What Does a Veterinarian (Vet) Do?

Job Description, Salary, Skills, & More

a day in the life of a veterinarian regular and emergency medical care problem solving skills compassion and clear communication scientific aptitude and a background in zoology and biology

The Balance / Colleen Tighe

Veterinarians serve the healthcare needs of animals, including small animals, livestock, avian, and zoo and laboratory animals. Commonly called "vets," small animal veterinarians do most of their work in private clinic settings. Here, they treat companion animals—pets—like dogs, cats, and birds.

Some vets will care for more exotic pets such as ferrets, snakes, and lizards. They diagnose illnesses and perform many in-office medical procedures such as chiropractic care.

A small number of vets work as equine veterinarians, treating horses. Other veterinarians may work as food animal vets with farm animals that are raised to become food sources. Some food animal vets specialize in food safety and inspection. They check livestock for illnesses that animals can transmit to humans. Others are research veterinarians who study human and animal health conditions.

There are also veterinary specialists who have completed additional training in a specific area of veterinary medicine. These specialities include surgery, dentistry, anesthesia, emergency care, nutrition, opthamology, sports medicine, pathology, and preventative care.

Veterinarian Duties & Responsibilities

Veterinarians provide medical care for animals. The primary responsibilities of a veterinarian include:

  • Advising clients on care of their pets
  • Administering immunizations
  • Conducting physical examinations
  • Providing emergency care
  • Performing surgery and dental procedures
  • Prescribing medication
  • Euthanizing animals

In addition to being able to diagnose and treat the animals, veterinarians also communicate effectively with the animals' owners. This often includes explaining diagnoses and treatments in down-to-earth, common language.

It is essential for veterinarians to keep up with the latest developments in animal medicine. They do this by reading professional journals and attending conferences. This allows them to make sure their patients are receiving the best care available.

Veterinarian Salary

Veterinarian salaries vary based on the type of practice, experience level, and geographic location. Median wages for veterinarians are:

  • Median Annual Salary: $95,460
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $160,780
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $58,080

Education, Training, & Certification

Veterinarians need to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree from an accredited college of veterinary medicine to practice. They must also have a state-issued license.

  • Education: Education includes the admission to a college of veterinary medicine which requires a background in biology and zoology. Students typically have degrees in one of these areas before being admitted. Different programs also may have specific prerequisites that must be met before admission
  • Licenses: Every state and the District of Columbia require candidates for licensure to pass the national North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) administered by the International Council for Veterinary Assessment. Many states also administer their own exams.
  • Internships and Residency: There are other certifications a vet may wish to obtain. Some of these certifications are for specialty care such as surgery, pharmacology, and even chiropractic care. Specialty certification is available from various board certifying organizations.

Veterinarian Skills & Competencies

In addition to formal training, to be successful as a veterinarian, you need specific qualities you won't learn in school. These are called soft skills.

  • Compassion: Vets must show concern toward their patients and owners.
  • Critical thinking: This skill aids in choosing appropriate treatment methods. 
  • Interpersonal skills: These "people skills" allow vets to work with animal owners to provide the best care possible.
  • Problem-solving skills: It is essential to be able to identify problems as quickly as possible.
  • Scientific aptitude: The study and treatment of animals is a science and requires professional research methods and skills.
  • Analytical skills: Since animals can’t explain what ails them the way people can, veterinarians need to be able to interpret all of the information available to them and decide on a course of action based on that interpretation.

Job Outlook

The demand for veterinarians is expected to grow at a rate of 16% between 2019 and 2029, almost four times the average predicted growth for all occupations combined, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. People are expected to spend more money on their pets and this will drive the higher demand for veterinary services.

Work Environment

Veterinarians' work in veterinary clinics or hospitals, either their own or someone else's. Those who treat farm or other large animals must travel to their patients. Vets who work for zoos are part of a team that studies and cares for the animals at the facility.

Work Schedule

Vets in private practice see household pets during regular business hours, as well as on weekends and evening when their owners can bring them in. They may also have to respond to emergencies.

How to Get the Job

TAKE SCIENCE CLASSES IN COLLEGE If you are thinking about applying to veterinary school, take—and excel in—science classes, including biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, zoology, and animal science while in college.

WORK WITH ANIMALS Gain experience by working in veterinary offices, animal shelters, or other animal-related businesses.

STUDY Admission to a veterinary college is competitive. Once that hurdle is cleared, completing the program will require a high level of dedication and commitment.

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