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Veterinary Career Guidance

We've collected a good bit of information about veterinary medicine and technician careers and education. Start planning your education today!

When you think of a veterinarian, what comes to mind? Usually you think of someone who treats household pets - everything from dogs and cats to rabbits and even pet snakes. These veterinarians are responsible for diagnosing sick or injured animals and prescribing medications or therapies to help heal them.

Other practioners in this field include veterinary technologists and technicians who are found working with veterinarians in private practices or emergency clinics, on farms, or even in research facilities. They perform many duties, such as performing lab tests or taking and reading x-rays, and are usually supervised by a licensed veterinarian.

Whether you choose to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, a Bachelor's degree or an Associates degree in veterinary/animal science, or enroll in a Pre-Vet program, you will find that classes are available at traditional colleges and universities as well as through online programs. These programs can vary in length, depending on the degree level that you are pursuing, however all are designed to provide you with the skills and training you need to successfully begin your career in the veterinary world upon your graduation.

Careers, Jobs, and Salaries for Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)

Most veterinarians work in private clinics, treating companion animals and/or livestock. Some veterinarians (called DVM's - Doctors of Veterinary Medicine), work in research, in human health research or in teaching.

Over half of all vets treat small animals - dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, rodents, etc. About one-quarter of vets work in mixed practices, seeing both pets and domestic animals (pigs, sheep, etc.). People bring their animal patients to the clinic for check-ups, vaccinations, surgeries, emergency care, and, when necessary, euthanasia. Vets also counsel pet owners on proper diet and care.

Some vets work exclusively with large animals; mostly cows and horses. These vets usually drive out to the farm or ranch to treat the animals. Much of their work focuses on preventive care, especially making sure food animals will be fit for slaughter and consumption. These vets may work odd hours and in unsanitary conditions when performing emergency surgeries, such as a cesarean section during birth. A small number of veterinarians work in zoos, aquariums, or research labs.

Vets often work long hours, especially in clinics that have 24-hour emergency on-call doctors. Weekend and evening work is common, especially for new vets. Being bitten, scratched, kicked, and otherwise injured by scared animals is common.

There were about 58,000 practicing DVM's in 2002. About 28% were self-employed. The average earnings were $63,090. Starting salaries averaged $46,339. Job outlook is good, however competition for entry into veterinary school is quite fierce.

Career Specialties in Veterinary Medicine

Are you considering applying to veterinary school? Did you know that your degree can get you jobs in areas other than as a veterinarian or veterinary technologist/technician? Below are just some examples of other professions that you can enter into with a degree in veterinary medicine.


Alternative Medicine


Also known as holistic health care, this practice encompasses disciplines such as chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy, and herbal therapy as well as many other related fields, such as massage therapy, Shiatsu, Reiki and other more esoteric fields.


Veterinary anesthesiologists are veterinarians who have graduated from veterinary school and have successfully completed advanced, formal training in anesthesiology. Anesthesiologists are trained in the management of animals who are rendered unconscious during diagnostic, therapeutic, and surgical procedures. Their profession is concerned with pain management, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and support, and care for critically ill and/or injured animals in special care units.


Understanding the behaviors of animals can be quite complex. If an animal is behaving in an unacceptable manner, it can put its owner or handler (or even itself) in danger. Knowing how animal behavior is affected by social, genetic, or environmental factors can help with understanding the relationship between these animals and humans or other animals. Individuals interested in the practice of animal behavior can work in various establishments or as consultants in their own practice. Credentials vary according to the type of work one chooses to do. A veterinarian can become board certified in animal behavior by the American Veterinary Medical Association while veterinary technicians can specialize in animal behavior, and animal trainers can obtain different levels of certification from various certifying bodies.


The work of a veterinary cardiologist involves the diagnosis and treatment of heart and large blood vessel disease. In addition, veterinary cardiologists also can work with diseases of the lungs and chest. Veterinary cardiologists have extensive training beyond veterinary school which includes extensive training in diagnostic imaging techniques and inverventional and medical treatments for heart and vascular diseases.

