Veterinarians are a special breed of doctor. They do not command the huge salaries that doctors who treat humans do, but they boast a level of job satisfaction that surpasses that of more lucrative fields.
Vets work in different environments, from farms to penthouses to labs. Most vets, however, are in private practice, where they usually treat small house pets. Other vets treat large farm animals, like cattle and horses. Veterinarians who treat "companion" or domestic animals provide services in over 20,000 animal hospitals or clinics across the country. Those who treat large animals not only handle their treatment and care, but also advise farmers and ranchers on the breeding and maintenance of their livestock. In addition, many veterinarians work with physicians and scientists on research to treat and prevent the outbreak and spread of diseases such as rabies.
The working conditions are slightly more adversarial at animal clinics than normal hospitals--humans do not usually bark, bite or chirp (though there are exceptions) while receiving treatment. Veterinarians are susceptible to infection and disease, particularly since they can be bitten or scratched by their patients.
All states require that veterinarians be licensed to practice and that they hold DVMs (Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine) from accredited colleges. The DVM requires at least six years of education, including two years of preprofessional study in the physical and biological sciences. Applicants to four-year veterinary programs usually hold a BS or a BA. In addition to academic preparation, the program consists of clinical training in the diagnosis of animal diseases, surgery training and laboratory work in anatomy and biochemistry.
Admission to one of the 27 colleges of veterinary medicine in the country is competitive, as these schools accept only one third of those who apply. Applicants must take the Veterinary Aptitude Test, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), as well as submit evidence that they have worked with animals. Colleges give preference to in-state applicants because most schools are state-supported.
To receive a license, prospective vets must have their DVM and complete the day-long North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), which replaced the National Board Exam (NBE) and the Clinical Competency Test (CCT) in April 2000.
Along with a license and the DVM, most states also require a state jurisprudence exam covering state laws and regulations. However, many states have different policies, making it difficult for vets to move around the country without first completing the new state's requirements. Hard to avoid is the continuing education requirement for licensed vets held by 39 states.
Fresh out of school, vets have a variety of career options, including becoming U.S. government meat and poultry inspectors, disease-control workers, epidemiologists, or commissioned officers in the U.S. Public Health Service, the U.S. Army or the U.S. Air Force. However, most vets get their start working in established practices while they decide on a specialty. After a few years, many seek the independence of their own practice. Some veterinarians also work in teaching and research fields, for which they obtain a PhD or a master's degree in addition to the DVM. Other veterinarians work with zoo, aquarium or laboratory animals.
Veterinarians count themselves "among the happiest" physicians. Not only do they "genuinely love their patients," but they also find medicine rewarding. As one vet says, "There is such a feeling of personal satisfaction and urgency because animals are so helpless and appreciative of treatment." The salary is still "enough to make anyone comfortable," particularly in private practice.
Still, veterinary medicine is "neither as lucrative nor as prestigious" as other fields, and the job "can be very unglamorous," particularly when you "get kicked in the shoulder by a disgruntled patient." The hours average between 40 and 50 a week, and vets in private practice work nights and weekends.
Good salary; High satisfaction
Long hours; Many years of training
Compassionate; Patient; Animal lover
Average 50 per week in private practice; Average 40 per week in non-clinical areas
Median salary: $71,990
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM); Successful completion of state board examination