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Almost everyone likes animals. Some love tropical fish, while others just couldn't function without a dog by their side. Others enjoy feeding birds at feeders, or riding horses on a farm. But when these beloved animals fall ill, even the most devoted pet owner can be at a loss. That is the cue for the veterinarian to step in, and nurse that animal to health.

Veterinarians are trained professionals who diagnose and treat animal diseases and injuries. Veterinarians usually specialize in one type of animal care. Some work exclusively with food-producing animals, domestic pets, exotic birds and animals, wildlife and alternative livestock, or horses. Others specialize in nutrition, research, reproduction, or surgery.

The veterinarians who work with smaller animals, like dogs, cats, rodents, and turtles are most often found in cities, as they treat mostly pets. Pet owners bring their animals to the clinic, where they are examined, have blood or x-rays taken, operated on, and vaccinated. They are also responsible for educating pet owners about feeding and caring for their animals. These vets are often asked to euthanize very sick, old, or unwanted animals.

Rural veterinarians treat farm animals in much the same way as city vets do, except that they take their expertise to the animals. They do much of their work in large factory farms, where the animals are at greater risk of infection or disease.

Most veterinarians run their own small business, or work under the supervision of a small business owner. This means they take care of the administrative duties like inventory, marketing, finances, and advertising.

When veterinarians don't work within a private practice, they may work with companies that develop food and medication for animals. Others work as inspection officers, tracking livestock diseases. These research jobs are less hands-on than working closely with animals and their families, but are just as important. Unless veterinarians understand animal illnesses, they will be unable to treat them.
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San Joaquin Valley College

San Joaquin Valley College - A Private Junior College.

Programs Offered:
  • Degree - Veterinary Technology



  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Veterinarians must enjoy being with animals, and be confident in their ability to relate to them. They should be strong, with good powers of observation and communication--they should be able to speak with the animals, but also the animal owners and other staff. Veterinarians must be willing to learn new things, and interested in working hard until they get a problem solved. They are able to work independently and as part of a team, and they are able to make good decisions, even under pressure. They should be sensitive, dedicated, and loyal as well as patient. An interest in business is important for veterinarians who choose to open their own practice.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Perform routine, emergency and post-mortem examinations
  • Diagnose illnesses by collecting and analyzing body tissue, feces, blood, and urine
  • Take x-rays
  • Advise pet owners and farmers on nutrition, hygiene, and other aspects of health care and herd health
  • Inoculate animals against infectious diseases
  • Prescribe medications and treatments
  • Perform surgery on animals, and provide obstetrical and dental services
  • Keep records of sick animals
  • Provide euthanasia services when necessary
  • The typical day for a vet involves working closely with animals, either in a city clinic or on farms. Each day is different, including many examinations, diagnoses, and prescriptions. Some days will involve emergency situations and euthanasia--not every day is successful in the world of a veterinarian. They work with a variety of people, and if they are rural vets, they travel continuously throughout their community.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Veterinarians are self-employed, or work for an established vet as an assistant or support vet. Some work in animal shelters or zoos. They work in clean, comfortable clinics and offices, as well as in farm situations, where they treat their patients out of a mobile unit. They often work weekends or after-hours, and can be called on in the middle of the night to handle emergencies. Those who work in research facilities generally work more regular hours in labs and offices. They work with assistants and other scientists.
  • The work can be dangerous for all veterinarians, as they are exposed to radiation, diseases, and angry, sick, and frightened animals.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Veterinarians can open their own practice, or may become a manager of a large clinic or animal shelter. They may choose to breed, train, or judge animal shows. They can get into retail by opening up a pet food and supply store, or by selling animal pharmaceuticals or nutritional supplements for a manufacturer. They can become animal scientists, consultants to farmers, or work with the government as inspectors.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a veterinarian is much like becoming a medical doctor. After completing at least two years of studies in agriculture or science (a four-year bachelor's degree is recommended) prospective veterinarians need to complete a four-year program in order to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). They can also pursue programs in advanced veterinary research, veterinary surgery, veterinary anatomy, or herd medicine. To work as a vet, one must pass the national board exams for veterinary medicine, and become a member of the veterinary medical association in the region where they want to practice.

Before heading off to school for a science degree, it is a good idea to spend some time in a vet's office or animal shelter. It is tough to get into veterinary college, so the more experience one can put on their application, the better.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

Featured Schools

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San Joaquin Valley College

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Programs Offered:
  • Degree - Veterinary Technology

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Programs Offered:
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UEI College

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American University

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Be a part of something bigger than yourself.

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