Veterinarian Career Guide 2024

Table of Contents

Veterinarian Salary in United States for 2023

Average Annual Salary: $103,260 Hourly Rate: $49.64

Data sourced from the U.S. Department of Labor via the ONET Web API. Updated at December 8, 2023

Best Colleges and Universities for Veterinarians in 2023

Best College Majors for Veterinarians in 2023

Projected Job Employment for Veterinarian:

Estimated YearProjected YearEstimated EmploymentProjected Employment% ChangeProjected Annual Job Opening

Veterinarian Career Path Overview

Entering the field of veterinary medicine is an exciting and rewarding career choice for those who have a passion for animals and their welfare. This profession involves diagnosing and treating illnesses, injuries, and other medical conditions in a variety of animals, from household pets to farm animals and even wildlife.

Education and Training Requirements

Becoming a veterinarian requires significant education and training. To start, prospective veterinarians must obtain a bachelor's degree in a science-related field, such as biology or animal science. Following this, they must attend veterinary school to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Veterinary school typically takes four years to complete, with the first three years focused on classroom instruction and the final year devoted to clinical rotations in a veterinary hospital or clinic. Throughout this time, students gain in-depth knowledge of animal anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, epidemiology, and more.

Licensing and Certification

After graduating from veterinary school, veterinarians must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) to become licensed to practice in their state. Some states may also require additional exams that cover state-specific laws and regulations. Moreover, veterinarians who wish to specialize in a specific area of veterinary medicine, such as surgery or internal medicine, can pursue board certification. This usually involves completing a residency program and passing an exam administered by the appropriate veterinary specialty board.

Career Opportunities and Job Outlook

Veterinarians can find employment in various settings, including private practices, animal hospitals, research facilities, zoos, and government agencies. They may also choose to specialize in working with certain types of animals, such as companion animals, livestock, or exotic species. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for veterinarians is expected to grow 16% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to an increasing pet population and advancements in veterinary medicine.

Salary Expectations

The salary for veterinarians can vary widely depending on factors such as experience, specialization, and geographic location. However, as per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for veterinarians was $95,460 in May 2019.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

In this ever-evolving field of veterinary medicine, continuing education is essential. Many states require veterinarians to complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year to maintain their license. Additionally, staying updated with the latest research findings and advancements in veterinary medicine can help veterinarians provide the best possible care for their animal patients. Professional organizations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), offer resources and opportunities for continuing education and professional development. Becoming a veterinarian is a long and challenging journey that requires a strong commitment and passion for animal health and welfare. But with the right education, training, and dedication, it can be an extremely fulfilling career path for those who love animals.

Veterinarian Career Path Education and Training

To embark on a veterinarian career path, a specific level of education and training is required. This journey is quite rigorous and competitive, often taking many years to complete. The reward, however, is the opportunity to work in a field that blends love for animals with scientific discovery and medical care.

Undergraduate Studies

Aspiring veterinarians typically start their education with an undergraduate degree in a science-related field. Biology, animal science, chemistry or zoology are popular choices that provide a solid foundation for future studies. The goal during this stage is to fulfill prerequisites for veterinary school, which usually include courses in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and sometimes animal science and biochemistry. This phase generally takes four years to complete.

Veterinary School Admission

Gaining admission into veterinary school can be quite competitive. Prospective students must pass the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), depending on the school's requirements. Additionally, most schools require applicants to have some experience working with animals. This could be through volunteering or working in animal shelters, farms, stables, or veterinary clinics.

Veterinary School

Once accepted into veterinary school, students undertake a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. This typically lasts four years and combines classroom learning with practical hands-on experience. The curriculum generally covers animal anatomy and physiology, diseases and their causes, diagnostic procedures, surgical techniques, and how to provide care for different species.

Internship and Residency

After completing veterinary school, some graduates choose to gain further specialization in a particular area of veterinary medicine through an internship or residency. These programs are competitive and typically last one to three years. They provide intensive hands-on experience and training in areas such as internal medicine, surgery, dermatology, ophthalmology, cardiology, or exotic animal medicine.

Licensing and Certification

Before practicing as a veterinarian, graduates must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). Some states also require an additional state examination. For those who have completed a specialty internship or residency, board certification in their chosen specialty can be obtained by passing an additional examination. In conclusion, the path to becoming a veterinarian involves a significant commitment of time and effort. However, for those passionate about animal health and welfare, the rewards of this profession are well worth the investment. It's a career that offers lifelong learning, variety, and the opportunity to make a profound difference in the lives of animals and their owners.

