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Veterinarian Education Requirements and Career Info

Apr 30, 2020

Veterinarians require a significant amount of formal education. Learn more about what veterinarians study in their degree programs, and get information about job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Veterinarians are trained in animal medicine, surgery, and behavior. Graduates of veterinary programs may care for small animals, such as dogs and cats, or specialize in large animals, like horses. Due in part to high growth in the pet industry, career opportunities in this field are expected to grow faster than average in the coming years.

Education Requirements

Veterinarians are required to complete a four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program, in addition to undergraduate school. These professionals are also required to obtain licensure to practice in the profession.

Students who wish to enter into a veterinary program typically obtain bachelor's degrees in science-related areas, like zoology, molecular biology, chemistry, animal science, and biochemistry. In some instances, veterinary programs do not require students to hold four-year degrees. However, students may experience difficulty in gaining admittance to veterinary programs without degrees. Those who have not completed undergraduate school generally need to have completed at least 45-90 semester hours.

A bachelor's degree in animal science can usually be completed in four years. Studies commonly include both classroom and laboratory education. Courses that prepare students for veterinary school tend to include:

  • Microbiology
  • Animal management
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Animal nutrition
  • Equine care

DVM programs take four years to complete and are generally divided into two-year segments. The first segment typically consists of classroom instruction while the last two years focus on more clinical practicums.

Coursework typically includes:

  • Animal behavior
  • Veterinary pharmacology
  • Animal nutrition
  • Clinical pathology
  • Large and small animal medicine
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Anesthesia and surgery principles

In clinical practicums, students complete rotations and gain hands-on clinical experience. They tend to complete rotations in various veterinary specialties, such as dentistry, cardiology, oncology, or equine care. Students learn skills essential to veterinary medicine, such as how to treat wounds, prescribe medication, perform surgery, and set fractures.

Licensing Information

After earning a DVM, aspiring veterinarians now must become licensed. All states require veterinarians to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). A 360-question test that lasts 7.5 hours and assesses candidates' knowledge of veterinary activities and animal species. Some states also have additional requirements, such as the passage of veterinary law and clinical skills exams.

Career Information

Veterinarians work to improve the health of household pets and animals in laboratories, on farms, and in zoos. They're skilled at treating and diagnosing dysfunctions and diseases in such animals, which may include using preventative measures, surgery, and sophisticated technology. They also spend a great deal of time interacting with pet owners, offering advice on feeding, grooming, and breeding.

While veterinarians are best known for pet care, some work in private, food-animal practices, and provide care for livestock like horses, sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs. Some vets conduct research on animals in an effort to prevent humans from contracting the diseases that are carried by animals. Other common veterinarian duties include using diagnostic and lab equipment, setting broken bones, euthanizing chronically ill animals, and birthing animals.

Economic Outlook

Employment settings for veterinarians include group or individual clinical practices, government agencies, research laboratories, and universities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of veterinarians is expected to increase by 18% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average among all U.S. occupations (www.bls.gov). Vets who are willing to work in rural settings where there's less competition may find more opportunities.

Salary Information

According to the BLS, veterinarians earned an median annual wage of $95,460 in May 2019. The upper 10% earned $160,780 or more per year, while the lowest 10% earned $58,080 or less. The specialty hospitals was the highest paying employer of veterinarians, paying average salaries of $151,880 per year.

Expert Contributor: Stephanie Flansburg-Cruz Stephanie has an MA in science and MVZ in veterinary medicine. She has worked in small animal and equine medicine and veterinary surgery.

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