Your average veterinarian can mend a bird’s broken wing, chase away a dog’s fleas and do a bit of bovine surgery should the need arise, but that’s just a small part of what a trained veterinarian can do.
Graduates with the doctor of veterinary medicine degree, or DVM, can find work at universities, medical centers and industrial laboratories. Veterinarians can work with such groups as the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, where they ensure the humane treatment of animals and inspect animals for signs of disease before they are slaughtered.
But most veterinarians ply their trade at private practices treating household pets.
Becoming a veterinarian requires a four-year degree — after earning a bachelor’s degree — from one of only 28 accredited veterinary schools, a fairly small number given the many fields the doctors toil within. Once that degree is earned, a graduate can open a practice or opt for more training.
Dr. Ted Mashima, associate director for the Center For Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maryland at College Park, says veterinary medicine teaches the “ologies,” from neurology to epidemiology, lessons that can apply to all manner of creature. Animals like elephants and mice might seem enormously different, he says, but, generally, the biological systems of animals have more similarities than differences.
Dr. Mashima says most of the animals a common veterinarian treats will be dogs, cats, horses and cattle and, to a lesser extent, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens.
Veterinarians can work examining pre- and post-slaughter animals to ensure food safety, help treat laboratory animals and even contribute to homeland security. Bovine tuberculosis is but one of many diseases transferrable from animal to man, and cutaneous anthrax has been found in people who shear sheep in certain parts of the world.
“The sky’s the limit in terms of different ways veterinarians are engaged,” he says.
Budding veterinarians can hone their skills with both clerkships and internships as they work their way into their career.
Students in their final year of veterinary school can enroll in one or more clerkships, which can last for several weeks, depending on the college. These sessions involve working under an established veterinarian.
An internship, by contrast, is a one-year post-DVM role that generally is followed by a two- or three-year residency program.
Veterinary graduates also have the option of pursuing a specialized education, much as a traditional doctor might choose a career in oncology or plastic surgery.
These graduates can choose from 20 specialties, ranging from internal medicine to nutrition to radiology. To do so, they undertake a one-year internship and then a three-year residency program to earn certification in a particular specialty from, for example, the American College of Veterinary Surgeons or the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.