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Nature of the Work
* Graduation from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and a license to practice are required.
* Competition for admission to veterinary school is keen.
* Job prospects may be better for those who specialize in farm animals than for small animal practitioners because fewer graduates have a desire to work in rural and isolated areas.
Veterinarians play a major role in the health care of pets, livestock, and zoo, sporting, and laboratory animals. Veterinarians also use their skills to protect humans against diseases carried by animals, and conduct clinical research on human and animal health problems.
Most veterinarians perform clinical work in private practices. About one-half of these veterinarians predominately or exclusively treat small animals. Small animal practitioners usually care for companion animals, such as dogs and cats, but also treat birds, reptiles, rabbits, and other animals that may be kept as pets. Some veterinarians work in mixed animal practices, where they see pigs, goats, sheep, and some nondomestic animals, in addition to companion animals. Veterinarians in clinical practice diagnose animal health problems, vaccinate against diseases such as distemper and rabies, medicate animals with infections or illnesses, treat and dress wounds, set fractures, perform surgery, and advise owners about feeding, behavior, and breeding.
A smaller number of private practice veterinarians work exclusively with large animals, focusing mostly on horses or cows, but may care for all kinds of food animals. These veterinarians usually drive to farms or ranches to provide veterinary services for herds or individual animals. Much of their work involves preventive care in order to maintain the health of food animals. They test for and vaccinate against diseases, and consult with farm or ranch owners and managers on production, feeding, and housing issues. They also treat and dress wounds, set fractures, perform surgeryincluding cesarean sections on birthing animalsand do artificial insemination. Veterinarians also euthanize animals when necessary.
Veterinarians who treat animals use surgical instruments; medical equipment, such as stethoscopes; and diagnostic equipment, such as radiology machines.
Veterinarians contribute to human as well as animal health. A number of veterinarians work with physicians and scientists as they research better ways to prevent and treat human health problems such as cancer, AIDS, and alcohol or drug abuse. Some test the effects of drug therapies, antibiotics, or new surgical techniques on animals. Veterinarians who are livestock inspectors check animals for transmissible diseases, advise owners on treatment, and may quarantine animals. Veterinarians who are meat, poultry, or egg product inspectors examine slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for disease, and enforce government regulations regarding food purity and sanitation. Some veterinarians care for zoo or aquarium animals, or for laboratory animals.
Veterinarians often work long hours, with nearly half spending 50 or more hours on the job. Those in group practices may take turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend work, and solo practitioners may work extended and weekend hours responding to emergencies and squeezing in unexpected appointments.
Veterinarians in large animal practice also spend time driving between office and farm or ranch. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather, and may have to treat animals or perform surgery under less-than-sanitary conditions. When working with animals that are frightened or in pain, veterinarians risk being bitten, kicked, or scratched.
Veterinarians held about 58,000 jobs in 1996. About a third were 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. Department of Agriculture, and about 500 military veterinarians in the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force. 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.
Although veterinarians are located in every State, in 1996 about 3 out of 10 establishments providing veterinary services were located in just four States: California, Florida, New York, and Texas.
Prospective veterinarians must graduate from a 4-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree and obtain a license to practice. There are 27 colleges in 26 States that meet accreditation standards set by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The prerequisites for admission vary by veterinary medical college. Many do not actually require a bachelor's degree for entrance, but all require a significant number of credit hours at the undergraduate level, ranging from 45 to 90 semester hours. Preveterinary courses emphasize the sciences, and veterinary medical colleges typically require classes in organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, general biology, animal biology, animal nutrition, genetics, vertebrate embryology, cell or microbiology, zoology, and systemic physiology. Some programs require calculus; some require only statistics, college algebra and trigonometry, or precalculus; and others require no math at all. Most veterinary medical colleges also require some core courses, including English or literature, social science, and the humanities. Although a bachelor's degree is generally not required for entry to veterinary medical school, most of the students admitted have completed an undergraduate program.
