A veterinarian (North American English) or a veterinary surgeon (British English), often shortened to vet, is an animal physician and a practitioner of veterinary medicine. The word comes from the Latin veterinae meaning "draught animals." The word "veterinarian" was first used in English by Thomas Browne (1605-1682).


Although veterinarians in many countries are awarded doctoral degre]s and receive extensive training in veterinary medical practice, there are many career fields open to those with veterinary degrees other than clinical practice. Those that do work in clinical settings often practice medicine in specific fields, such as companion animal or "pet" medicine, livestock medicine, equine medicine (e.g. sports, race track, show, rodeo), laboratory animal medicine, reptile medicine, or ratite medicine or they may specialize in medical disciplines such as surgery, dermatology or internal medicine, after post-graduate training and certification.

Many veterinarians pursue post-graduate training and enter research careers and have contributed many advances in many human and veterinary medical fields, including pharmacology. Research veterinarians were the first to isolate oncoviruses, Salmonella species, Brucella species, and various other pathogenic agents. Veterinarians were in the fore-front in the effort to suppress malaria and yellow fever in the United States, and a veterinarian was the first to note disease caused by West Nile Virus in New York zoo animals. Veterinarians determined the identity of the botulism disease-causing agent; produced an anticoagulant used to treat human heart disease; and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip-joint replacement, and limb and organ transplants.

Like physicians, veterinarians must make serious ethical decisions about their patients' care. For example, there is ongoing debate within the profession over the ethics of performing declawing of cats and docking or cropping tails and ears, as well as "debarking" dogs and in the housing of sows in gestation crates.

Education and regulationEdit

According to the US Department of Labor, only 1 in 3 applicants was accepted into a veterinary program in 2002. Prerequisites for admission include the undergraduate studies listed under veterinary medicine and extensive veterinary experience (typically about 500 or more hours) in private practice or other veterinary environment. The average veterinary medical student has an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 and a GRE score of approximately 1350. US graduates are awarded either a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or the less common Veterinary Medical Doctor (VMD) degree, depending upon the traditions of the veterinary school. Veterinary school lasts for four years just like human medicine programs, with at least one year being dedicated to clinical rotations. After completion of the national board examination, some newly-accredited veterinarians choose to pursue residencies or internships in certain (usually more competitive) fields.

There is some reciprocal international recognition of veterinary degrees. For example, veterinarians with degrees from the UK or New Zealand are immediately allowed to practice in Australia whereas vets with degrees from other countries are usually required to pass a set of qualifying exams before being allowed to practice. Veterinarians graduating from AVMA accredited universities, (e.g. University of Glasgow, Royal Veterinary College, Utrecht etc) may work in the USA after passing the NAVLE, a veterinary licensing exam taken by all American veterinarians. Non-AVMA accredited university graduates must also sit a week long Clinical Proficiency Examination in order to work in the USA. Veterinarians who have graduated from an AVMA accredited University are eligible to practice in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Canada, and the United States. Australia currently has five Universities offering veterinary degrees - University of Sydney, Murdoch University, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, and Charles Sturt University. James Cook University is a sixth University that prepared for its first intake of vet students at the end of 2005.

In the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth nations, a veterinary surgeon is an animal practitioner regulated by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. This legislation restricts the treatment of animals in the UK to qualified veterinary surgeons only, with certain specific exceptions, including physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, on the under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon. Various alternative medicine therapies (such as homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine) can only be performed by a veterinary surgeon.


In the United States private veterinarians earn an average salary of $63,000 per year. A veterinarian who works for the US government averages $72,000 per year. Starting salaries do vary, but tend to be higher for those who specialize -- around $48,000 per year.

The economic outlook for newly graduated veterinarians is clouded by the high debt level carried by many graduates, as the cost of veterinary medical education rises. AS in other medical fields, new veterinarians tend to concentrate in urbanized areas and economic competition is limiting post-graduate opportunities in private practice. On the other hand, veterinarians are able to set-up successful new practices in established markets by providing special services such as an emergency and critical care clinics for pets and mobile veterinary clinics or by obtaining advanced training and certification in specialty fields of medicine.

More than 3,800 veterinarians in the USA currently work at veterinary schools where they teac student vets what they need to know to graduate — teaching is another career path for a veterinarian.

Increasing predominance of womenEdit

In the 1970s women began applying in growing numbers to veterinary schools. Veterinary school classes across the USA are now 75% or more female. [1]

Regulatory medicineEdit

Some American veterinarians work in a field called regulatory medicine, ensuring the nation's food safety by working with the USDA FSIS, or work by protecting us from imported exotic animal diseases by working for the USDA APHIS. The emerging field of conservation medicine involves veterinarians even more directly with human health care, providing a multidisciplinary approach to medical research that also involves environmental scientists.


Public health medicine is another option for veterinarians. Veterinarians in government and private laboratories provide diagnostic and testing services. Some veterinarians serve as state epidemiologists, directors of environmental health, and directors of state or city public health departments. Veterinarians are also employed by the US Agriculture Research Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, National Library of Medicine, and National Institutes of Health. The military also employs veterinarians in a number of capacities — caring for pets on military bases, caring for military working animals, controlling various arthropod-borne diseases, or as food safety inspectors.

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