Learn About Being a Veterinarian

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Person with a badge around their neck pets dog on left and bunny sits in front

In this article, we discuss what a veterinarian does, their average salary, the requirements needed to become one, their work environment and how to become one, an example of a veterinarian job description and related careers.

What does a veterinarian do?

A veterinarian is a medical practitioner who specializes in the treatment of animals. This includes diagnosing illnesses, treating and preventing diseases and tending to injuries. They administer vaccinations and medications and perform surgeries. They also perform routine wellness visits for animals and offer guidance to pet owners on how to provide the best care for their animals. Their responsibilities also include:

  • Examining and treating animals, testing and vaccinating for diseases and prescribing medication

  • Operating medical equipment such as X-ray machines

  • Cultivating positive relationships with customers and their animals through regular communication and detailed record-keeping

  • Euthanize animals if they cannot be treated

  • Educating clients on the importance of regular vaccinations and treatments for preventative care

  • Training veterinary assistants and other staff members

Related: What Is a Veterinarian?

Average salary

Salaries vary according to the veterinarian’s experience level and geographic location. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $120,330 per year

  • Some salaries range from $81,000 to $177,000 per year.

Related: How To Become a Veterinarian: Essential Steps and FAQs

Veterinarian requirements

Obtaining a position as a veterinarian involves certain requirements, including:

Education

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, veterinarians are required to have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M). Most veterinary schools don’t have a preferred area of discipline for the bachelor’s program but do have prerequisite science classes, such as biology, chemistry, physics and math. Different schools may have different requirements, and some may include advanced science courses like biochemistry, animal behavior and mammalogy as required prerequisite coursework. Many students obtain a bachelor’s degree in biological science before pursuing their D.V.M. 

After gaining admittance to veterinary school, students will spend the next four years studying veterinary medicine. The curriculum builds upon itself, year after year. The first two years include science courses, such as physiology, animal anatomy, virology and nutrition. The third year typically focuses on clinical studies and the fourth includes practicums or externships, where students can obtain supervised experience applying what they have learned throughout their studies.

Upon completing their studies, students must become licensed to practice veterinary medicine. All students must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), regardless of geographic location. There may also be additional state-specific exams required.

Training

Students often spend a year or more interning with an experienced veterinarian before pursuing a permanent position. The internship emphasizes mentorship, direct supervision and includes experiences like seminars, rounds and formal presentations. It gives the newly graduated veterinarian practical experience in applying knowledge obtained during the years spent in formal education.

Certifications

Some students pursue specializations in the field of veterinary medicine after graduation from their veterinary school. Some specialty areas include internal medicine, surgery, preventative medicine, pathology, behavior, dentistry, nutrition and toxicology. These programs require residency training to be eligible for certification. Each specialty organization has its own set of requirements that the student will need to follow to be eligible for the certification.

Skills

There are several skills that veterinarians need for success in that role. They include:

Communication skills

These include active listening, asking questions and being clear and succinct when giving instructions. Veterinarians must be able to actively listen when communicating with clients about the patient’s symptoms or regular behavior. They must also be cognizant of nonverbal cues to adjust the style of communication for the client. Giving clear communication is also essential in this role and is necessary when directing staff. Veterinarians must also give clear instructions to clients regarding vaccination schedules, proper administration of medications and feeding instructions.

Interpersonal skills

These skills include cooperation, emotional regulation and empathy. To work effectively with support staff and other veterinarians, they must have strong interpersonal skills and be able to cooperate and work with others. Empathy is also essential in this role, as they must show concern for both the animal patients and pet owners, especially in cases where no more treatment options are available and the veterinarian must advise euthanasia. 

Critical thinking

Veterinarians must be able to think critically when evaluating the patient’s symptoms, establishing a diagnosis and determining the best method of treatment. 

Problem-solving skills

On many occasions, veterinarians must act quickly to identify the problem and take action providing treatment. Strong problem-solving skills are necessary to identify the underlying problem and take decisive action.

Analytical skills

This refers to the ability to effectively research and analyze data. Veterinarians must analyze laboratory results after tests are performed and make diagnoses based on those results. 

Technical skills

Veterinarians must be proficient in using computers and other office equipment. They also must be able to operate medical equipment like x-ray machines

Veterinarian work environment

While some veterinarians work in settings in zoos, classrooms and laboratories, most veterinarians work in private clinics and hospitals with the following characteristics:

  • Extended periods of time standing

  • Communicating with other veterinarians as well as support staff

  • Communicating with clients

  • Using computers, printers, fax machines and other office equipment

  • Using X-ray generators and other laboratory equipment

  • Possible travel to farms and food-processing plants to inspect animal health or ensure the facility is following safety procedures

  • Travel to farms and ranches to treat animals, possibly performing surgery in remote locations

  • Possibly working nights and weekends to respond to after-hour care requests

How to become a veterinarian

These are the basic steps necessary to pursue a career in veterinary medicine:

1. Pursue an education.

To obtain a position as a veterinarian, you will be required to complete veterinary school and pass the NAVLE, acquiring your D.V.M. To qualify for veterinary school, you will typically be required to hold a bachelor’s degree and have passed several science courses. 

2. Obtain your license.

After finishing veterinary school, you will need to pass the NAVLE. Your state may also require other exams as well.

3. Obtain relevant experience.

After becoming licensed, you may want to pursue a specialization, applying for a residency program or apply for internships where you can apply the knowledge from your formal education in a clinic under the direct supervision of another veterinarian.

4. Update your resume.

Update your resume, including your highest level of education, your relevant work history and any special certifications you may have acquired in a residency program. When listing work history, include the name of the business, the dates of your employment and any responsibilities you held. Try to emphasize how those responsibilities helped to prepare you for the role to which you are currently applying.

5. Apply for a job.

Search for veterinary positions in your geographic area. Determine which ones fit your experience and education and apply using your newly-updated resume as well as a cover letter that you have customized for that specific role.

Veterinarian job description example

Noah’s Ark Veterinary Clinic is seeking a full-time experienced veterinarian to join our highly motivated staff. Our veterinarians are responsible for general medical care and surgeries for both companion animals and large animal patients. In addition to providing care during normal business hours, this person will also be expected to assist with urgent and after-hours emergency care, overnight care and farm calls. The ideal candidate will have a high level of confidence, excellent communication skills, a sense of humor and empathy. Experience with emergency medicine and surgery is preferred. The ideal candidate would also be able to work with little to no supervision and have experience directing support staff.

Related careers

  • Veterinary technician

  • Veterinary assistant

  • Physician

  • Pediatrician


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