Veterinary Medicine Careers

Veterinary Medicine Careers

Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, is a very versatile career path. Just think of all the different types of animals that exist on the planet.

No matter your specialization -- be it cats and dogs and other companion animals, exotic animals like alligators and ostriches, cattle livestock, aquatic animals, or horses -- there are a number of directions to take your veterinary career.

First, what kind of veterinary work you want to do? If you want to be a veterinary doctor you’ll need to start with a post-graduate degree called a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

If you're more interested in assisting a doctor you can choose between becoming a veterinary technician (2-year degree) or a veterinary technologist (4-year degree).

Besides your basic educational requirements, you’ll also need to decide whether to specialize in a particular species like horses (equine), or work more broadly as a general veterinary practitioner.

Specialization will require different internship and residency requirements, which can be competitive and will often require the more intense DVM degree.

4 Industry Specializations in the Veterinary Sciences

Livestock Inspectors

Ranches, farms and food processing plants all require the expertise of a trained veterinarian who specializes in food animals.

Vets who work as livestock inspectors help ensure public health by making sure that the animals we eat are not diseased and are healthy enough for human consumption.

From cows and pigs to chickens and ducks, a livestock inspector plays a tremendously important role in monitoring and attending to the health and safety of our animal food supply.

Since their job impacts the safety of the national food chain, livestock inspectors require additional certification and accreditation through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Private Practice

Private practice vets diagnose and treat diseases and dysfunctions in pets, zoo animals, racetrack horses, laboratory animals and livestock animals.

Veterinarians working in private practice should have great communication skills and love working with animals. (See the Top 10 Qualities of a Great Veterinarian) Since vets talk to people who are often stressed and worried about their animals, it’s important for veterinarians to be as good at calming the owners, as they are good at treating the sick or hurt animal.

To become a private practice vet, students first need to graduate from an accredited college of veterinary medicine with a DVM and then get licensed in the state where they choose to practice.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that continuing job opportunities for veterinarians should be excellent, and that 80% of veterinarians work in private practice.


Like other veterinarians, an equine or horse veterinarian has earned a DVM degree. After getting the basic veterinary degree, an equine vet also needs to pass licensing exams in his or her state.

Equine vets work closely with horse breeders, racehorses and trainers, as well as ranchers, to keep horses healthy and strong. Equine vets also treat and operate on sick and injured horses.

Horse vets consult with owners about diet, breeding, stable conditions and horse performance. Most horse vets have an educational background in a science like chemistry, zoology, math, or biology as well as a DVM degree.

Besides the standard vet degree, a horse veterinarian also need to pass licensing exams and often must fulfill additional one-year long internships.

Some veterinary technologists and technicians who do not hold DVMs work to assist horse veterinarians with lab tests, diagnosis, and treatment.

Zoo Veterinarian

A zoo veterinarian does a lot of things a private practice veterinarian does, the exception of course is that this type of vet works with a lot of exotic species.

A zoo vet gives animals vaccinations, health exams, and advises on animal housing and husbandry practices. He or she is also involved in designing new exhibit areas and sedating animals before radiographs or physical examinations.

Zoo vets require the same four-year DVM degree as other vets. Additionally, some zoos require additional internships and residencies that last for several years. Students can also pursue further education in this field through the American College of Zoological Medicine.

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