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Profession Overview

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.

Veterinarian Overview

Veterinarians typically do the following:

  • Examine animals to diagnose their health problems.
  • Diagnose and treat animals for medical conditions.
  • Treat and dress wounds.
  • Perform surgery on animals.
  • Test for and vaccinate against diseases.
  • Operate medical equipment, such as x-ray machines.
  • Advise animal owners about general care, medical conditions, and treatments.
  • Prescribe medication.
  • Euthanize animals. 

Veterinarians in private clinical practices treat the injuries and illnesses of pets and other animals with a variety of medical equipment, including surgical tools and x-ray and ultrasound machines. They provide treatment for animals that is similar to the services a physician provides to treat humans.

There are several types of veterinarians, including companion animal veterinarians, equine veterinarians, food animal veterinarians, food safety and inspection veterinarians, and research veterinarians.

Is veterinary medicine a possible career path for you?

Do you have the following qualities? If so, veterinary medicine might be a good fit for you!

  • Compassion: Veterinarians must be compassionate when working with animals and their owners. They must treat animals with kindness and respect, and must be sensitive when dealing with the owners of sick pets.
  • Decision-making skills: Veterinarians must decide the correct method for treating the injuries and illnesses of animals. Deciding to euthanize a sick animal, for instance, can be difficult.
  • Interpersonal skills: Strong communication skills are essential for veterinarians, who must be able to discuss their recommendations and explain treatment options to animal owners and give instructions to their staff.
  • Management skills: Management skills are important for veterinarians who are in charge of running private clinics or laboratories, or directing teams of technicians or inspectors. In these settings, they are responsible for providing direction, delegating work, and overseeing daily operations.
  • Manual dexterity: Manual dexterity is important for veterinarians, because they must control their hand movements and be precise when treating injuries and performing surgery.
  • Problem-solving skills: Veterinarians need strong problem-solving skills because they must figure out what is ailing animals. Those who test animals to determine the effects of drug therapies also need excellent diagnostic skills.

Professional Education

Degrees Offered

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)

Years of Study

Four years. A BS/BA degree is recommended but not required for admission to the majority of programs.


Graduates of accredited DVM programs must pass a state licensure exam in order to practice.

Choosing a Veterinary Medicine Program

Choose a program carefully based upon factors that are important to your own learning needs. Consider program content, geographic location, faculty; facilities, experiential training opportunities, class size, student demographics, extracurricular opportunities, and cost.

For state-supported public institutions, legal residence may have a significant impact on admissions decisions. Private institutions may offer out-of-state and foreign applicants a greater number of positions as compared to state-supported, public institutions.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook