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Veterinary Medicine

Significant Points
In American and Canadian English, a veterinarian (from Latin veterinae, "draught animals") is an animal doctor, a practitioner of veterinary medicine. The equivalent term in British English is veterinary surgeon, and both terms are often shortened to vet. The word "veterinarian" was first used in English by the doctor Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682).

Nature of the Work
Although veterinarians do hold a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine (in the United States and Canada, at least), not all veterinarians enter clinical practice. Those that do practice medicine in fields, such as companion animal or "pet" medicine, reptile medicine, ratite medicine, livestock medicine, equine medicine (sports or race track or show or rodeo medicine, etc.), or laboratory animal medicine. Other veterinarians may enter a research field to study an area of medical, veterinary medical, or pharmacological research. Research veterinarians were the first to isolate oncoviruses, Salmonella species, Brucella species, and various other pathogenic agents. They also helped conquer malaria and yellow fever, solved the mystery of botulism, produced an anticoagulant used to treat some people with heart disease, and defined and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip-joint replacement and limb and organ transplants.

Like all physicians, veterinarians must make ethical judgments, such as whether or not to perform debarking procedures. There is also ongoing discussion over the ethics of performing procedures such as declawing cats or docking tails or cropping ears in dogs. In some countries, these procedures are illegal.

Working Conditions
Most general practice work is undertaken either in the surgery in consultations with owners and their animals, or in animals' living environments, for example in farms, stables or owners' homes.

Typical work activities include:
* handling, examining and treating all species of animals, primarily pets, companion animals, farm livestock and horses;
* meeting and consulting with owners;
* carrying out diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, blood samples and ultra-sound;
* giving advice to farmers on issues such as breeding, nutrition and herd health;
* undertaking routine visits to farms to check the health of livestock;
* immunising animals against different forms of disease;
* euthanasing old, sick or terminally ill or unwanted animals;
* performing surgery, including anaesthesia;
* caring for in-patient animals, including examining and advising on treatment;
* dealing with out-of-hours emergencies when on call;
* providing suitable paperwork for animals travelling abroad;
* inserting identification microchips into animals;
* maintaining records, raising and forwarding reports and certificates in compliance with current legislation;
* liaising with and referring to other professionals.

Vets working as practice partners will have the additional responsibility of managing practice finances, promoting the surgery to potential clients, and recruiting and managing veterinary surgeons, nurses and receptionists.

Vets working for government agencies may research disease, test for and manage infection outbreaks or food safety, and complete paperwork for pet passports.

More than 3,800 veterinarians in the USA currently work at veterinary schools where they teach student vets what they need to know to graduate — teaching is another career path for a veterinarian.

Public health medicine is another option for veterinarians. Veterinarians in government and private laboratories provide diagnostic and testing services. Some veterinarians serve as state epidemiologists, directors of environmental health, and directors of state or city public health departments. Veterinarians are also employed by the US Agriculture Research Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, National Library of Medicine, and National Institutes of Health. The military also employs veterinarians in a number of capacities — caring for pets on military bases, caring for military working animals, and controlling various arthropod-borne diseases or other such things.

Some veterinarians work in a field called regulatory medicine — ensuring the nation's food safety by working with the USDA FSIS, or work by protecting us from imported exotic animal diseases by working for the USDA APHIS. The emerging field of conservation medicine involves veterinarians even more directly with human health care, providing a multidisciplinary approach to medical research that also involves environmental scientists.

Admission into veterinary medical school is so competitive that in the United States it is far easier to gain acceptance into either a medical school or a top Law School than to meet the GPA requirements for most veterinary schools. [citation needed] This situation occurs mostly because there are far fewer schools, allowing the schools to be much more selective. According to the US Department of Labor, only 1 in 3 applicants was accepted into a veterinary program in 2002. Prerequisites for admission include the undergraduate studies listed under veterinary medicine and extensive veterinary experience (typically about 500 or more hours) in private practice or other veterinary environment. The average veterinary medical student has an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 and a GRE score of approximately 1800. US graduates are awarded either a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or the less common Veterinary Medical Doctor (VMD) degree, depending upon the traditions of the veterinary school.