Clinical Pathology

Veterinarians who work as clinical pathologists perform laboratory work related to the diagnosis of diseases and the control of therapy of living animals.



Veterinarians who practice dentristry are focused on the prevention and remedy of dental problems in animals of all sizes and types. Like dentists for humans, animal dentists diagnose and treat oral infections and disease. They perform surgical extractions, reconstructive surgery, repair fractures, and provide treatments for other types of oral trauma as warranted.


Veterinary dermatologists have expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of benign and malignant disorders of the skin, mouth, hair and nails. They have extensive training in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious and non-infectious skin diseases, allergic disorders, systemic diseases, parasitic skin diseases, autoimmune diseases, various types of skin cancer, and tumors and cysts of the skin.


In the field of veterinary genetics, professionals study the genetic background of factors that increase or decrease an animal's health (i.e.: resistance to infection, genetic disorders, etc.). They use modeling techniques to study possible future scenarios and gain insight into the influence of selection on physical processes that occur in the animals across generations. Often, veterinary geneticists work with people in adjacent fields such as molecular genetics, immunology, and epidemiology.



Veterinarians who specialize in nutrition have the responsibility of maintaining optimum animal health through adequate nutrition. They deal with nutrition in relation to infection, injury, disease, and aging. They also ensure proper nutrition for breeding animals. Their work can be done in animal practices, hospitals, or in companies that produce feed items for animals of all types.



Veterinary oncologists work to diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer in animals. Their job often requires that they team up with internists, pathologists, pharmacologists, radiologists, surgeons, and general practitioners to ensure proper treatments for their animal patients who have cancer.




While many eye problems found in animals are managed by general veterinarians, some situations call for the care of an eye expert - or ophthalmologist. A veterinary opthalmologist typically treats problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, retinal diseases, severe injuries, and cancer of the eye.



Veterinarians who specialize in pathology or pathobiology study the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development and consequences.




Veterinary pharmacologists work with other veterinarians to ensure the proper selection of drug therapies and dosages for various illnesses. They also can be found working in the pharmaceutical industry developing new therapies and analyzing proper dosages prior to a drug's market introduction.


Veterinary Career Statistics

  • For those interested in veterinary technology, completion of a two- or four-year program and passing a state test is usually all that is required.
  • Employment for techs is expected to grow much faster than average. In 2002, there were 53,000 veterinary technicians in the US.
  • Vet techs sometimes work overnight shifts, especially in animal hospitals and in shelters.
  • Vet techs earned an average salary of $22,950 in 2002.
  • Veterinarians must graduate from an accredited school and obtain state licensing in order to practice.
  • Over half of veterinarians in private practices primarily treat small animals.
  • There were about 58,000 veterinarians in 2002; 28% of them were self-employed, either in independent or in group practices.
  • The federal government employs some 1,100 veterinarians - most of them work for the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.
  • Some veterinarians working in rural areas will drive out to farms to treat livestock.
  • Veterinarians can also work in zoos, aquariums, and research labs.
  • The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes several specialty areas, including anesthesiology, exotic small-animal medicine, preventive medicine, surgery, and more.

Choosing a Veterinary School

Students interested in a veterinary career generally can choose between becoming a veterinary technician (sometimes referred to as a veterinary nurse) or a doctor of veterinary medicine. An aspiring doctor must receive post-graduate education at a veterinary school, while one wishing to become a veterinary technician can work toward a certificate, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree. The degree pursued ought to fall in line with the licensure requirements held by the state in which one plans to practice.

Whether working toward becoming a doctor or technician, the animal-minded should look for a school that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Instructors should be licensed in their field and have significant experience in the industry. A school should offer substantial student support services, such as counseling, as well as career placement.

Hands-on instruction and clinical practice are both very important to a veterinary education. Students should ask how much of the program is dedicated solely to classroom instruction and how much is devoted to time with patients. In addition, if one is interested in a particular specialization, she should look into those programs and consider how in-depth it is, as well as how much time it will add to the overall length of the program.

