Veterinarians treat sick or injured animals. Some veterinarians utilize their skills and training to protect humans against animal diseases and conduct research to discover new methods to guard against animal diseases. Some veterinarians conduct research on animal health issues and attempt to improve treatment procedures.

Most veterinarians diagnose and treat animals with health problems, conduct vaccinations, administer medicine, perform surgery, and advise owners about animal feeding, behavior, and breeding.

According to the American Medical Veterinary Association, more than 70 percent of veterinarians run their own practices and treat small animals. They usually treat dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, rabbits, and other pets. About 25 percent of veterinarians work in mixed animal practices, treating pigs, goats, cattle, sheep, and some wild animals, as well as domesticated animals.

A minority of veterinarians work exclusively with large animals such as horses or cows. Large animal veterinarians usually travel to farms or ranches to provide veterinary services for cattle herds or horses. These veterinarians emphasize preventive care. Large animal veterinarians vaccinate animals against diseases and discuss animal breeding, feeding, and housing issues with farm or ranch owners. They treat and dress wounds, set splints, and perform surgery, including cesarean sections. Some veterinarians provide health services to laboratory, zoo, or aquarium animals.

Veterinarians use stethoscopes, surgical tools, and diagnostic equipment, including radiographic and ultrasound equipment. Veterinarians specializing in research use sophisticated laboratory equipment.

Veterinarians improve the health of people as well as animals. Some veterinarians collaborate with physicians and scientists as they research methods to prevent and treat human diseases. To illustrate, veterinarians contributed greatly in eradicating malaria and yellow fever, discovered botulism, produced an anticoagulant used to treat some people with heart disease, and improved surgical procedures for humans. Veterinarians also determine drug side effects, the potency of antibiotics, or new surgical techniques by experimenting on animals.

Some veterinarians specialize in food safety. Veterinarians inspecting livestock, check them for transmissible diseases, such as E. coli. Veterinarians employed as meat, poultry, or egg product inspectors examine slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for disease, and enforce government food safety regulations. Veterinarians are finding jobs in food security as they make sure the country has a safe and abundant food supply. Veterinarians specializing in food security usually work on the borders to inspect animal product imports and exports. The Department of Homeland Security or the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service division hire numerous veterinarians.

Work environment. Veterinarians with their own practice work long hours in a noisy indoor environment. They sometimes must deal with emotional or demanding pet owners. Working with frightened animals in pain can pose a safety risk to veterinarians.

Veterinarians in large-animal practice spend time traveling between their office and clients' ranches. They work outside in all types of weather and sometimes treat animals or perform surgery in an unsanitary environment.

Veterinarians working in public health and research, enjoy working conditions similar to people conducting lab research. These veterinarians work in clean, offices or laboratories and spend the majority of their time working with people.

Veterinarians sometimes work long hours. Veterinarians working in group practices can take turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend shifts. Those with their own practice may have to work nights and weekends and often respond to emergencies.

Career Training and Education

To become a certified veterinarian, you must complete a doctorate program in veterinary medicine (DVM). It takes 4 years to complete veterinary medical school. The Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes 28 veterinary medical schools. Most schools only admit applicants with bachelor's degrees, but certain schools admit students who’ve satisfied the prerequisite requirements.

Aspiring veterinarians not interested in animal care can specialize in environmental medicine, diagnostic pathology, immunology, toxicology, laboratory animal medicine, and molecular biology. Many veterinarians participate in medical research, aquaculture, and agriculture.

Contact the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and the American Veterinary Medical Association to learn more about veterinarian training and careers.

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