Veterinarian Careers

A career as a veterinarian is one that comes with a long line of benefits. It is no secret that veterinarians are very well respected and have the power to save animals’ lives. Veterinarians not only enhance the quality of life for animals, but they also enhance the lives of pet owners. Many people count on a veterinarian in their time of need, which makes for a very rewarding career. There is also a handsome salary that comes along with the job as veterinarians are able to lead very comfortable lifestyles. The path to becoming a veterinarian is one that begins with commitment, dedication and a long-term goal of truly making a difference.


Education Requirements

In order to become a practicing veterinarian, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree needs to be earned from an accredited college of veterinary medicine. There are currently 30 colleges that feature accredited veterinary programs throughout the United States. A veterinary medicine program typically takes four years to complete.

The educational regimen is a rigorous one that includes classroom and laboratory work, as well as clinical components. For that reason, veterinary colleges are very selective while the process of applying to a veterinary school has become very competitive. A little more than half of the total amount of annual applicants are denied admission. However, that acceptance rate is much higher when compared to the percentage of applicants who get accepted to medical school every year.

Applicants are not required to hold a bachelor’s degree, but they do need to have a strong background in the sciences. That includes prior education in biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, zoology, microbiology, and animal science. There are also math, humanities and social science prerequisites. Given the high level of competition, it is very difficult to get accepted to veterinary college without first earning a Bachelor’s Degree, although it is not impossible.

The overall curriculum includes the essentials of animal anatomy and physiology, disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Many curriculums are also integrating general business management classes, which help immensely with the proper ways in which to run a veterinary practice. Once enrolled in a veterinary college, students generally spend their first three years engrossed in classroom, laboratory, and clinical work. The fourth year involves clinical rotations at a veterinary hospital or other type of animal healthcare facility.

During the admissions process, veterinary colleges place a great deal of emphasis on prior experience. Those who have never worked with veterinarians in any capacity tend to have a more difficult time getting accepted. It helps immensely to have attained some type of formal experience working alongside veterinarians. The latest in-state tuition fees for a veterinarian college is estimated at $22,448 per year. Meanwhile, out of state tuition costs approximately $46,352 annually.

Veterinary Salary and Job Prospects

Veterinarians earn an average salary of $88,490 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average hourly pay rate for veterinarians is close to $50 per hour. However, there are many veterinarians who exceed that amount. The top earning veterinarians in the United States make an income that is upwards of $160,000 annually. This is also a well-paying job that continues to be in high demand. First-year veterinary practitioners earned an average annual salary of $67,000 and that is just an entry-level pay rate. There is lots of room and opportunity for maximum earning potential.

Currently, there is a geographical shortage of veterinarians, which applies mostly to rural areas, according to the Association of American Veterinary Colleges. Every year, there are approximately 3,000 graduating veterinarians in the United States. That contributes to the overall number of veterinarians as it currently stands at roughly 66,000 throughout the country. The growth of the pet care industry bodes well for veterinarians as there is expected to be 8.9% new veterinarian jobs by the year 2024. That demand means that each class of graduating veterinarians should have no trouble finding work once their education is completed.

Licensing and Certification Requirements

In order to work in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, veterinarians are required to have a valid license. The license requirements are issued by each individual state, so there are some slight variations in regards to the specifics. However, one shared requirement is that veterinarians must all graduate from an accredited veterinary program while also earning a passing score on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.

Individual states also issue their own examinations, which deal with the specifics of the laws in each respective state. It is very uncommon for a state to accept a license from a veterinarian who has previously been practicing in another state with a different license. Most states will ask that veterinarians take their own state exam in order to be granted a license. Veterinarians who are employed by a state or federal government have to satisfy the requirements set forth by that particular agency.

There are 40 different certifications offered by the American Veterinary Medical Association. These certifications are not mandatory, although they can be used to show an area of expertise. Those specialty areas include internal medicine, surgery and microbiology. In order to be eligible to take a certification exam, veterinarians must have a certain amount of field experience, completed a residency program and also accumulated ongoing educational requirements.

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Post-Graduation Veterinarian Training

Not every graduating veterinarian goes directly to work once they are issued a license. Some veterinarians opt to add to their credentials by entering an internship program that usually lasts for one year. This provides real-world work experience and can help new veterinarians increase their chances of obtaining a higher paying job. It can also be a way of getting their foot in the door at an established veterinary practice.

Veterinarian Work Environments

Veterinarians can land a job in a variety of work environments. The most common workplace exists in veterinary hospitals, although most veterinarians aspire to own their very own private practice. Nevertheless, all veterinarians wind up logging time at other facilities before branching out on their own. Some veterinarians work on farm animals and horses and that requires them to travel to the locations where the animals are housed. Other veterinarians take jobs in research facilities and laboratories. Experienced veterinarians can even opt for a teaching role at one of the nation’s veterinary colleges.


Association of American Veterinary Colleges

This is a non-profit organization that was designed to promote the welfare of animals by advancing academics as it applies to veterinary medicine.

American Association of Veterinary State Boards

This collection of state-operated boards shows veterinarians the licensing requirements in every state throughout the U.S.

American Veterinary Medical Association

The AVMA is one of the leading resources for veterinarians in the U.S., providing all kinds of useful information and resources.

American Association of Equine Practitioners

Founded in 1954, this association is dedicated to the advancement of equine veterinary medicine and provides a wealth of resources on that subject.

American Association for Laboratory Animal Science

The AALAS provides a commitment to advancing responsible laboratory animal care in a humane way and has also established a set core values as a model for the industry to follow.