Degrees in Veterinary

To work as a veterinarian, individuals must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) degree from a program accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and receive a state license.

Not all veterinary colleges require a bachelor's degree for admission, though all require a specific number of undergraduate credit hours and pre-veterinary courses in subjects such as organic chemistry, biology, zoology, and physiology. Most schools also require a certain number of credit hours in core subject courses, such as math and English.

Another requirement for admission to a veterinary program is a satisfactory score on a graduate exam, such as the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Testing requirements vary school-to-school.

After completing the four-year DVM program, many veterinarians seek out a specialty and complete a two-year internship. Specialties are available in a variety of areas, including laboratory animal medicine, preventative medicine, surgery, radiology, nutrition, dentistry, pathology, ophthalmology, oncology, and internal medicine. To become board certified in their particular specialty, veterinarians must complete a three- or four-year residency program.

All states and the District of Columbia require veterinarians to be licensed before they are able to practice. Specific requirements vary in each state, though all states require the DVM or MVD degree and the passing of the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). Most states also require a state jurisprudence exam, as well.


Veterinary School Continuing Education

Continuing education in a popular choice and is often required as most states require continuing education of licensed veterinarians. Requirements are different in each state and can entail taking courses and passing board exams. This makes sure that veterinarians stay abreast of the latest advances in animal healthcare and it ensures that they practice according to the current standards of veterinary medicine. Additionally, Veterinary Technicians also benefit from furthering their education as they can move beyond a certification to a bachelor's degree or even to a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine.

Veterinary professionals will not find themselves struggling to find continuing education opportunities. Many colleges and universities feature continuing veterinary education and some courses are available online, to provide maximum convenience and flexibility. In some cases, classes, conferences, and workshops offered by recognized veterinary organizations count as continuing education.

Some areas of study related to continuing veterinary education include:

  • Anesthesiology
  • Behavior
  • Dentistry
  • Dermatology
  • Nutrition
  • Pharmacology

Top 10 Qualities of a Great Veterinarian

A great veterinarian is held in the highest regard by animal lovers and pet owners. They provide much needed preventative and emergency care to beloved dogs, cats, horses, and other animals. To be the most successful in the field, a great veterinarian should have:


  • 1. Business Acumen: A great veterinarian has sharp business skills and can manage finances and other requirements a veterinary clinic demands.

  • 2. Communication Skills: A great veterinarian has excellent communication skills and can talk effectively with pet owners to determine exactly what the animal needs, as well as explain clearly to the owner what the diagnosis is and what the treatment will be.

  • 3. Compassion: A great veterinarian is very compassionate, both for animals and their owners. They are able to put animals and their owners at ease during a visit.

  • 4. Customer Service Skills: A great veterinarian has excellent customer service skills and can satisfy the animal care needs of pet owners.

  • 5. Dedication: A great veterinarian has an excellent sense of dedication to the profession and the hours of study it requires, both in college and in continuing education courses.

  • 6. Good Manual Dexterity: A great veterinarian has great manual dexterity and is able to restrain various-sized animals as necessary and perform intricate procedures and surgical maneuvers with ease.

  • 7. Passion for Animals: A great veterinarian is passionate about animals and committed to providing them the best care.

  • 8. Quick Decision Making Skills: A great veterinarian is able to respond quickly in emergency situations and make decisions quickly as necessary.

  • 9. Thorough Knowledge: A great veterinarian has thorough knowledge of the anatomy, ailments, and behaviors of the dozens of different animals they treat.

  • 10. Time Management Skills: A great veterinarian has excellent time management skills and is able to balance the demands of a filled appointment schedule.

Veterinarian & Veterinary Technician Associations

One of the best ways to get good information about careers, schools, mentoring, and job options is through professional orgaanizations. Check out the professional veterinary associations we've included here.


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  • The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC)
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