CAREERS: Veterinarian

Posted by on Nov 5, 2018 in Careers

Are you an animal lover? If so, it’s possible that you’ve thought about a career as a veterinarian. But is it enough just to love animals? While working with adorable pets comes with a lot of obvious advantages, there are also plenty of challenges. Here, we take a closer look.

Dog at the Veterinarian

Dog at the Veterinarian
Credit: Fuse/Corbis/Getty Images

What Is It?

A veterinarian is an animal doctor. Their job is to prevent and treat illnesses and injuries in animals. Their duties may include seeing and diagnosing animal patients, performing surgery, prescribing medications, giving vaccinations, and more. There are many different types of vets: some work with small animals, such as dogs and cats and other household pets, while large-animal veterinarians specialize in farm animals like cows and horses. Others focus on wildlife, and some even work in zoos, while others specialize in only exotic animals. Still others may not see animals at all, but instead choose to focus on research.

Education and Experience

A lot of education is required before you can become a veterinarian. First, you will need to earn a four-year, science-focused bachelor’s degree. From there, you must earn a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine. This is a three-year program: the first two years are spent in classroom study, and the third on clinical experience. After you’ve completed your formal education, you will also have to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam, plus any additional licensure requirements specific to your state, in order to receive your license to practice.

Aside from educational requirements, many skills are also necessary in order to become a successful veterinarian. Obviously, you must enjoy working with animals. But you will also need to be able to think critically and under pressure, make quick and sometimes difficult decisions, solve complex problems, and communicate well with people as well as animals. You will also need to be able to use computers, surgical equipment, lab equipment, and other technology.

Job Outlook

While all of these educational requirements may sound overwhelming, the good news is that job growth projections for vets are excellent. In fact, the number of jobs is expected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than the average for other occupations. In addition, vets can expect to make a good salary. In 2017, the average annual salary for a veterinarian was $90,420.

 Pros and Cons

A veterinarian’s job can be very rewarding. They get to spend all day working with animals. And the experience of performing treatment on an animal, or even saving its life, is very rewarding. Also, unlike doctors, vets often have the unique experience of getting to treat an animal for its entire lifespan, which allows vets to form special bonds with their animal patients.

However, the job also comes with plenty of challenges. Most veterinarians work long hours, and many make themselves available for emergencies 24 hours a day. This can make it difficult for some vets to establish a healthy work-life balance. Vets also run the risk of being bitten, scratched, or attacked by a frightened or sick animal.

Being a vet can also take a huge mental toll. Taking care of sick animals and consoling distraught owners can be emotionally taxing. And in addition, many vets experience what experts call “moral distress”–a tension between what they are asked to do, and what they know to be right. This may happen, for example, when an owner wants to put their pet to sleep because they don’t want to pay for the animal’s treatment. The opposite can also be true: vets struggle emotionally when they know that an animal is suffering and should be put to sleep, but the owner prefers to continue with treatment instead. This moral distress is a major contributor to the fact that the suicide rate for veterinarians is four times higher than the national average. To try to combat this, experts are calling for vet schools to focus more on teaching future veterinarians self-care and how to cope with moral distress.

What Do You Think? To better understand the concept of moral distress, imagine that you are a veterinarian. Your patient, a young dog, has a broken leg. Though this is a treatable injury, the dog’s owner doesn’t want to pay for it and asks that the dog be put to sleep instead. How do you respond?