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Types of Jobs for Veterinarians (Career Opportunities)

A female veterinarian with a pet dog.

Did you know that the role of a veterinarian takes as many years of schooling as the role of a human doctor? In fact, as I am frequently told by my wife and her vet school classmates, becoming a veterinarian maybe even more challenging than becoming a doctor simply because they are required to learn how the physical systems of many species.

A doctor must learn how to treat human patients, but veterinarians have to learn the various ways to treat any type of pet that someone might come in with, from dogs and cats to snakes and birds (and more!).

Thus, never let anyone mislead you into thinking that becoming a veterinarian is easy. 

How Many Years do Vets go to School? 

Veterinarians looking at animals' x-ray.

Veterinarians eventually graduate with what is known as a DVM. This stands for a doctorate of veterinary medicine, and it is a doctoral-level degree. This means that all veterinarians must complete all of their undergraduate work (Bachelor’s Degree) before they may even apply to veterinary school.

If they are accepted, they will enter into a 4-year program to complete their coursework to become a veterinarian. Thus, vets must complete a total of 8 years of college-level work between undergrad and graduate work to earn the right to practice veterinary medicine. 

Vet School Acceptance Rates

One of the things that people often do not tell you about veterinary schools is that they are extremely competitive to get into. If you are not a top performer that brings something extra to the table, the vet schools will not accept you. You can see across the board some of the acceptance rates that various vet schools have: 

  • University of Wisconsin: 6.9%
  • Penn University: 8%
  • Tuffs University: 8.8%
  • University of Mississippi: 9%
  • University of Tennessee: 9.7%

They receive a huge number of applicants, but they only take in a small percentage of those applicants because they want to be sure that they are able to protect the value of the education that they provide. Also, they want to ensure that everyone who is accepted is likely to graduate. The retention rates in veterinary colleges is generally very high as they only accept a small percentage of the total number of applicants.

The schools do everything in their power to try to help their students succeed once they are in the doors and working towards their degrees. 

Veterinarians Put in a Lot of Effort

Veterinarian with his assistant working at vet hospital.

The jump in difficulty from undergraduate studies to veterinary school studies is like night and day. Vet school students are expected to completely dedicate themselves to the process of getting their education. Thus, the vast majority do not hold jobs of any kind while they are in school.

Some choose to work part-time or to pick up a shift at a job on occasion, but even this is rare. The amount of hours of studying that are expected from veterinary students makes it challenging for them to focus on doing much else. There are times during the school year when it is common for a vet student to spend upwards of 8 to 12 hours per day studying.

When they are in the midst of midterms or finals season, these kinds of lengthy study sessions become quite common. The reason for all of that studying is that it is very challenging to get through the coursework necessary to become a vet. As a society, we want our vets to take care of our animals to the best of their ability, and that means that they have to undergo the rigors of a lot of studying and hard work in order to get to the end of the tunnel and have their degree in hand. 

The Cost of Vet School

Formal gardens at the University of Georgia.

Before we dive too deeply into the raw numbers about how much vet school costs, it is important to understand that the degree that vet students are aiming for is highly specialized and comes with the reward of a large salary when it is all said and done. This is worth repeating often as there are plenty of people who question the high cost of vet school without knowing all of the facts that they need to know about why it costs that amount.  Students who attend a college or university in a state that they are a resident of will pay less than those who attend a school in a state that they do not live in.

This is the same for undergraduate programs as well. Additionally, schools give some preferential treatment to students who are from the state where the school resides. With all of that in mind, here are some of the average costs of vet school across different schools for in-state students: 

  • University of Georgia: $156,971
  • Oklahoma State University: $163,130
  • Mississippi State University: $163,341
  • Michigan State University: $212,923
  • University of Minnesota: $220,495
  • Ohio State University: $246,885

There is a wide range of different cost expectations depending on where you go and if you are an in-state student or not. All prospective vet students should look up the expected costs of the schools that they would like to attend to get a better idea of how much they are likely to pay to get their education.

On top of that, they should try to figure out if they might qualify for special programs to be considered “in-state” even if they do not actually live in that state.

For example, there are no vet schools in the entire state of South Carolina, but nearby schools, such as the University of Georgia, will sometimes grant exceptions that allow students from South Carolina to be counted as in-state students for the purposes of tuition charges.

