Veterinarian - good career?

I have many ideas as to what field I’d like to go into and veterinarian is one of them. However, I have some apprehension about it.

I’m one of those people that will cry during movies and sad animals make me really sad too. Do you think I could handle working with pathetic, sickly pets or grossly injured ones? Would it get easier with experience?

Does surgery smell really bad? I heard that fat is unbelievably stinky.

Is it a really competative field? Because I’ve noticed that there are a lot of vet clinics around and many people want to become a vet.

Does the salary really suck?

Does it allow for a flexible work schedule?

When you watch shows about vets on Animal Planet and such it looks really exciting and like each day is different. Is it that way in real life or will I just be doing spays and neuters and shots most days?

I’d say it would be a good profession, if you like animals and want to help them. I hate them, generally, so I would be a bad vet. Kinda like that movie “Bad Lieutenant”.

My wife deals with them all the time. Here is what I see:

You don’t have to go to school as long as “real doctors” (yes, I know! Vets are “real doctors” too!)

You don’t have to worry so much about malpractice and getting sued. Also, if Rover is borderline, you can give him the spike and move on.

People spend whack money on thier pets. Vets (should) drive nice cars. *

They seem to pick and choose thier hours/days and what animals they will see. Always at thier convieniance, not the paitient. Pretty chic, says I!

Not too competitive. The few vets we have in our area claim to have all the work they can handle and routinly turn the wife away. She now does everything herself and pockets the money she would have gladly handed over to these “professionals”. Works for me. Some critters live, some die. It is the way of things.

  • ALWAYS GET CASH IN ADVANCE OF TREATMENT!! People spend whack money they don’t have on pets. When 97-year old Tabby croaks it, after $1000 cat-lukiemia treatments, all of a sudden Mr. Cat Owner doesn’t think it was worth it and stiffs you. You can send him to collections, but all you’ll get is a basket of used cat toys and a can of Almond Roca (and that ain’t Almond Roca, buster!)

Overheard in the public restroom: “That’ll leave a skidmark all the way to the treatment plant!”

My aunt’s a vet (and has been for over 20 years) and syas if she had to do it over again she wouldn’t. She got into the field because she loves helping and working animals. But she didn’t realize that a huge portion of your job is dealing with the owners. Who can be just as irrational about their pets as parents.

Also, if you’re squeamish, being a vet is definitely not for you. You have to deal with things like scared animals losing their bowels all over you and worse things like huge pus-filled abcesses. (my cat got one of these and I’ve never smelled anything nastier) I don’t know if I could do it.

Are you in school? Consider working for a vet part-time, even if it’s clerical work. It should give you a good glimpse into what’s involved. I’m, of course, assuming you’re considering small animal practice. Large animals are a whole 'nother bag. (As a horsey person, excuse me while I cackle evilly here a moment. :wink: )

A friend of mine worked part-time through high school and college as an assistant in a vet’s office. He wasn’t a full tech, but was evidently trained enough where he had regular interaction with the animals (as evidenced by the cat scratches on his arms) and saw more than enough of the less pleasant side of working with cute, fluffy critters. He said it was very fulfilling, if hard, work.

I’d say you can get used to a lot of the disgusting aspects of the work. But it will be very gross and you will get scratched/bitten/kicked more than once (often while the owner prattles on how Fluffy is usually such a dear and never acts up, you must be doing something wrong… :rolleyes: ).

The real kicker is dealing with the emotional - less the feelings of seeing an animal in pain, and more of dealing with situations where the animal is treated like a cheap commodity. You will encounter animals who are abused, neglected, or where life-saving treatment is just abandoned by the owner. It can be very taxing. Irrational owners, as tremorviolet mentions, are even more icing on the cake.

If this still doesn’t discourage you, start checking out your local vet offices for openings.

Um…where do you get this idea? Pre-vets complete a typical pre-med course of study. Then they complete 4 years of vet school (which is highly competitive and harder to get into than med school), followed by internship. If a vet wants to become Board Certified in a particular specialty,more training is required, just like an M.D.


While I don’t dispute people lots of people spend a lot of money on pets, vets don’t make anywhere near what their human counterparts do. Overhead costs are astronomical, and people often don’t pay their bills.

And this differs from an MD, how? Most vets work at least Saturdays, many are oncall overnight, and they usually participate in an Emergency rotation.

I’m a tech, not a vet, but I feel qualified to answer most of your questions, and to tell you to scratch most of what gatopescado said.

Vet school is the same four years as med school, and in a lot of ways it’s a harder four years. All the stuff med students have to learn about humans, vet students have to learn about 8 or nine different species, plus vet students have to be competent surgeons by the end of their four years. Human doctors (in the US, anyway) are required to go through a residency to become fully licensed, which veterinarians are not, but they go through the same amount of actual school, and the price tag for the education is about the same. If you go to vet school, you can pretty much count on being $100K in debt when you get out, sometimes more.

When you do get out, how much money you’ll make depends on the area and what type of practice you’re going into. In both states I’ve lived in (KY and NC), new grads in general practice make $30,000-$40,000 a year, which is roughly what medical residents make. Emergency vets tend to make significantly more, because they work significantly crappier hours and tend to see significantly worse cases. After all, you don’t come to emergency room because you’re healthy. Of course, ER vets tend not to be salaried, so if they don’t see any patients, they don’t make any money. Veterinary specialists make a pretty fair chunk of change, but I don’t know actual numbers on that. It is, after all, gauche to ask one’s boss how much he makes. Let’s just say they’re certainly not toddling down the road to poorhouse. Your hours will also vary by the area and what type of practice you’re in.

