What is a veterinarian’s job description? A veterinarian is a licensed health professional who is trained to diagnose and treat diseases and injuries in animals. They care for companion animals (e.g. dogs, cats, birds), horses, production animals (e.g. cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry), aquatic, and/or zoo animals. Not only are veterinarians responsible for the health and welfare of treated animals, they are also indirectly responsible for the health of animal owners by preventing any animal diseases from spreading to humans. The majority of veterinarians work in animal clinics and animal hospitals. 

Veterinarian Job Description

Veterinarians provide healthcare treatment to animals, just as medical doctors do to human beings. Primarily, veterinarians administer medication, vaccinations, perform surgeries, and provide general health care for companion animals. Unlike a general practitioner, veterinarians must rely strictly on signs and symptoms of the treated animal (as animals are unable to talk). By combining personal observations, the owner’s perspective, and pertinent diagnostic tests such as blood tests, x-rays, and CT-scans, veterinarians aim to effectively treat and prevent diseases in animals. Veterinarians also have the authority to carry out euthanasia, which is the painless killing of a patient (animal, in this case) from an incurable disease. This procedure is often necessary in suffering animals with poorer quality of life that can no longer enjoy day-to-day activities.

Veterinarians are experts of animal health. They are able to educate owners on all aspects of their animal, including what to feed the animal, what kind of exercises the animal should do to maintain fitness, how to interact with other animals and humans, etc. Prophylactic treatment, or preventative treatment, is another important aspect of a veterinarian’s work. People are finding more and more diseases in animals that can be transferred back to humans, like rabies and salmonella. It is critical for veterinarians to prevent these diseases from spreading by carrying out public education programs, providing proper vaccinations to susceptible animals, and performing biomedical research in universities and health institutions.

According to consumer surveys, veterinarians are ranked among the most respected professionals in America. The importance of their role continues to expand as people recognize veterinarians as critical in preventing disease transmissions, ensuring food safety, promoting animal welfare, and ultimately protecting human health.

The veterinarian job description includes:

  • Diagnose and treat animals with illnesses and injuries
  • Dress animal wounds
  • Carry out surgical operations on animals
  • Vaccinate animals against infections
  • Treat animals with fractures
  • Operate medical equipment used in animal treatment, such as CT-scan and urinalysis
  • Educate animal owners on animal behavior, feeding needs, the effect of weather on animals, etc.
  • Write prescriptions for sick animals
  • Carry out research on animal diseases, such as prevention and treatment
  • Research how to protect humans from infection by animal diseases

Veterinarian Prerequisites

To be eligible for veterinarian education, applicants are required by most veterinary medical colleges to have obtained a Bachelor’s degree in science-related areas, such as chemistry, biology, physiology, anatomy, zoology, animal science, and molecular biology. In rare instances, veterinary programs do not require students to hold a 4-year degree. These students usually have exceptional grades and extensive experience in the field with a minimum of 45-90 undergraduate semester hours.

There are only 28 universities in the entire United States that are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Due to this scarcity, admission requirements are highly competitive with emphasis on an applicant’s grades or GPA as well as previous work and volunteer experience. For a list of veterinary schools, please click here.

How to Become a Veterinarian

Veterinarians are required to obtain a degree in Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at any accredited institution of veterinary medicine. This education program takes 4 years to complete and includes laboratory and clinical experience. It is split into 2-year segments. The first two years involve extensive classroom learning in courses, such as animal anatomy, animal physiology, disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of animals. The last two years mainly involve a clinical practicum in various work settings.

Veterinarian Specialization

Graduates of a veterinary medical college are allowed to practice once they obtain their license. However, some new graduates may decide to specialize in a veterinary field. Such further training helps to brighten their employment opportunity. A veterinary specialist, like physician specialists, focuses in one particular clinical field of veterinary medicine, such as anesthesiology or dermatology. 

To become a veterinary specialist, individuals must first complete the 4-year program, undergo a 1-year internship or 2 years of clinical practice, and then fulfill 2-3 years of residency, focusing on their area of specialty. They are required to publish scientific or research-based findings before they can be considered for a credential review and the certifying examination. Requirements are extensive, but successful graduates will be rewarded with more prestige and increased pay (usually 2-3 times more than an average veterinarian).

Veterinarian Certification

A graduate of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine must obtain licensure before they can practice as a registered veterinarian in the United States. All states require veterinarians to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), which assesses candidates’ knowledge of veterinary activities and animal species through an intensive 8 hour, 360 questions written test. Some states may require applicants to pass a clinical skill exam or even a state-issued laws and rules exam (e.g. Florida).

Veterinarian Salary

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Veterinarian Job Description Summary

Here is a short recap of the veterinarian job description:
  • Doctor of animals
  • Highly competitive to get in
  • 4 year education program
  • Must be licensed to practice
  • 12% employment growth by 2022