How To Become a Marine Veterinarian

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 5, 2021

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.

Those who love sea creatures and science may want to consider a career as a marine veterinarian. Like other veterinarians, marine veterinarians use their expertise to treat and save animal lives, but they have a specific focus on aquatic animals. Learning about what a marine veterinarian does and the requirements to become one can help you decide if it's the right career for you. In this article, we explore what a marine veterinarian is, discuss their skills and duties and share steps for how to become a marine veterinarian.

What is a marine veterinarian?

A marine veterinarian, or aquatic veterinarian, is a medical professional who provides healthcare for marine animals such as fish, whales, dolphins, sea lions, turtles, octopuses, jellyfish and lobsters. Marine veterinarians diagnose illnesses and diseases, provide treatment and execute programs for the prevention and control of disease in marine animal species. Typical work environments for a marine veterinarian include aquariums, zoos and wildlife rehabilitation centers.

Related: What Is a Veterinarian?

What does a marine veterinarian do?

A marine veterinarian's job varies based on their employment setting and the types of animals they work with. However, some common marine veterinarian job duties include:

  • Giving routine vaccinations to animals

  • Providing follow-up exams after a treatment

  • Observing and evaluating an animal's behavior

  • Suggesting and providing prescription medication

  • Performing surgeries

  • Keeping patient records up to date

  • Taking and analyzing blood and tissue samples

  • Performing X-rays and other diagnostic treatments

  • Treating and dressing wounds

How to become a marine veterinarian

You can follow these nine steps to become a marine veterinarian:

1. Complete a bachelor's degree

To prepare for veterinary school, complete a bachelor's degree and maintain good grades. When selecting courses, focus on science-related classes such as biology, chemistry and environmental studies. Majors and specialties that future marine veterinarians typically pursue include:

  • Animal science

  • Biomedical science

  • Marine biology

  • Molecular biology

  • Zoology

2. Attend veterinary school

Marine veterinarians hold a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from an accredited university. The first half of your learning experience at veterinary school involves learning about anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pathology and imaging. Toward the end of your study, you take part in clinical rotations.

Related: Q&A: How Long Is Veterinarian School?

3. Choose a specialization

Toward the end of your doctorate program, your school may require you to pick an area to specialize in. Some categories for future marine veterinarians include:

  • Aquaculture medicine: This specialty focuses on the treatment of fish diseases, often within the fish farming industry.

  • Clinical research: These experts determine the effectiveness and safety of medications, healthcare devices and treatment regimens that marine veterinarians use.

  • Emergency and critical care: Those in this discipline learn to treat animals with life-threatening conditions or serious injuries that require immediate medical attention.

  • Ophthalmology: Veterinary ophthalmologists focus on treatment of the eye, including surgeries and preventive treatments.

  • Oncology: Veterinary oncologists deal with prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in animals.

  • Surgery: Surgical experts focus on routine and complex surgeries for marine animals.

  • Zoological medicine: In this specialty, students learn to provide care for wildlife and address their needs.

4. Gain experience

After completing veterinary school, gain experience through an internship or a residency program. These opportunities help you practice what you learned in a veterinary hospital or clinic setting. Look for internship or residency opportunities at aquariums, zoos or wildlife rehabilitation centers in order to increase your chances or working with marine animals.

5. Get your state license

In order to practice on animals, earn your state license. Because each state has different requirements for becoming licensed, research online to see your state's criteria.

6. Pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE)

Along with earning a state license, marine veterinarians need to pass the North American Veterinary License Exam (NAVLE). The NAVLE is a six-hour exam composed of 360 multiple-choice questions on all animal species.

Related: How To Become a Veterinarian

7. Earn certifications

Although not always required for certain jobs, you can get an aquatic medicine certification through the American College of Zoological Medicine Board or a fish pathology certification through the American Fisheries Association. Having a certification demonstrates your specialized knowledge and may offer a chance to work in a position with a higher salary. Prerequisites for certification typically include several years of work experience and passing an exam.

8. Find employment

After completing your education and either an internship or a residency, you can begin searching for a full-time job. Consider researching and practicing both marine and general veterinarian interview questions and using networking platforms to connect with professionals and organizations of interest.

Related: 35 Veterinary Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

9. Continue learning

Working as a marine veterinarian is a role that requires continual education. Some jobs may require on-the-job training, and certain licenses require continual training in order to renew. You might consider joining professional associations in order to attend conferences and other educational events. These efforts help you stay up-to-date on research and discoveries in your specific area of study so you are knowledgeable on the latest trends.

Skills for a marine veterinarian

To provide animals with the treatment and care they need, marine veterinarians possess certain qualities. Here are some skills of successful marine veterinarians:

  • Swimming and scuba diving: To observe and treat animals in their natural habitat, marine veterinarians sometimes go underwater.

  • Critical thinking: When determining what is wrong with an animal and what treatment options to pursue, a marine veterinarian uses analytical and medical knowledge to decide the best course of action.

  • Effective communication: To share their findings and patient records, marine veterinarians write reports and speak with colleagues regularly.

  • Observation: Since they monitor animals after surgeries and treatments, marine veterinarians pay attention to details and note all observations they make.

  • Calm composure: In order to treat animals in stressful situations, successful marine veterinarians are able to remain calm and focused on their work.

  • Physical stamina: Working on their feet, swimming and handling large animals are all common aspects of a marine veterinarian's job, so physical stamina is helpful when completing these daily tasks.

Related: Veterinarian Skills: Definition and Examples

Marine veterinarian salary and job outlook

On average, a veterinarian makes $102,409 per year. Salaries depend on a marine veterinarian's level of experience, location and certifications. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job outlook for veterinarians to grow 16% from 2019 to 2029. This rate is faster than the average job outlook growth due to advances in modern veterinary medicine and the limited number of graduates from veterinarian programs. Marine veterinarian positions in particular are growing because of the increased interest in aquariums and marine parks.

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