The Veterinary Profession

Nature of the Work

Veterinarians care for pets, livestock, sporting and laboratory animals, and protect humans against diseases carried by animals. Veterinarians diagnose medical problems, dress wounds, set broken bones, perform surgery, prescribe and administer medicines, and vaccinate animals against diseases. They also advise owners on care and breeding. Most veterinarians are in private practice. Some have a general practice, treating all kinds of animals. The majority, however,just treat small companion animals such as dogs, cats, and birds. Others treat both small and larger animals, and some treat only large animals, such as cattle and horses. Veterinarians in companion animal medicine provide services in 20,000 animal hospitals or clinics. Veterinarians for large animals treat and care for cattle, horses, sheep, and swine. They also advise ranchers and farmers on the care, breeding, and management of livestock. Others specialize in fish and poultry. Veterinarians contribute to human as well as health. A number of veterinarians engage in research, food safety inspection, or education. Some work with physicians and scientists on research to prevent and treat diseases in humans. Veterinarians are also in regulatory medicine or public health. Those who are livestock inspectors check animals for disease, advise owners on treatment, and may quarantine animals. Veterinarians who are meat inspectors examine slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for disease, and enforce government food purity as well as sanitation regulations. Some veterinarians care for zoo or aquarium animals or for laboratory animals. Veterinarians help prevent the outbreak and spread of animal diseases, some of which like rabies can be transmitted to humans, and perform autopsies on diseased animals. Some specialize in epidemiology or animal pathology to control diseases transmitted through food animals and to deal with problems of residues from herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics in animals used for food.

Working Conditions

Veterinarians usually treat pets in hospitals and clinics. Often these facilities are noisy. Those in large animal practice usually work out of well-equipped mobile clinics and may drive considerable distances to farms and ranches. They may work outdoors in all kinds of weather. Veterinarians can be exposed to disease and infection and may be kicked, bitten, or scratched. Most veterinarians work 50 or more hours a week, however, about a fifth worked 40 hours. Those in private practice may work nights and weekends.


Veterinarians held about 44,000 jobs in 1992. About a third was self- employed, in solo or group practices. Most others were employees of a practice. The Federal Government employed about 2,000 civilian veterinarians, chiefly in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Defense, and Health and Human Services. Other employers of veterinarians are State and local governments, colleges of veterinary medicine, medical schools, research laboratories, animal food companies, and pharmaceutical companies. A few veterinarians work for zoos. Most veterinarians caring for zoo animals are private practitioners who contract with zoos to provide services, usually on a part-time basis.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

All States and the District of Columbia require that veterinarians be licensed. To obtain a license, applicants must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and pass a State board examination. The majority of States allow an individual to apply for licensure upon receiving the D.V.M. degree without a residency and without completing a prescribed number of hours of practice. Some States issue licenses without further examination to veterinarians already licensed by another State. For research and teaching jobs, a master's or Ph.D. degree usually is required. Veterinarians who seek specialty certification in a field such as opthalmology, pathology, surgery, radiology, or laboratory animal medicine must complete 3-year residency program, and pass an examination. The D.V.M. degree requires a minimum of 6 years of college consisting of at least 2 years of preveterinary study that emphasizes the physical and biological sciences and a 4-year veterinary program. Most successful applicants to veterinary programs have completed 4 years of college. In addition to academic instruction, training includes clinical experience in diagnosing and treating animal diseases, performing surgery, and performing laboratory work in anatomy, biochemistry, and other scientific and medical subjects. In 1992, all 27 colleges of veterinary medicine were accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Admission is highly competitive. Applicants usually have grades of B or better, especially in sciences. Applicants must take the Veterinary Aptitude Test, Medical College Admission Test, or the Graduate Record Examination and submit evidence they have experience working with animals. Colleges usually give preference to in-State applicants, because most are State supported. There are regional educational agreements in which States without veterinary schools send students to designated regional schools. In other areas, schools give preference to applicants from nearby States that do not have veterinary schools. To meet State licensure requirements, foreign-trained veterinarians must fulfill the English language and clinical evaluation requirements of the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates. Most veterinarians begin as employees or partners in established practices. With experience, they may set up their own practice or purchase an established one. Newly trained veterinarians may become U.S. Government meat and poultry inspectors, disease-control workers, epidemiologists, research assistants, or commissioned officers in the U.S. Public Health Service. A State license may be required. Veterinarians need good manual dexterity. They should be able to calm animals that are upset, and get along with animal owners, and be able to make decisions in emergencies.

Job Outlook

Employment of veterinarians is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. The number of pets is expected to show a steady increase because of rising incomes and the movement of baby boomers into the 34-59 year age group, for which pet ownership is highest. Pet owners may also more willingly pay for more intensive care than in the past. In addition, emphasis on scientific methods of breeding and raising livestock and poultry, and continued support for public health and disease control programs will contribute to the demand for veterinarians. Jobs will also open as veterinarians retire. The outlook is good for veterinarians with specialty training. Demand for specialists in toxicology, laboratory animal medicine, and pathology is expected to increase. Most jobs for specialists will be in metropolitan areas. Prospects for veterinarians who specialize in farm animals are also good, because most veterinarians prefer working in metropolitan areas.


The average starting salary of 1991 veterinary medical college graduates was $27,858, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The average income of veterinarians in private practice was $63,069 in 1991. The average annual salary for veterinarians in the Federal Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was $50,482 in 1993.

Related Occupations

Veterinarians prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases, disorders, and injuries in animals. Workers who do this for humans include audiologists, chiropractors, dentists, optometrists, physicians, podiatrists, and speech pathologists. Other occupations that involve working with animals include animal trainers, zoologists, marine biologists, naturalists, and veterinary technicians.

Sources of Additional Information

For more information on careers in veterinary medicine and veterinary technology write to:

American Veterinary Medical Association, 1931 N. Meacham Rd., Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360.

For information on scholarships, grants, and loans, contact the financial aid officer at the veterinary schools to which you wish to apply. For information on veterinary education, write to:

Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, 1101 Vermont Ave. NW., Suite 710, Washington, DC 20005.

This is a section of the 1994-95 OCCUPATIONAL OUTLOOK HANDBOOK produced by the US Dept. of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. These files are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced.

Last Updated: January 4, 1996

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