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By T. J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
Many are the times someone, usually a person in high school, will inquire "How do I go about becoming a veterinarian? What do you have to do to become a veterinarian?" My answer always seems to be inadequate, partly because veterinarians are engaged in such a wide variety of activities and disciplines within the profession. When the eight years of college study are completed and the degree "Doctor of Veterinary Medicine" is earned, the individual has numerous types of employment niches awaiting his or her skills.
The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), which is one of many veterinary medical associations, has a very informative free brochure called Today's Veterinarian; you can access it here (PDF).
The statistics below are from the AVMA website. It shows the various "kinds" of veterinarians that are engaged in diverse occupations.
I, for example, chose to become a "Small Animal Practitioner," which means I work mostly with small companion animals such as dogs and cats. Some small animal practitioners also work on birds, snakes and other reptiles, and pocket pets such as hamsters, and other caged pets.
A "Large Animal Practitioner" refers to those who work with farm animals such as cattle, horses, Llamas and some large wildlife. Zoo practitioners are responsible for the health of a wide variety of reptiles, mammals, birds and fish that populate zoos.
A "Mixed Animal Practitioner" works with both small and large animals.
Veterinarians work in academic settings, too, and many are employed by universities to teach both human medical and veterinary medical students. Many do research within the university setting and publish their findings in medical journals.
"Industry Veterinarians" work for corporate employers in various roles including research, drug development, instrument design and development, food science, and other activities relating to Research to improve medications is done by veterinariansthe animal industries. Many veterinarians are government employees, too, working to safeguard the nation's food supplies and the "farm to home" food chain. Analysis and evaluation of animal diseases that could impact human health, such as Rabies and Avian Flu are an important part of our national security.
Military veterinarians are part of the US Military and are responsible for keeping military dogs healthy and they care for the military personnel's family pets while on active duty.
If you are planning to become a veterinarian someday, keep in mind that due to the limited number of universities that offer a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree. It may be difficult to obtain acceptance to even one of approximately 23 Universities in the USA that offer the DVM curriculum. It is said that for every seven qualified applicants for veterinary school only one will be accepted.
I gave the following answers to a high school student's questions for a report on what it is like to be a veterinarian ...