Veterinarian Career Path Progression

The career progression for veterinarians is diverse and filled with numerous opportunities. From starting as an associate veterinarian to specializing in different areas, and even advancing into leadership roles, the possibilities are abundant.

Entry-Level Veterinarian

At the start of a veterinarian career, many vets begin as associate veterinarians working under the guidance of more experienced professionals. This stage offers an excellent opportunity for newly qualified vets to gain practical experience and learn the ropes of the profession. During this phase, veterinarians develop their diagnostic skills, learn how to perform routine surgeries, and build relationships with clients and their pets. They also get exposed to different facets of veterinary practice, such as emergency care, preventive healthcare, and specialty services.


As veterinarians gain more experience, they often choose to specialize in a specific area of veterinary medicine. This could include areas such as internal medicine, surgery, dermatology, ophthalmology, cardiology, or oncology. To become a specialist, vets must complete additional years of residency in their chosen field and pass a specialty board certification examination. Specializing allows veterinarians to deepen their expertise in a particular area and can significantly enhance their career prospects. It also opens up opportunities to work in specialty practices or referral hospitals that offer advanced medical services.

Senior Veterinarian or Partner

With years of experience and a proven track record, many veterinarians progress to senior or partner roles within a practice. These positions involve not only treating animals but also managing teams of vets and vet techs. Senior veterinarians or partners often have a say in the strategic direction of the practice. They might be involved in making business decisions, such as hiring staff, investing in new equipment, or expanding the range of services offered by the practice.

Veterinary Practice Owner

For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, owning a veterinary practice can be an attractive career progression. As practice owners, veterinarians have the autonomy to shape the practice's vision and direction. This includes deciding the types of services offered, hiring and managing staff, and overseeing the practice’s financial aspects. Owning a practice can be a rewarding experience, but it also comes with its challenges. It requires strong business acumen and management skills, in addition to veterinary expertise.

Academia and Research

Some veterinarians choose to enter academia or research, contributing to the advancement of veterinary medicine. This could involve teaching veterinary students, conducting research in a specific field of interest, or both. Working in academia or research allows veterinarians to make a broader impact on the profession. It can also open doors to roles in public health or policy-making. In conclusion, the career path for veterinarians is rich with opportunities for growth and advancement. Whether they choose to specialize, move into leadership roles, own a practice, or contribute to academia and research, each step in the progression offers unique rewards and challenges.

Veterinarian Career Path Specializations and Subfields

The field of veterinary medicine is diverse and exciting, offering a variety of specializations and subfields for those interested in animal health and welfare. These specializations allow veterinarians to focus their practice on specific areas, offering a greater depth of knowledge and expertise in these fields.

Small Animal Practice

In the small animal practice specialization, veterinarians primarily work with pets like dogs, cats, birds, and small mammals. These practitioners are often the first point of contact for pet owners seeking advice on their pet's health, diet, and behavior. Veterinarians in this field may perform surgeries, administer vaccinations, diagnose illnesses, and provide preventative care.

Large Animal Practice

Veterinarians who specialize in large animal practice work primarily with farm animals such as cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, and goats. They often travel to farms or ranches to provide care, focusing on herd health, nutrition management, disease prevention, and reproduction.

Wildlife and Exotic Animal Medicine

This specialization involves treating non-domestic animals such as reptiles, birds, fish, and wildlife. These veterinarians may work in zoos, aquariums, wildlife rehabilitation centers or conservation organizations. Their work often involves unique challenges due to the diverse range of species they treat and the specialized care these animals require.

Emergency and Critical Care

Emergency and critical care veterinarians work in animal hospitals or clinics that offer round-the-clock care. They handle urgent cases such as accidents, severe illnesses or complications from surgeries. This specialization requires quick decision-making skills and the ability to perform under pressure.

Veterinary Pathology

Pathologists specialize in diagnosing diseases by examining animal tissues and fluids. They play a crucial role in identifying causes of illness and death in animals, contributing to the understanding and prevention of diseases. Veterinary pathologists often work in laboratories, universities, or government agencies.

Veterinary Surgery

Specializing in veterinary surgery involves a comprehensive understanding of animal anatomy and surgical procedures. These specialists perform a variety of surgeries ranging from routine spays and neuters to complex orthopedic procedures. Many veterinary surgeons work in referral hospitals where they handle complicated cases referred by general practice veterinarians.

