A veterinarian has a challenging and rewarding career. There are a number of different settings that veterinarians can work in and each job will bring its own schedule, coworkers, and animal clients. Learn what it is like to practice as a vet.
Education and Training Requirements
To become a veterinarian, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and a professional license is required. Veterinary college admissions will usually require a bachelor's degree and the applicant must have completed coursework in animal biology, microbiology, animal nutrition, zoology, and systemic physiology. The DVM degree typically takes four years to complete. The coursework will be a mix of classroom lectures, laboratory sessions, and clinical studies. The final year includes clinical rotations in all fields of veterinary medicine. After earning the DVM degree, all veterinarians must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination and then pass specific state licensing exams. Finally, further education in any veterinary specialty requires 3- to 4-year residency programs and additional board certifications.
Where Veterinarians Work
The following is an example of a typical day in the life of a veterinarian, however, each day can be wildly different and can vary greatly depending on the setting and situation. Veterinarians can work in local clinics, emergency animal hospitals, local shelters, private practices, zoos, or rescue clinics. Depending on the setting, this will greatly impact the types of animals they see. For example, a zoo-based doctor must be familiar with many exotic animals while a local animal shelter veterinarian is likely very familiar with caring for cats and dogs.
The Day Begins
In the morning, all of the animals that have arrived from an overnight emergency clinic or were brought in first thing in the morning are examined by a veterinarian. If a pet needs surgery or hospitalization, it is admitted to the clinic and prepared for surgery. This is followed by the morning rounds. All patients currently in the clinic are examined and the owners updated with progress reports. At the same time, animals being admitted for surgery are examined and the upcoming procedure is discussed with the owner. After being admitted, the technicians (or doctor in some cases) draw blood samples for pre-surgery blood work and any other pre-surgery procedures will take place.
Next, it is time for appointments or surgery. Many veterinary clinics will do surgery as early in the day as possible. This allows the patient to recover throughout the day with plenty of staff around to monitor progress. Appointments range from new puppy or kitten visits, vaccinations, sick animals, checking lumps and bumps, suture removals, and anything else that might occur. A veterinarian may also schedule an appointment for euthanasia. Surgeries are also scheduled; the most common surgeries are spays, neuters, tumor removals, dental cleanings, and tooth extractions. Some veterinarians may choose to group certain types of appointments or surgeries together during specific office hours or days and others may not.
Most clinics stop taking appointments for an hour or two over the lunch hour. The office employees typically take this time to finish the surgery, return phone calls, check on animals recovering from anesthesia, check on hospital patients, occasionally see an emergency appointment, and hopefully—eat lunch. If an office has multiple veterinarians, the office may remain open during lunch time and each doctor will take his or her own break.
The afternoons are typically spent seeing more appointments. Sick and injured animals are examined and evaluated for stability. If an animal appears critical or needs monitoring overnight, it is referred to an emergency clinic. This often requires owner transport and cooperation, but most owners are more than willing to facilitate it. Afternoon treatments are often for hospital cases, returned phone calls, and final notes before the day ends.
Closing Time and Overnight Hours
Once the clinic closes, most veterinarians go home but their day may not be over. Many continue to think about the cases of the day and prepare for the next day. Even if the office is closed overnight, most veterinarians have an overnight emergency phone number and can help patients reach a doctor at any time. In a standard clinic, there is usually staff on hand for overnight rounds, checking on the animals, and providing any regular care. In other settings, like emergency clinics, there is a full staff on hand at all hours, ready to treat any animal that arrives.