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A Day in the Life of a Veterinarian

Veterinarians provide medical services for animals. They also give advice to pet owners about the care and breeding of their pets. What many people don’t know is that veterinarians also protect humans from diseases that animals carry. Most veterinarians treat sick pets and provide routine check-ups and shots for pets in private offices. Veterinarians must be tuned in to the animal’s discomfort. They must be able to calm and reassure frightened animals. Since animals cannot communicate their symptoms to the doctor, veterinarians must depend on their own and the owners’ observations to make their diagnoses. Vets in private practice have to handle the business end of the practice-scheduling appointments, sending specimens to the lab, taking payments from pet owners-or hire someone to do it. They generally enjoy a forty-hour work week, but this does include some evening and weekend hours to accommodate their clients’ schedules. Some veterinarians work with large animals, such as cattle, racehorses, or zoo animals. These doctors often spend a substantial amount of time on the road commuting to ranches and farms. They also work outdoors in all weather conditions. More frequently, though, they work in laboratory conditions as austere as any hospital. Some vets work in the food industry, for the government, or both. They inspect meat packing plants and check the livestock for disease. Occasionally, they perform autopsies on dead animals to determine what caused the animal’s death and how to prevent the problem with other animals. The information obtained from an autopsy often helps them determine which medications, if any, the other animals should receive. Some vets research what diseases animals are susceptible to, and others explore what medicines can treat them.

Paying Your Dues

Veterinarians must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and be licensed by the state. It takes six to eight years to complete a D.V.M. The first two years of the program consist of general science studies at the college level. Most aspiring vets complete a four-year degree in biological or physiological sciences. A minor in business is useful for vets who plan to go into private practice. In their senior year of college, aspiring vets apply to four-year veterinary programs. Vet schools require a GPA of 3.0 or higher and high scores on the Veterinary Aptitude Test, GRE, or MCAT. Most of the 27 vet schools in the United States are state funded, so applicants stand the best chance of being admitted to the school in their home state. Competition for a spot in a vet school is intense and only half of those who apply are admitted. In the veterinary program, students acquire practical experience by working in clinics and assisting in performing surgery. During the last two years of vet school, students do clinical rounds. Then, they complete a three-year residency. Only then are they eligible to sit for the licensing exam. About 85 percent of those who take the exam pass it at any sitting. At this point some doctors continue their studies in a specialized area of veterinary medicine, such as ophthalmology or surgery.

Present and Future

The first school of veterinary medicine opened in 1762. Its founder, Alexandre Francois, sought to make veterinary medicine a respected science. The field grew and became organized, and the American Veterinary Medical Association was established in 1863. Unfortunately, most of the schools that were established in the following years closed because they were so expensive. However, the field of veterinary medicine continued and its prospects are brighter today. More people are buying pets and they are increasingly willing to pay for their care. Technology for the care and treatment of livestock is making additional room for vets. The demand for other vet specialists, like ophthalmologists, exists primarily in urban areas. Most veterinarians prefer working in urban locations, which opens the field for farm animal vets.

Quality of Life


Very few vets leave the field at this time, as most are still completing their residencies. Their biggest decision is whether to specialize. Although many vets specialize right away, one experienced vet said it is much better to get your feet wet first before choosing a specialty.


Veterinary medicine is a career that most people stay in until they retire. Few vets leave the field entirely. Vets report high levels of satisfaction in diagnosing animals’ problems and caring for them, not to mention in earning the gratitude of the animals’ owners.


Occasionally, experienced vets take on assistants or begin teaching aspiring vets. Many vets find this a most rewarding time in their careers.