Veterinarians are medical professionals who protect the health and well-being of both animals and people. They diagnose and control animal diseases and treat sick and injured animals. They also advise owners on proper care of their pets and livestock.
When taking the Veterinarian's Oath, a doctor solemnly swears to use his or her scientific knowledge and skills "for the benefit of society, through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge." They provide a wide range of services in private practice, teaching, research, government service, public health, military service, private industry, and other areas.
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In many respects a veterinarian is similar to a pediatrician. Animals cannot talk like human beings, and much of the clinical history is obtained from the owner or client, as a pediatrician would obtain from a child's parents. Excellent people skills and communication skills are required.
What cannot be obtained from the clinical history is acquired with the fingers, eyes, and smell. The ability to listen with a stethoscope and palpate with the fingers and hands will reveal much of the physical findings. The sense of smell is also important in detecting the fruity odor of the ketotic cow's breath, or the urea from the breath of a cat in renal failure.
What can not be revealed by the history and exam is further supported by diagnostic tests like blood work, urinalysis, and fecal exams. Veterinarians are well trained in laboratory medicine and parasitology.
The general practice veterinarian spends one third to one half of his or her time in surgery. Animal neutering operations are done in most veterinarians' offices. Many veterinarians also perform orthopedic procedures, bone setting, dentistry, and trauma surgery. Surgery requires good hand and eye coordination, and fine motor skills. A vet's job is similar to that of a human doctor.
When health problems arise, veterinarians diagnose the problem and treat the animal. Accurate diagnosis frequently requires laboratory tests, radiography, and specialized equipment. Treatments may involve a number of different procedures including emergency lifesaving techniques, prescribing medication, setting fractures, birthing, performing surgery, or advising an owner on feeding and care of the animal.
To prevent the introduction of foreign diseases, veterinarians employed by government agencies quarantine and inspect animals brought into the country from other countries. They supervise shipments of animals, test for the presence of diseases, and manage campaigns to prevent and eradicate many diseases such as tuberculosis, brucellosis and rabies, which threaten animal and human health.
Veterinarians in research look for better ways to prevent and solve animal and human health problems. Many problems, such as cancer and heart disease, are studied through the use of laboratory animals, which are carefully bred, raised, and maintained under the supervision of veterinarians.
There are many veterinarians that are professors, teaching at schools and universities of Veterinary medicine. In addition to teaching, Veterinary school faculty members conduct basic and clinical research, contribute to scientific publications, and develop continuing education programs to help graduate veterinarians acquire new knowledge and skills.
Veterinarians also work in the area of public health. They help to prevent and control animal and human diseases and promote good health. As epidemiologists they investigate animal and human disease outbreaks such as food-borne illness, influenza, plague, rabies, AIDS, and encephalitis. They evaluate the safety of food processing plants, restaurants, and water supplies. Veterinarians in environmental health programs study and evaluate the effects of various pesticides, industrial pollutants, and other contaminants on people as well as on animals.
As opposed to human medicine, general practice veterinarians greatly out-number veterinary specialists. Most veterinary specialists work at the veterinary school, or at a referral center in large cities. As opposed to human medicine, where each organ system has its own medical and surgical specialties, veterinarians often combine both the surgical and medical aspect of an organ system into one field. The specialties in veterinary medicine often encompass several medical and surgical specialties that are found in human medicine. Within each veterinary specialty, one will often find a separation of large animal medicine from small animal medicine. Some veterinary specialties are evolving, some are limited only in the teaching universities, and some are practiced only in the field.
The educational requirement for the veterinarian varies with each country. Typically, it takes from four years to eight years of education after graduating from high school to obtain a veterinary degree. The degree granted also varies with each country. Some grant the equivalent of a bachelor's degree, while others grant a doctorate degree. In the United States, holders of either degree are allowed to practice as a veterinarian if they succeed in passing a national and state board exam.
In the United States, veterinary schools are frequently state supported institutions. Each state's schools might be significantly different than that of another state, depending on the number of positions available, and the number of in-state applicants available. Because of this, veterinary school admission can be much more and yet much less competitive than other states. Ratio of applications to students accepted varies tremendously between each school, mostly due to the variation in the schools residency requirement. Options are available for students to apply to overseas schools, but graduates are often not regarded as highly if post-graduate training is desired. Entry into veterinary school in the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), MCAT, or VCAT. and other animal-related experience (typically 500 or more hours combined).
In the United States the average veterinary medical student has an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 and a GRE score of approximately 1350. In the U.S. and Canada, veterinary school lasts four years with at least one year being dedicated to clinical rotations. In the U.S., one can enter veterinary school after completing the pre-veterinary requirement in as little as two years, but most veterinary school applicants have completed a bachelor's degree before entry into the professional program. In many countries, the veterinary degree is granted after the completion of a bachelor's degree, and is not a post-graduate program as in the U.S. and Canada. Entry into veterinary school in the US often requires taking one of the three following tests: GRE (Graduate Record Examination), MCAT (Medical College Acceptance Test), or VCAT (Veterinary College Acceptance Test). After completion of the national board examination, some newly-accredited veterinarians choose to pursue residencies or internships in certain (usually more competitive) fields.
In India, the Veterinary medical degree is known as Bachelor of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry (B.V.Sc. and A.H.). The program lasts for a period of five years with 4.5 years of course work and six months of clinical and farm training internships. Admission to the Veterinary Colleges are through the tests conducted by the Agricultural and Veterinary Universities in the respective states or through a National Level Joint Entrance Test.
Small animal veterinarians typically work in veterinary clinics or veterinary hospitals, or both. Large animal veterinarians often spend more time traveling to see their patients at the primary facilities which house them (zoos, farms, etc).
As opposed to a human doctor's office, which only has exam rooms, a veterinarian's office is more like a hospital with a full pharmacy. Waiting rooms are available often with separate areas for dogs, cats, and exotics. Laboratory to include microscope, parasitology preps, chemistry analyzer, and blood count capability. A full surgery with orthopedic and general surgery packs, and general anesthesia equipment. A kennel for hospitalizing sick animals, and to quarantine infectious ones. An X-ray machine with a dark room for processing films can still be found, although digital radiographs are increasingly more commonplace. And finally, a full dispensary pharmacy with oral, topical, and injectible drugs.
In comparison to human medicine, veterinarians charge only a fraction for the services rendered.
Median salary for small animal exclusive veterinarians who do not own their practice ranges from US$70,000 to US$91,000. Owning a practice can earn a vet a median salary from US$55,000 to US$151,000 depending on experience and type of practice owned. The mean salary for new graduates in 2008 was US$48,328, but this included nearly 40% going on to advanced study programs. New small animal vets made just under US$65,000 on average. Vets in the UK do tend to make less than those in the US with new graduate wages starting at an average of £25000.
Note: If you are interested in animal health, but don't want to go through all it takes to become a veterinarian, there are schools for veterinary assistant training where you can also learn all about animal health, and animal care.