Veterinary Radiology

Radiologists use imaging techniques such as X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs to diagnose diseases in animals. Their expertise is crucial in detecting internal injuries, tumors, or abnormalities that are not visible through physical examination.

Veterinary Ophthalmology

Veterinary ophthalmologists specialize in diagnosing and treating eye diseases in animals. They might perform surgeries such as cataract removal or corneal grafting, and manage conditions such as glaucoma or retinal diseases. Each of these specializations requires additional training and certification beyond a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Many veterinarians find this extra commitment rewarding, as it allows them to provide highly specialized care for animals and contribute to the advancement of veterinary medicine.

Veterinarian Career Path Job Market and Outlook

The job market and outlook for veterinarians is promising and expected to grow significantly over the next decade. This is mainly due to factors such as pet population growth, advancements in veterinary medicine, and increased pet owner willingness to pay for comprehensive pet care.

Job Market

The job market for veterinarians is quite robust, with opportunities available across various sectors. Veterinarians can work in private practice, corporate veterinary services, research, government organizations, and academia. Additionally, veterinarians can specialize in various areas such as small animal practice, large animal practice, exotic animal medicine, or public health. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of veterinarians is projected to grow 16% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is largely driven by a growing pet population and an increasing demand for veterinary services.


The outlook for veterinarians is quite positive. As more people consider pets as part of their family, there is a growing demand for high-quality veterinary care. Furthermore, advancements in technology and veterinary medicine have led to the development of sophisticated treatments for pets that were previously only available to humans. However, it's important to note that the job outlook can vary depending on geographic location and specialization. For instance, rural areas often have a higher demand for large animal veterinarians while urban areas may have a higher demand for small animal and exotic pet veterinarians.

Salary Expectations

Veterinary salaries can vary greatly depending on factors such as experience, specialization, and location. According to BLS data, the median annual wage for veterinarians was $95,460 in May 2019. The highest 10 percent earned more than $160,780. It's important to note that these figures are averages and actual salaries can vary.

Job Satisfaction and Work-Life Balance

While a career in veterinary medicine can be extremely rewarding, it also comes with its challenges. Long hours, emotional stress, and dealing with difficult situations can affect job satisfaction and work-life balance. However, most veterinarians find the rewards of helping animals and their owners outweigh these challenges. In conclusion, the job market and outlook for veterinarians is quite promising. With a growing pet population and advancements in veterinary medicine, the demand for skilled veterinarians is on the rise. By choosing a career in veterinary medicine, you're choosing a career with excellent prospects and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of animals and their owners.

Veterinarian Career Path Salary and Compensation

The salary and compensation for veterinarians can vary widely depending on several factors including location, specialization, years of experience, and the type of practice. However, it's well-established that a career in veterinary medicine can be lucrative and rewarding. The median annual wage for veterinarians in the United States was approximately $95,460 in May 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, this figure can increase substantially with specialization and experience.

Salary by Experience

Typically, entry-level veterinarians can expect to earn a lower salary initially, which increases as they gain more experience and expertise. According to Payscale, the average salary for an entry-level Veterinarian with less than 1 year of experience can expect to earn an average total compensation (including tips, bonus, and overtime pay) of $75,409. Veterinarians with 1-4 years of experience can expect to earn an average total compensation of $82,391. With 5-9 years of experience, this figure jumps to around $88,764.

Salary by Specialization

Specialization can also significantly impact a veterinarian's salary. Board-certified specialists often earn higher salaries due to their advanced training and expertise. For instance, surgeons and internal medicine specialists can earn an average salary of over $150,000 per year. Additionally, veterinarians who specialize in exotic or large animals tend to have higher earning potential. For example, a zoo veterinarian's salary typically ranges from $75,000 to over $200,000 annually depending on their level of experience and location.

Salary by Location

Location is another key factor that affects a veterinarian's salary. Veterinarians practicing in metropolitan areas usually earn higher salaries due to the high cost of living in these areas. On the other hand, veterinarians in rural areas may earn less, but they might also have lower living expenses.

Additional Compensation

In addition to base salary, many veterinarians also receive additional compensation such as bonuses, profit sharing, and commission. These additional earnings can substantially boost a veterinarian's total annual income. Furthermore, some employers may offer benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, and professional development opportunities. These benefits can add significant value to a veterinarian's total compensation package. Overall, the veterinarian career path offers excellent salary potential and compensation packages. However, it's essential to note that becoming a veterinarian requires a significant investment in education and training. Therefore, it's crucial to consider these factors when evaluating the overall compensation of a career in veterinary medicine.