Most veterinary medical colleges will only consider applicants who have a minimum grade point average (GPA). The required GPA varies by school from a low of 2.5 to a high of 3.2, based on a maximum GPA of 4.0. However, the average GPA of candidates at most schools is higher than these minimums. Those who receive offers of admission usually have a GPA of 3.0 or better.
In addition to satisfying preveterinary course requirements, applicants must also submit test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), depending on the preference of each college.
Veterinary medical colleges also weigh heavily a candidate's veterinary and animal experience in the admissions process. Formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research, or in some area of health science, is particularly advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm, ranch, stable, or animal shelter, is also helpful. Students must demonstrate ambition and eagerness to work with animals.
Competition for admission to veterinary school is keen. The number of accredited veterinary colleges has remained at 27 since 1983, while the number of applicants has risen. About 1 in 3 applicants was accepted in 1996. Most veterinary medical colleges are public, State-supported institutions, and reserve the majority of their openings for in-State residents. Twenty States that do not have a veterinary medical college agree to pay a fee or subsidy to help cover the cost of veterinary education for a limited number of their residents at one or more out-of-State colleges. Nonresident students who are admitted under such a contract arrangement may have to pay out-of-State tuition, or they may have to repay their State of residency all or part of the subsidy that was provided to the contracting college. Residents of the remaining four States and the District of Columbia may apply to any of the 27 veterinary medical colleges as an "at-large" applicant. The number of positions available to "at-large" applicants is very limited at most schools, making admission difficult.
While in veterinary medical college, students receive additional academic instruction and are exposed to clinical procedures such as diagnosing and treating animal diseases and performing surgery. They also do laboratory work in anatomy, biochemistry, and other scientific and medical subjects. At most veterinary medical colleges, students who plan a career in research can earn both a D.V.M degree and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree at the same time.
Veterinary graduates who plan to work with specific types of animals or specialize in a clinical area, such as pathology, surgery, radiology, or laboratory animal medicine, usually complete a 1-year internship. Interns receive only a small salary, but usually find that their internship experience leads to higher starting salaries relative to other starting veterinarians. Veterinarians who seek board certification in a specialty must also complete a 2- to 3-year residency program which provides intensive training in one of the following areas: Internal medicine, oncology, radiology, surgery, dermatology, anesthesiology, neurology, cardiology, ophthalmology, or exotic small animal medicine.
All States and the District of Columbia require that veterinarians be licensed before they can practice. The only exemptions are for veterinarians working for some Federal agencies and some State governments. Licensing is controlled by the States and is not strictly uniform, although all States require successful completion of the D.V.M. degreeor equivalent educationand passage of a national board examination. The Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG) grants certification to individuals trained outside the U.S. who demonstrate that they meet specified English language and clinical proficiency requirements. ECFVG certification fulfills the educational requirement for licensure in all States except Nebraska.
Applicants for licensure satisfy the examination requirement by passing the National Board Examination (NBE) and the Clinical Competency Test (CCT). The NBE comprises 400 multiple choice questions covering all aspects of veterinary medicine and takes one day to complete. The CCT is a half-day examination consisting of 14 problems covering real-life situations in which the candidate is given a set of facts and must choose the correct course of action for the patient. Many States permit candidates to take the NBE in their third year of veterinary school, but those who pass must still graduate with the D.V.M. before they can be licensed.
The majority of States also require candidates to pass a State jurisprudence examination, covering State laws and regulations. Some States also do additional testing on clinical competency. There are very few reciprocal agreements between States, making it difficult for a veterinarian to practice in a new State without first taking another State examination.
Thirty-nine States have continuing education requirements for licensed veterinarians. Requirements differ by State, and may involve attending a class or otherwise demonstrating knowledge of recent medical and veterinary advances.
Most veterinarians begin as employees or partners in established practices. Despite the substantial financial investment in equipment, office space, and staff, many veterinarians with experience 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, U.S. Army, or U.S. Air Force. A State license may be required.
