A Career With Animal Magnetism
If you’ve ever nursed an orphaned baby bird back to health or begged for a kitten when you were a kid, you may have dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. But becoming a veterinarian takes much more than being an animal lover. Only about 40 percent of those who apply to the 30 vet schools in the country are accepted. After earning a bachelor’s degree, candidates complete another four years at a veterinary school to become a doctor of veterinary medicine. But if you excel at science, know how to doggedly hit the books and have a strong sense of compassion (and possibly a small menagerie at home), you might have the commitment to become a veterinarian.
Veterinarians treat more than just cats and dogs. While many care for household pets, ranging from rabbits to iguanas, other work with larger animals, on farms and in zoos. Some vets work in food health and safety, inspecting animals that are to become part of the food supply or animals imported from other countries. No matter if the creature is great or small, vets diagnose conditions, treat injuries, perform surgery and dental work, prescribe medication, and, when the end of life comes, euthanize animals. Vets use diagnostic tools such as X-ray and ultrasound machines. They also advise animal owners on the best care and treatment at home.
In college, aspiring vets take a course load heavily weighted with biological and physical sciences, including zoology, anatomy, animal science and microbiology. Keeping a high GPA is crucial because admission to vet school is competitive. And after finals are over, testing isn’t. Most veterinary schools require that applicants take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Many also like to see that applicants have worked or volunteered at a vet’s office or with animals in some capacity.
As students work toward a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM or VMD) degree, they take classes that focus on animal anatomy and physiology, while learning about a variety of maladies that can affect animals, from cancer to heart disease. After three years of combined classroom and lab work, veterinary students often spend their fourth year in a clinical setting, such as a vet’s office, gaining hands-on experience.
The final official step in becoming a veterinarian is passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination and becoming licensed in the state in which you plan to work. While some newly minted vets head right out to start treating animals, others opt to complete internships or residencies to specialize in an area of interest, such as cardiology or surgery. Those with this additional training can become certified in their specialty.
Nearly 80 percent of vets work in private vet clinics or hospitals, while most of the rest set up private practices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 3 percent work for government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Years of Experience
While a career caring for animals can be rewarding in its own right, veterinarians tend to make less than doctors who treat human patients. As with most careers, the longer a vet is on the job, the more money he or she can expect as take-home pay. Entry-level vets with less than five years of experience make an average of $72,000 a year, according to PayScale. That salary climbs to $82,000 for those with five to 10 years of experience and to $87,000 for those with 10 to 20 years. The most experienced vets, with 20 or more years of experience, earn an average $93,000 per year.
Job Growth Trend
The number of veterinary jobs is expected to grow much faster than many other professions, with 16 percent growth between 2016 and 2026. This is due in part to more specialized, high-tech tests and treatments becoming available for animals. Currently, about 80,000 veterinarians practice in the U.S.
Barbara Ruben has been a journalist for over 25 years. She has written extensively for the "Washington Post" and served as editor for an international health-care magazine and a group of newspapers for older adults. She earned a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University.