There is some reciprocal international recognition of veterinary degrees. For example, veterinarians with degrees from the UK or New Zealand are immediately allowed to practice in Australia whereas vets with degrees from other countries are usually required to pass a set of qualifying exams before being allowed to practice. Veterinarians graduating from AVMA accredited universities, (e.g. University of Glasgow, Royal Veterinary College, Utrecht etc) may work in the USA after passing the NAVLE, a veterinary licensing exam taken by all American veterinarians. Non-AVMA accredited university graduates must also sit a week long Clinical Proficiency Examination in order to work in the USA. Veterinarians who have graduated from an AVMA accredited University are eligible to practice in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Canada, and the United States. Australia currently has five Universities offering veterinary degrees - University of Sydney, Murdoch University, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, and Charles Sturt University. James Cook University is a sixth University that prepared for its first intake of vet students at the end of 2005.

Other Qualifications
Before graduate veterinarians can engage in private clinical practice in any state, they must acquire a license issued by that state. A license is granted only to veterinarians who pass state-required examinations.

New graduate veterinarians may enter private clinical practice, usually as employees in an established practice or private industry, or become employees of the U.S. government as meat and poultry inspectors, disease control workers, or commissioned officers in the U.S. Public Health Service or the military. New graduates many also enter internships and residencies at veterinary colleges and large private and public veterinary practices.

Veterinarians do not have to complete an internship before beginning practice. However, many internship and residency programs do exist, and an increasing number of new veterinarians are taking advantage of them to sharpen their skills or to achieve advanced qualification or specialty certification.

For positions in research and teaching, a master's or Ph.D. degree is usually required. Veterinarians who seek specialty board certification in one of the 20 specialty fields, such as ophthalmology, pathology, surgery, radiology, or laboratory animal medicine, must complete 2- to 5-year residency programs and must pass an examination.

Continuing education is important, even after veterinarians have completed their college studies and acquired the appropriate licenses. New scientific knowledge and techniques are constantly being developed, and veterinarians must keep up to date by reading scientific journals and attending professional meetings and seminars. Approximately half the states require veterinarians to attend continuing education courses to maintain their licenses.


Job Outlook
Employment and practice ownership opportunities for veterinarians are expected to grow similarly to those for all occupations through the year 2005. The number of pets is expected remain stable. Rising incomes and education and the movement of baby boomers into the 34- to 59-year age group, in which pet ownership has been associated, is expected to offset slight declines in the percent of households that own pets. Single adults and senior citizens also have come to appreciate animal companionship. Seemingly, pet owners may be willing to pay for more elective and intensive care than they have in the past. In addition, emphasis on scientific methods of breeding and raising livestock, poultry, and fish and continued support for public health and disease control programs will contribute to the demand for veterinarians.

The employment outlook is especially good for veterinarians with specialty training. Demand for specialists in many areas including toxicology, laboratory animal medicine, and pathology is expected to increase. Most jobs for specialists will be in metropolitan areas. The need for veterinarians who concentrate on environmental and public health, aquaculture, and food animal practice appears to be strong.

Approximately 50% of veterinarians are self employed practice owners. The remainder are employees of private practices, industry, governmental agencies, or schools and universities. Generally, the veterinary medical profession is growing approximately 3% per year.

The veterinary profession's greatest potential growth is in positions in which specifications prefer or require postgraduate education in molecular biology, laboratory animal medicine, toxicology, immunology, diagnostic pathology, environmental medicine, or other specialties.

In addition, the veterinary profession is becoming more involved in aquaculture, comparative medical research, and international disease control and food production programs.

Median annual earnings of veterinarians were $66,590 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $51,420 and $88,060. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $118,430.

According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, average starting salaries of veterinary medical college graduates in 2004 varied by type of practice as follows:

Small animals, predominantly
Small animals, exclusively
Large animals, exclusively
Private clinical practice
Large animals, predominantly
Mixed animals
Equine (horses)


The average annual salary for veterinarians in the Federal Government in nonsupervisory, supervisory, and managerial positions was $78,769 in 2005.

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Sources of Additional Information

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