Veterinarian Career Path Tips for Success

The journey to becoming a successful veterinarian involves years of education, hands-on experience, and an unyielding commitment to animal health and welfare. Here are some tips to help you navigate this fulfilling yet challenging career path.

Embrace Continued Learning

In the ever-evolving field of veterinary medicine, it's essential to stay informed about the latest developments and trends. To do so, you can engage in regular professional development activities such as attending conferences, participating in webinars, or taking up additional courses. Embracing continued learning will not only keep your knowledge up-to-date but also make you a more competent and efficient veterinarian.

Gain Practical Experience Early

Practical experience is crucial in this profession. Aspiring veterinarians should seek opportunities to gain hands-on experience as early as possible. This could be through internships, volunteering at animal shelters, or even working part-time at a veterinary clinic. Such experiences provide a real-world understanding of the profession and can significantly enhance your skills and confidence.

Specialize According to Your Interests

Veterinary medicine is a broad field with several specializations, including small animal practice, large animal practice, wildlife medicine, and more. You can choose to specialize according to your interests and career goals. Specializing allows you to focus on a specific area of veterinary medicine and can make you more attractive to potential employers.

Build Strong Relationships

A successful veterinarian career relies heavily on strong relationships with clients, colleagues, and the broader community. Good communication skills are vital in building these relationships. Understanding and empathizing with your clients' needs and concerns can greatly enhance their trust in your services.

Cultivate Resilience

Veterinary medicine can be emotionally challenging, as it often involves dealing with sick or injured animals and distressed owners. Cultivating resilience is, therefore, an important aspect of this career. This can be achieved through self-care practices, seeking support from colleagues and loved ones, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Embrace Technology

The use of technology in veterinary medicine is on the rise. From digital radiography to telemedicine, technology is transforming how veterinarians diagnose and treat animals. Embracing these technological advancements can streamline your practice and enhance the quality of care you provide. By following these tips, you can navigate the veterinarian career path successfully and make a meaningful impact in the field of animal healthcare.

What Education is Needed to Become a Veterinarian?

To embark on a Veterinarian career path, it's essential to obtain the right educational qualifications. Firstly, aspiring veterinarians typically begin their journey by pursuing a Bachelor's degree in pre-veterinary studies, biology, or a related field. This undergraduate course usually lasts four years and covers foundational knowledge in animal biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Following this, the next step involves gaining admission into a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program, which typically lasts another four years. These programs are rigorous and provide comprehensive training in animal anatomy, physiology, disease diagnosis, surgery, and more. Upon completion of the DVM program, candidates must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) to become licensed veterinarians.

What Skills are Required for a Veterinarian?

Being a successful veterinarian involves more than just academic knowledge. Certain skills can significantly enhance effectiveness in this career path. Compassion is crucial as veterinarians deal with animals who may be stressed or in pain and their anxious owners. Strong communication skills are also vital for explaining complex medical conditions and treatment options to pet owners. Moreover, veterinarians need to have good manual dexterity as many tasks such as surgery, dental work, and giving vaccinations require precision. Problem-solving skills are also important as veterinarians need to diagnose illnesses and determine the best treatment.

What are the Different Types of Veterinarian Specialties?

The field of veterinary medicine is diverse, with numerous specialties available for those who wish to focus on specific areas. For instance, Companion Animal Veterinarians primarily treat pets like dogs and cats. Conversely, Large Animal Veterinarians tend to work with livestock such as cows, horses, and pigs, often travelling to farms and ranches for their work. There are also veterinarians who specialize in exotic animals, wildlife, or aquatic animals. Other specialties include veterinary pathology, veterinary ophthalmology, veterinary dermatology, and veterinary surgery. Some veterinarians choose to focus on animal behavior or public health.

What is the Job Outlook for Veterinarians?

The job outlook for veterinarians is generally positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for veterinarians is projected to grow 16% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is primarily due to a continued increase in consumers' spending on pet care and advancements in veterinary medicine.

What is the Salary Expectation for a Veterinarian?

The salary for veterinarians can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, specialty, and the type of practice. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for veterinarians in the United States was $95,460 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest 10 percent earned more than $160,780, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $58,080. Remember, pursuing a career as a veterinarian is more than just about salary; it's about making a difference in the lives of animals and their owners.