Career Opportunities in Veterinary Medicine

Overview

Veterinarians are dedicated women and men whose profession is caring for the health and well-being of animals. Their work is widely varied and may include such activities as clinical practice, biomedical research, education, diagnostic laboratories, consultation, or safeguarding our nation’s food supply. Whatever their specialty, veterinarians are dedicated to maintaining and promoting animal health. They understand the importance of animal welfare and the interdependent relationships between animals and humans. 

Surveys and projections predict a steady need for future veterinary medical doctors and scientists. There is a present demand for food animal veterinarians and veterinary specialists to deal with society's concerns relating to animal welfare and biomedical/environmental research. Future employment opportunities will mirror society's involvement in issues of energy, quality of food, human health, and quality of life. Veterinary medicine is deeply involved in all these areas.

Private Practice

About 80% of veterinarians choose to work in private practice, providing health care for companion animals. Private practitioners may work in a one-person practice or as part of a team in a larger clinic or hospital. Private practitioners offer many services including health exams, vaccinations, treatment of ill animals, surgery, and emergency care. 

Private practitioners may focus on small animals (dogs, cats, and/or exotic pets), large animals (horses and/or ruminants), or work in a mixed animal practice with small and large animals. Many practitioners narrow their interests further, such as equine, avian, or feline veterinarians.   

Many veterinarians acquire additional training to specialize in disciplines such as cardiology, dermatology, internal medicine, oncology (cancer), ophthalmology, and surgery. [return to top]

Research

Competent research veterinarians are constantly needed in pharmaceutical and private research laboratories, universities, and various government agencies. These veterinarians investigate basic and applied problems concerning food-producing animals, companion animals, laboratory animals, captive animals, wildlife, and various aquatic species. For example:

  • Laboratory animal veterinarians oversee housing, feeding, breeding, and general health of animals used in research.
  • Veterinarians develop and test vaccines, serums and other biological agents to search for new and improved methods of treating and controlling diseases in both animals and humans.
  • Molecular biologists conduct basic and applied research to better understand the nature of disease, immunity, health, and longevity. [return to top]

Education

Thousands of veterinarians teach in universities and colleges. Wherever you find a medical school, agricultural school, or veterinary school you are likely to find a veterinarian helping to spread the knowledge of animal health and disease. Veterinarians in educational institutions teach students, conduct research, write for scientific journals and consumer magazines, and develop continuing education programs. [return to top]

Diagnostic Laboratories

Fundamental to treatment of animal diseases is the need to establish a definitive diagnosis. Veterinarians who specialize in diagnostics include those with advanced training in pathology and microbiology. These specialists focus their careers on developing and utilizing state of the art equipment and techniques to analyze samples such as tissue or blood in order to deliver accurate, innovative, and timely diagnostic and consultative services to the veterinary and animal health community.

Diagnostic laboratories may be associated with veterinary or medical teaching hospitals or may be privately owned and operated. In diagnostic labs affiliated with teaching hospitals, veterinary specialists are often also involved with teaching and research. [return to top]

Consultation

Various businesses and organizations employ experienced veterinarians as full-time or part-time consultants. To be a successful consultant requires advanced skills developed through years of experience and advanced training and education. These veterinarians advise private businesses such as ranches, dairies, poultry farms, and meat processing facilities. They also work with public organizations such as ASPCA, animal shelters, humane societies, and 4-H. [return to top]

Public Health and Regulatory Medicine

All states in the U.S. (and many counties and cities) have veterinarians who advise and help control animal diseases. As public health officials, they continually inspect milk, meats, and other animal food products to make sure they are safe to consume. In regulatory medicine, public health veterinarians inspect meat, poultry, and dairy products, test for livestock disease, and oversee interstate transport of animals. Public health veterinarians are hired to investigate food-borne disease outbreaks, evaluate the safety of food and water, and study the effects of biological and environmental contamination.

The United States Department of Agriculture is the single largest employer of veterinarians. Their work is largely in the prevention and control of infectious and parasitic diseases and the assurance of safe and accurately labeled food products of animal origin.

The United States Public Health Service employs veterinarians to develop and administer programs concerned with the control of diseases transmissible to humans.

Veterinarians in the Army and Air Force provide care for government-owned animals, inspect food, safeguard the health of military and other government personnel, and serve as biomedical research investigators. [return to top]