Most veterinarians in the U.S. work in private practice. While veterinarians are licensed to care for a wide variety of animals (dogs, cats, horses, farm animals, exotics, etc.), most limit their practice to certain types of animals or medical specialties. Currently, the majority of veterinarians in the U.S. provide medical care for pets such as dogs and cats.
Working and talking with veterinarians, veterinary students, and veterinary technicians and staff is the best way to get a realistic picture of the profession. Veterinary medicine is a big commitment, both academically and personally. A prospective veterinarian should be a good student with strong science, math and communication skills.
Since I love animals, isn’t veterinary medicine a perfect career for me?
While veterinary medicine can be richly rewarding, a veterinarian’s day is not filled solely with adorable animals. It is important to develop a realistic picture of the profession before choosing this career. Failure to understand the demands and challenges of the profession can lead to dissatisfaction. Veterinarians must handle failure, loss, grieving and angry clients, and sometimes animals that have been neglected.
In the United States, veterinary school is a four-year degree program following undergraduate Bachelor’s degree level education (a total of 7 to 9 years: 3 to 5 years undergraduate plus 4 years of veterinary school).
How do I prepare for veterinary school? Is there a “good” major? What experience do I need?
Each veterinary school’s website lists the school’s application process and pre-requisites. In general you will need to take a number of classes including: biology, math, English, chemistry, and physics to apply.
First, consider the cost of your undergraduate education. Veterinary school costs vary depending upon whether you attend a private or a public school and whether you have residence in that state. Like all higher education costs, the cost of veterinary school has risen many times above the increases in the costs of living over the past three decades.
Wow! That’s a lot of money. Veterinarians must have very high salaries to pay back those loans.
Most new graduate veterinarians in full-time positions earned between $59,900 and $93,500 in 2017. Over the last decade increases in the cost of education have far outpaced starting salaries for veterinarians.
For many generations of veterinarians, the positives of the profession far outweighed the negatives. The past two decades have seen significant increases in educational costs without a comparable increase in salaries. The hours can be long, the physical effort grueling, and the emotional impact of treating ill and injured animals daily can be difficult. While salaries vary widely, veterinarians rarely become wealthy.
A lady at my gym asked me what I do for a living. “I’m a veterinary pathologist,” I said and then paused, smiling, as I waited for the inevitable furrowing of brows and subsequent barrage of questions about my line of work. “You’re a…what?” she asked, her voice trailing off at the unexpected constellation of words I had concocted. “I’m a veterinary pathologist,” I repeated, more slowly. “I evaluate and interpret pathology specimens.” The brows relaxed, slightly, but I could tell she was still perplexed. I volunteered a slightly longer explanation: “I went to veterinary school, and then I completed a residency in pathology. Now I look at cytology cases (sometimes called needle biopsies) for a diagnostic lab.” “Oh,” she said, understanding more but still not enough to really know how I play a role in keeping pets healthy.