets in other specialties of veterinary science, those aiming for a career in zoological medicine should love animals and possess good manual dexterity. In addition, prospective students should have a passion for wildlife preservation and a desire to work with undomesticated animals. Studies focus on preventative medicine, diagnosis, treatment and surgery of animals.
Coursework typically begins in the classroom, with topics that include pharmacology, pathology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology. As the degree program progresses, students move to the clinical setting, often gaining hands-on experience in a veterinary hospital. Clinical work with undomesticated animals is the core area of emphasis in most zoological veterinary medicine residency programs. Because animals are often studied in their natural habitat, students should expect to travel throughout their residency to various locations such as shorelines, marshlands, wildlife preserves and national forests. A zoological veterinarian will handle a wide range of animal species throughout her or his career.
Coursework covers a multitude of subjects, ranging from foodborne illnesses to clinical ecological studies. Possible coursework offered in a zoological veterinary medicine program includes the following:
- Anatomy of avian species: birds and raptors
- Primate medical studies: prosimians and apes
- Aquaculture research
- Pathology of exotic animals
- Rehabilitation of wildlife in the zoo setting
- Applied medicine for marine mammals
Popular Career Options
Careers for a zoological veterinarian vary from indoor, clinical settings, or fieldwork in locations around the world. Possible job titles include:
- Resident zoological veterinarian
- Theme park veterinarian
- Wildlife zoologist
- Medical laboratory researcher
- Exotic animal private practice veterinarian
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Upon completion of the program, zoological veterinarians are considered specialists in their field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians can expect a 18% job growth between the years 2018 and 2028 (www.bls.gov). In May 2015, the average annual income of a veterinarian was $105,240.
Zoology residency medicine programs prepare students for a number of different work environments through a combination of theoretical lessons and practical training. Graduates develop expertise in zoological medicine and can practice their profession by visiting various places.