Trying to picture what your life would be like in certain occupations can be tricky if they don’t align with your passions. Maybe that’s why you always come back to envisioning yourself as a veterinarian. Your undeniable interest in science and love for animals make it a natural choice, but you still have a lot of questions.
How much do veterinarians make? What exactly does life as a veterinarian entail? Where do veterinarians typically work?
You’ve come to the right place. We’re tackling some of the most common questions about what it’s like to be a veterinarian. Join us as we explore this animal-focused role.
How much do veterinarians make?
First things first, you’re curious about what to expect in a veterinarian salary. Income among vets varies, but the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the median average salary was $93,830 in 2018. The obvious factors that make a difference are geographic location and years of experience. Veterinarian compensation also depends on career focus.
Those who work in management, consulting, and research and development are typically the most generously compensated veterinarians. Not that we’ve got that one out of the way, let’s cover some of the basics.
What do veterinarians do?
The exact scope of a veterinarian’s job will depend on which career path they choose. Many vets work exclusively with pets. Dr. Pippa Swan, Senior Veterinary Advisor at UK-based Cloud 9 Vets, is among this group. She says a typical day can involve a wide array of duties.
“Companion animal vets generally spend their days providing preventive health care, performing planned surgery, and responding to the needs of clients who bring in animals who are unwell or have experienced trauma,” Dr. Swan explains.
Like doctors who work with humans, veterinarians focus quite a bit on preventive medicine. Being proactive about health management can help promote longevity and quality of life. Dr. Swan mentions administering vaccinations, performing dental checks, and helping with parasite control are pretty standard duties in her role.
While working with animals is obviously a big part of the job, so is interacting with people.
"A significant portion of the day is spent talking to clients both face-to-face and on the phone."
“A significant portion of the day is spent talking to clients both face-to-face and on the phone,” Dr. Swan explains. “Communication and liaison is also required between vets and the rest of the practice team.”
What are some of the different types of veterinarians?
Most people probably think of companion animal practitioners when it comes to veterinary medicine. There are indeed many veterinarians who work solely with pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports companion animal veterinarians account for nearly 67 percent of the private practice workforce and 40 percent of the entire veterinarian population in the US.
There are a surprising number of veterinary career options, though. Dr. Swan says vets in clinical practice tend to work with companion animals, farm animals, horses, or even each of these categories. “Some vets work in all three areas and are called mixed-practice vets,” she clarifies.
"Some vets work in all three areas and are called mixed-practice vets."
Also consider that veterinarians can choose to focus on different animals or a particular branch of medicine. They can also work in government, often in a regulatory role. And there are numerous other sectors that employ veterinarians.
“Some vets work in industry: pharmacology, nutrition, or research,” Dr. Swan says. “There is also a charitable sector, and vets work for organizations providing free health care, rescue and rehabilitation, and welfare.”
What are some common veterinarian workplace settings?
Clinics and hospitals are the most obvious settings, but there are so many other locations where veterinarians spend their days. Workplace setting, much like salary, is dependent upon the type of career. Vets can be employed at farms, zoos, aquariums, animal shelters, research labs, and national parks. Those in consulting often spend their days in an office.
What are the standard veterinarian education requirements?
Though obtaining a four-year undergraduate degree isn’t required prior to attending veterinary school, it’s generally recommended. Most schools list quite a number of course prerequisites anyway. You should also focus on gaining animal and veterinary experience while in college. In addition to being an admission requirement for vet school, it’s also the best way to make sure you truly understand what the career entails.
“Prospective vets should aim to spend as much time as possible in places where vets work so they can see for themselves how vets spend their time and the sorts of problems they deal with,” Dr. Swan recommends.
"Prospective vets should aim to spend as much time as possible in places where vets work so they can see for themselves how vets spend their time ."
You’ll then need to gain acceptance to a four-year veterinary program to obtain your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. After graduation, you’ll also need to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) and complete any other location-specific requirements. Those pursuing a specialty need to obtain additional training, but general practitioners are free to begin their careers at this point.
What are the most important veterinarian skills?
Veterinary medicine is a multifaceted field. Individuals who pursue a veterinary career need to draw on a robust set of skills. You need to have a firm scientific background, exhibit great problem-solving skills, and be proficient in numerous types of technology. Softer competencies like communication skills are also important.
“You need the ability to work out what people are really saying in the midst of chaotic situations when guilt, strong attachment, love, fear, and anger are often close to the surface or in full view,” Dr. Swan explains. She points out that you must maintain good communication with colleagues to ensure solid working relationships as well.
Veterinarians also need to be flexible. You could find yourself facing something unexpected at any moment.
“Life in clinical practice is a very inexact science and will require a good deal of art mixed in,” Dr. Swan explains. She also says mental toughness, realism, self-esteem, and a sense of humor are important building blocks for a successful career.
"Life in clinical practice is a very inexact science and will require a good deal of art mixed in."
Advance in animal care
How much do veterinarians make? What are the most important veterinarian skills? You now have answers to these queries. Maybe you’ve even discovered some helpful insight regarding questions you hadn’t yet thought to ask.
Now that you have a taste of what it could be like to be a veterinarian, you might be curious about what it takes to become a DVM. Learn more about the education requirements, licensing process, and more by reading our article "How to Become a Veterinarian: Your 8-Step Guide.”
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