Today's veterinarians are in the unique position of being the only doctors trained to protect the health of both animals and people. They are not only educated to meet the health needs of every species of animal, but they play an important role in environmental protection, food safety, and public health.
According to consumer surveys, veterinarians consistently rank among the most respected professionals in the country. Currently more than 82,000 veterinarians actively practice in the United States and the profession is growing at a rate of approximately 3% per year.
In taking the Veterinarian's Oath, a new graduate solemnly swears to use his or her "scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge."
Protecting the Health of Animals and Society
Employment opportunities for veterinarians are almost endless and include private or corporate clinical practice, teaching and research, regulatory medicine, public health, and military service.
Is Veterinary Medicine Right for You?
Today's veterinarians are extremely dedicated and willing to work long, difficult hours to save the life of an animal or help solve a public health crisis. Among the personal attributes that contribute to a successful career in veterinary medicine are:
A scientific mind-Individuals who are interested in veterinary medicine should have an inquiring mind and keen powers of observation. Aptitude and interest in the biological sciences are important. Veterinarians must maintain a lifelong interest in scientific learning, and must genuinely like and understand animals.
Good communication skills-Veterinarians should be able to meet, talk, and work well with a variety of people. Compassion is an essential attribute for success, especially for veterinarians working with pet owners who form strong bonds with their pets.
Management experience-Many work environments (e.g., private or corporate clinical practice, governmental agencies, public health programs) require that veterinarians manage other employees. Basic managerial and leadership skills training make these positions much more rewarding.
The Road to Becoming a Veterinarian
Students interested in a career in veterinary medicine should perform well in general science and biology in junior high school and pursue a strong science, math, and biology program in high school. Before applying to veterinary college/school, students must successfully complete pre-veterinary undergraduate course work. Each college/school of veterinary medicine establishes its own pre-veterinary requirements, but typically these include demonstrating basic language and communication skills, and completion of courses in the social sciences, humanities, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics.
Admission to veterinary school is highly competitive with the number of qualified applicants admitted to veterinary schools varying from year to year. Applicants may be required to take a standardized test (for example, the Graduate Record Examination). There are presently 28 AVMA-accredited colleges/schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, four in Canada, and six in other countries. Each school is regularly evaluated by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association and must maintain the quality of its program to remain accredited.
After completing the required veterinary medical curriculum (usually over a period of four years), many graduates choose to pursue additional education in one of 20 AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties (surgery, internal medicine, animal behavior, dentistry, ophthalmology, pathology, laboratory animal medicine, preventive medicine, etc.).
A Bright Future
Employment opportunities for veterinarians are expected to keep pace with those of other professions. Positions exist for which postgraduate education in molecular biology, laboratory animal medicine, toxicology, immunology, diagnostic pathology, environmental medicine, or other specialties is preferred or required. The benefit of using scientific methods to breed and raise livestock, poultry, and fish, together with a growing need for effective public health and disease control programs, will continue to demand the expertise of veterinarians.