Veterinarian Career Guide: Requirements and Skills
Updated January 21, 2023
If you're interested in helping animals by treating injuries and illnesses, you may enjoy a career as a veterinarian. Before you pursue this role, it's important to think about the veterinary field and its requirements. Learning more about what it means to hold a veterinarian career can help you determine if this professional path matches your skills, preferences, and goals. In this article, we describe the role of a veterinarian, review the associated career duties, explore their work environment, highlight some key requirements and skills for the role, and explore some considerations for becomng a verterinarian.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
What is a veterinarian?
A veterinarian is a health care employee who helps manage the health and well-being of animals. Often working in veterinary health centers, veterinarians may diagnose animal diseases and injuries and provide treatment plans, including medication or other healing strategies. They may also educate animal owners on proper care and disease maintenance. To help protect the community, veterinarians may also provide vaccination, spaying, or neutering services that can control and protect animal populations. Veterinarians can work in treatment centers, public health institutions, private companies, or research-based roles.
What are veterinarian career duties?
If you're considering a veterinarian career, here are some duties that you may complete on a regular basis:
examine animals and discuss histories with owners to better understand symptoms
perform regular checkups of animals
diagnose conditions, sometimes using diagnostic machinery like x-rays
provide proper treatment plans, including medications
vaccinate animals against diseases
provide emergency treatment and dressing for animal wounds
offer minor surgery, depending on training
advise owners about proper disease management
humanely euthanize animals, when necessary
work with government agencies to control populations of wild animals
complete research or community outreach, if relevant to the role
Veterinarian work environment
A veterinarian's work environment can vary based on their chosen role. Many veterinarians work in veterinary clinics and hospitals, which can involve fast-paced work with many animals and their owners. In a clinical role, a veterinarian's hours may depend on those of the clinic, with emergency veterinary clinics sometimes providing 24-hour care for time-sensitive conditions. If you work in a clinical setting as a veterinarian, you may spend a large amount of time on your feet examining animals and providing treatment.
Veterinarians can also work in non-clinical settings. They may work within private companies, such as pharmaceutical manufacturers, or perform various research roles. Depending on the company, these roles may involve laboratory work and the hours may match regular working hours. Veterinarians can also work in a public health capacity, which may require field work out in the community. They can also work in education, providing training for future veterinarians.
These job requirements can help you determine if a role as a veterinarian is right for you:
Veterinarians may complete two years of pre-veterinary university study in an accredited program. They may also complete a college program in health science. From there, they can complete a four-to-five-year university degree program in veterinary medicine. You may find these programs at various veterinary schools, but it's important to research requirements before applying. For example, some veterinary schools may require you to hold certain grades or have entry-level veterinary experience. You may also take an entrance exam before beginning a veterinary program.
During veterinary school, students may receive classroom learning in fields like biology, anatomy, or epidemiology while also completing research and other hands-on learning. During your final year of school, you may complete a clinical training program. During this time, you may work in a variety of veterinary settings and clinics, including community practices. You may also try working with various veterinary specialty areas, like oncology, surgery, or large animal medicine. This can help you develop your skills in many areas and determine which type of medicine you may want to pursue in the future.
After successfully completing veterinary school, students become qualified to perform basic veterinary duties under professional supervision. As they advance their skills with this supervised training, students can prepare to take a national certifying exam, such as the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). If a student receives veterinary training from a non-accredited program, they may take some additional certifying exams to demonstrate their skills.
Students can also seek provincial licensing to help them begin their careers. Licensing requirements can vary based on your province or territory, but they can include additional exam requirements and professional references. This certification may only qualify you for general veterinary practice, so you can seek additional designations if you want to pursue a specialty area or advanced research role.
These skills may help you succeed in a veterinarian role:
As a veterinarian, you may understand a multitude of conditions to help provide accurate diagnoses. You may understand the symptoms of each condition and how they can manifest for different species. You may also learn about treatment options to help you determine the most effective option for each animal. After school, you can maintain this medical understanding with continuing education.
When a veterinarian examines an animal, they may use analytical skills to evaluate symptoms and determine potential causes. This can require you to gather data, such as by conducting a visual examination, having a discussion with the owner about the animal's history and behaviour, and diagnostic testing. You may also use analytical skills in a research role to help examine the evidence, create a hypothesis, and draw potential conclusions.
Veterinarians may often think quickly to solve problems for animals. Not only can they help determine solutions for various diseases and injuries, but they may also determine how to fill any gaps in medical knowledge. For example, if an animal has symptoms that you can't place, you may speak to the owner to see if there are additional clues within the animal's previous behaviour. In some cases, this problem-solving may be extremely time-sensitive as owners may bring in animals with emergency conditions that require quick action.
While veterinarians often work with animals, they may also frequently work with other people. This can include animal owners and other health care professionals within a clinic. Veterinarians may often use skills like empathy and compassion to relate to owners and to help comfort them in case any issues arise with a pet. They can also apply this compassion to the animals by finding ways to minimize discomfort and pain. If a veterinarian receives a particularly complex case, they may collaborate with animal care specialists like those who work in oncology or surgery, requiring teamwork and collaboration skills.
Veterinarians may manage many records for various animals. In some cases, veterinary clinics may have receptionists who can help keep records, but other smaller clinics may require veterinarians to manage their own documents. These records can be extremely important as they can hold important medical information that can inform future treatment plans.
For example, if a veterinarian discovers that an animal is allergic to a certain medication, they may take and keep notes of that information to avoid prescribing it in the future. By taking clear notes, a veterinarian can document an animal's condition to inform its care strategy. These notes can also help a veterinarian describe their findings to an owner to help promote understanding of the situation.
Considerations for becoming a veterinarian
Here are a few aspects to consider before beginning your career:
Working with animals
Before beginning a career as a veterinarian, consider if you enjoy working with animals for a significant part of your day. While you may have pets of your own, ask yourself if you're okay with working with all different types of animals and meeting their unique needs. For example, consider that animals aren't able to understand instructions in the same way as people, which may be frustrating for some. If you're passionate about animals, though, you may enjoy providing care in a veterinary setting.
Extensive training and certification
As a medical role, this career path can require extensive training. Besides years of education, you may also pursue certification and licensing. Your role might also require you to pursue continuing education to maintain your skills. While some might find this training rewarding and enjoyable, there are other options if you'd like to help animals. For example, you can begin your career as a veterinary technician or assistant. In general, though, more education in your field can help advance your earning potential.
As a veterinarian, you may complete physically and emotionally challenging work. For example, you may work for many hours on your feet or inform owners that their pets have a serious condition. While this work can be demanding, it can also be extremely rewarding. Consider these potential demands and rewards before selecting a career.
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