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If you have great people skills, in addition to a love for all creatures great and small, the field of veterinary medicine could be calling your name. And now’s a great time to start. Most vets work in small, private practices that specialize in family pets or farm animals or both. Others work in disease and pharmaceutical research. And there are government jobs overseeing food-production safety — like the raising and processing of livestock for human consumption — or educating the public about health concerns, such as salmonella in chicken. Some vets even work in large corporations doing product development on pet foods, medications or surgical instruments for animals.
The first step toward a veterinary career is deciding that veterinary medicine is the right path for you. Some come to that decision at a young age, the first time they take a family pet to a veterinarian or a veterinarian visits their family farm. Some decide to become a veterinarian after reading about the achievements of prominent veterinarians. For others, the decision comes later in life, sometimes as a second career.
Duties / Responsibilities
On a typical day most Veterinarians diagnose and treat ailments, and advise owners on proper care for the pets. Companion-animal veterinarians (who care for family pets) are often on call for nighttime emergencies. Most veterinarians work 50 or more hours a week; however, about a fifth work 40 hours a week. Although those in private practice may work nights and weekends, the increased number of emergency clinics has reduced the amount of time private practitioners must be on call. Large animal practitioners tend to work more irregular hours than do those in small animal practice, industry, or government. Veterinarians who are just starting a practice tend to work longer hours.
Competition to get into veterinary school is steep. The field is small and there are not many schools. You’ve got to have a lot of determination to make it through school and also handle the tuition debt. And remember that, at its core, veterinary medicine is a science. You need to love biology and chemistry as much as you do horses, birds, pigs and dogs.
Small practice (companion animals, large livestock): $51K – $64K. But owners can earn double or triple this amount and specialists can make even more. Research (universities): $64K. Tenured professors can make three figures. Government (food inspection, public-health education): $60K Corporate (product development): $94K
Pluses and Minuses
The pluses and minuses of a veterinary career vary. They depend on the stage of a veterinarian’s career, the type of practice, and the veterinarian’s likes and dislikes. The primary reward for all veterinarians is the personal satisfaction in knowing that they are improving the quality of life for animals and people.
Most veterinarians work in private clinical practice, which has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Veterinarians in private clinical practice gain satisfaction from helping owners keep their animals well and from treating sick and injured animals. Veterinarians in private practice serve a variety of animals. This is especially true in companion animal practice because of the increased popularity of pet birds, small mammals (hamsters & gerbils), and fish. Today, a veterinarian may be treating llamas, catfish, or ostriches as well as cats, dogs, horses, cows, hogs, sheep, and goats. Veterinarians usually treat companion and food animals in hospitals and clinics. Those in large animal practice also work out of well-equipped trucks or cars, and may drive considerable distances to farms and ranches. They may work outdoors in all kinds of weather.
Although it’s never too late to make the choice, it’s never too early to begin to prepare for this challenging career. To help you make a career decision, you should know what a veterinarian does and what personal attributes a good veterinarian needs.