Prospective veterinarians must have good manual dexterity. They should have an affinity for animals and the ability to get along with animal owners. They must also be able to make decisions in emergencies.
Employment of veterinarians is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Job openings stemming from the need to replace veterinarians who retire or otherwise leave the labor force will be almost as numerous as new jobs resulting from employment growth over the 1996-2006 period.
Most veterinarians practice in animal hospitals or clinics, many of whom care primarily for companion animals. The number of pets is expected to increase more slowly during the projection period than in the previous decade, partly because the large baby-boom generation is aging and will acquire fewer dogs and cats. Slower pet population growth may curtail the demand for veterinarians who specialize in small animals. Nevertheless, new technologies and medical advancements will permit veterinarians to offer more and better care to animals. Pet owners are becoming more aware of the availability of advanced care. They may increasingly take advantage of nontraditional veterinary services such as preventive dental care, and more willingly pay for intensive care than in the past. Veterinarians who enter small animal practice may face competition. Large numbers of new graduates continue to be attracted to small animal medicine because they prefer to deal with pets, and live and work near or in populated areas. However, an oversupply does not necessarily limit the ability of veterinarians to find employment or set up and maintain a practice. It could result in more veterinarians taking positions requiring much evening or weekend work to accommodate the extended hours of operation which more practices are offering. Others could take salaried positions in retail stores offering limited veterinary services. Self-employed veterinarians may have to work harder and longer to build a sufficient clientele.
The number of jobs for large animal veterinarians is expected to grow slowly because productivity gains in the agricultural production industry mean demand for fewer veterinarians to treat food animals. Nevertheless, job prospects may be better for veterinarians who specialize in farm animals than for small animal practitioners because fewer veterinary medical college graduates have the desire to work in rural or isolated areas.
Continued support for public health and food safety, disease control programs, and biomedical research on human health problems will contribute to the demand for veterinarians, although such positions are relatively few in number. Also, anticipated budget tightening in the Federal Government may lead to lower funding levels for some programs, limiting job growth. Veterinarians with training in public health and epidemiology should have the best opportunities for a career in the Federal Government.
Average starting salaries of 1995 veterinary medical college graduates varied by type of practice or employing industry, as indicated by table 1.
Table 1. Average starting salaries of veterinary medical college graduates, 1995
All graduates $29,900 Type of practice Large animal, exclusive 39,500 Large animal, predominate 34,300 Mixed animal 31,900 Small animal, exclusive 31,900 Small animal, predominate 31,000 Equine 27,500 Industry 44,500 Industry/commercial Uniformed services 41,100 State/local government 40,000 Not-for-profit 36,000 Federal Government 32,800 University 19,700 Other public or corporate 34,000
SOURCE: American Veterinary Medical Association
The average income of veterinarians in private practice was $57,500 in 1995. New veterinary medical college graduates who enter the Federal Government usually start at $35,800. Beginning salaries were slightly higher in selected areas where the prevailing local pay level was higher. The average annual salary for veterinarians in the Federal Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was $57,600 in 1997.
Veterinarians prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases, disorders, and injuries in animals. Those who do similar work for humans include chiropractors, dentists, optometrists, physicians, and podiatrists. Veterinarians also have extensive training in physical and life sciences, and some do scientific and medical research, closely paralleling occupations such as biological, medical, and animal scientists.
Animal trainers, animal breeders, and veterinary technicians work extensively with animals. Like veterinarians, they must have patience and feel comfortable with animals. However, the level of training required for these occupations is substantially less than that needed by veterinarians.
For more information on careers in veterinary medicine and a list of U.S. schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, send a letter-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope 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.
For information on the Federal agencies that employ veterinarians and a list of addresses for each agency, write to:
National Association of Federal Veterinarians, 1101 Vermont Ave. NW., Suite 710, Washington, DC 20005.
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