Nerdwallet also offers this helpful hint about what one should do if they would like to qualify for in-state tuition: If your home state doesn’t have an accredited veterinary program or you want to attend school elsewhere, try to establish residency where you plan to enroll.

Typically, this involves living in that state for at least a year and proving you intend to stay there. It isn’t terribly hard to become qualified as a resident of a new state, and one can use the extra year or so that it takes to become a resident to save up some money and perhaps improve their resume to such an extent that they are accepted into the school. 

How Much do Veterinarians Make? 

Giving a precise answer about the salaries of any job is not easy. There is generally such a wide range of potential income that one may earn. The best that we can do is look at the median pay for veterinarians across different areas to see what is typical for them to earn depending on where they are.

We must also look at the national average to get a better idea of what a veterinarian may earn as well. Forbes generated data on this very question in 2017 when they looked at the earnings of vets across all 50 states and crunched the numbers to come up with some median numbers that prove useful. What they discovered was that the average veterinarian made approximately $90,420 per year (based on the median).

There are some states where veterinarians are paid significantly more than that and somewhere they are paid less. Much of this has to do with the cost of living in those states. The median salary for a nurse in Hawaii was a total of $198,340, but in Arkansas, it was just $69,130.

The big differences between those two figures account for the fact that it is far more expensive to live in Hawaii than in Arkansas. Some of the salaries and opportunities that are available to veterinarians also have to do with supply and demand issues. Take the geographic area of East Tennessee as an example.

That area is blessed to have both the University of Tennessee and Lincoln Memorial University vet schools nearby. There are only thirty vet schools in the entire country, and yet two of them exist in that same geographic area. Thus, the supply of veterinarians in East Tennessee is much higher than it is in some other areas.

That means that opportunities may be lessened for new veterinarians in the area who wish to stay in the area because they are competing with so many other vets. 

Vet School Specialties 

Examination ear at a veterinarian's office.

Many of us think of the kind person that we take our dogs or cats to when they are ill or in need of a checkup as the only type of veterinarian that there is. However, this is incorrect. There are many veterinarians who specialize in dogs and cats because the demand for those services is quite high.

However, there are also veterinarians who work with large animals, and with other types of animals such as reptiles. All vet students will learn some important information about how to care for different types of animals while they are in school, but some will opt to specialize in a certain field of study in order to work more directly with certain types of animals and certain types of situations.

These specialists are often given the opportunity to advance the field by using the work that they do to help society better understand the animals that they work with. 

Not every vet feels the need to specialize, but there are many who believe that this is what their calling is, and they can potentially earn a better living by having a specialized job. It all depends on the need for what they want to get into.  The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recognizes the following specialties, among others: 

  • Shelter medicine
  • Reptile amphibian
  • Equine
  • Avian
  • Beef cattle
  • Feline
  • Virology
  • Parasitology 

This is an abbreviated list, but it gives you an idea of how diverse the field of veterinary medicine really is. All vet school students will take some classes in all of these different subjects, but some choose to specialize in one and move forward with it as part of their career path. 

Veterinarians are Known for Empathy

There are special classes that vet students must attend while in school that can help them better understand their emotions and how to properly channel them. The reason for this is that there are situations in which some veterinarians can become overly attached to the patients that they must deal with. It is not an easy thing to have to help someone put down their sick dog or cat, and this can weigh heavily on the minds of some veterinarians. 

In fact, it is known that veterinary practice has some of the highest rates of suicide in any field of career. This disturbing fact has prompted the veterinary community to take note and to practice more outreach to people in the practice. Thus, there are now classes taught in these schools that are related to suicide prevention.

It is a dark topic, but it is nice to know that the field is taking some concrete steps in the right direction to help keep its people safer and better equipped for the challenges that they may face.

Is the Veterinarian Field for You? 

Close-up of a female veterinarian with a cute beautiful cat.

Everyone gets to make their own choices as far as what field they will go into, but if you have an itch to help animals and their human owners, then you might want to take a look at veterinary medicine. You will need to be very highly motivated and able to push yourself to some extremes when called upon to do so, but you may discover that this is exactly what your calling is and that you don’t want it any other way.

It is always going to be a challenge to get accepted into a vet school, but if you can show those schools that you have what it takes, you might be among the population that is able to get in.

Even if you aren’t able to get into your first school of choice, perhaps you can get into another. You just have to keep pushing to see if you can get into this field. You may just have a lot to offer the world in terms of the help that you can provide in the field of veterinary medicine.