Likewise, how competitive actual practice will be depends on the area. A new vet could move into my in-laws’ county and immediately be swamped with work, because it’s a seriously underserved area. Here in Greensboro, however, starting a new practice is significantly harder, because there are a lot more vets in the area. Getting into vet school, however, is always highly competitive. As in more competitive than med school. Remember, there are only 27 vet schools in the US and Canada, as opposed to the hundred and some med schools in the US alone. A lot of people spend years of their lives and ungodly amounts of money trying unsuccessfully to get into vet school, people with very high grades and test scores and years of practical experience in the field. I’m one of those people, and I currently work with a couple more.

The big things about vetinary medicine are that it’s not helping the cute, cuddly little kittens, and that it’s often as much treating the owner as the patient. Vet medicine is wrestling a 130-lb dog who wants to rip your face off so you can draw some blood or put in a catheter. It’s cutting off the cute little kitten’s head because state law requires it be tested for rabies. It’s being stepped on and kicked and bitten and scratched. It’s picking maggots and popping abcesses and cutting out necrotic tissue (and sometimes you have to do gross things.) It’s coming home covered in piss and shit and blood and vomit and pus and anal glands (your dogs will absolutely adore you on those days.) It’s holding the hands of owners who call every day to tell you Fido’s poop is a slightly different color and they think he needs to come in. It’s controlling your temper when people bring in an animal that’s nothing but skin and bones and insist that he just stopped eating this morning. It’s comforting owners who have lost a pet, or who are struggling with the decision to euthanize. It’s putting down treatable animals because the owners can’t afford the treatment. It’s dealing with owners accusing you of not caring about animals at all, because you can’t afford to treat their pet for free. (You get pretty inured to the other stuff pretty quickly, but the last three never get easier. When it gets easy to do those things, it’s time to find a new line of work.)

In general practice, there’s a lot of routine stuff to be done. You’ll wind up doing a lot of vaccines and worm checks and spays and dentals. You’ll also be seeing a lot of bizarre illnesses and injuries, and doing emergency surgeries and dealing with some spectacularly crazy people. (I mean full-on tinfoil hat types who think the people under their houses are poisoning their cats and want a full toxicology panel run, or who want advice on wrapping their pets in tin foil to protect them from the gamma rays the neighbors are shooting through the walls.)

Veterinary medicine is hard, dirty, gross, and mentally and emotionally draining, and absolutely wonderful. But it’s not for everybody. If it sounds like something you might be interested in, find a clinic or shelter where you can work or volunteer and get in there and get your hands dirty. That way you can see for yourself what it’s like and if it seems right for you.

I’m volunteering at the shelter right now but I do not handle animals because I’m 16. I once spent a day at a vet’s office though. I watched him do a heart check on a fat cat, spay a cat, and remove a tumor from a dog’s neck. You guys are right, I should do more of that.

What do you think of being a pet behaviorist? Are there classes for it?

Yes, there are residency programs for behavioral medicine, which you would apply for after completing vet school. I thought you had to do an internship before any residency, but according to our website, our behaviorist just did vet school and the residency. Hmm, he apparently hasn’t gotten around to getting boarded yet, either.

Behavior is an interesting field, but it’s not something I’d want to spend all my time doing. I don’t find it that interesting. I’m much more into meat-and-potatoes things like pancreatitis and parvo and hit by car cases. The hours in behavior seem to be pretty good, and there’s pretty much no emergency call because behavioral issues are pretty much never an emergency. The emergency staff hardly ever sees our behaviorist, unless he’s with his wife on the weekends when she comes to check on her cases. That’s partly because he splits his time between our location and the Charlotte hospital, partly because his patients are never hospitalized, and partly because he keeps something pretty close to normal office hours.

His patients never seem to die, except for the odd one that gets euthanized for intractable aggression. We never have to call him in the middle of the night about one of his patients or ask him to come in for an emergency consult. He doesn’t put in the 14-hour days a lot of our specialists routinely do, or at least I’ve never seen him do so. I guess if you want to be a vet but not deal with blood and guts or take call, behavior is probably the way to go. That or dermatology.

Nothing to add, except a comment about internship mentioned by Calliope. It is not required for veterinarians to do an internship in order to practice, but many do. It’s just an extra year of further specialization. Also, an internship is not required for a residency, or at least some residencies that I’ve seen do not include internship as one of the pre-requirements.

CrazyCatLady is right about dealing with tin-foil hat owners. Recently, I was present in an exchange where the owner claimed that the veterinarian had removed a dog’s nipple during spaying. She was extremely upset by this… I had to do my best to keep a straight face in front of them.

I read that of all household bills, the vet is the first guy to get stiffed. Yes, people who can afford it will spend money on their pets, but a person will skip out on that bill before they’ll blow off their phone bill.

Except maybe that “Cash in Advance” part, if your smart.

Hey, who you gonna trust? She has “Crazy” as part of her name! :smiley:


:: wipes tears from eyes ::

Oh, my, ain’t THAT the truth. As the owner of seven cats and two horses, I can confirm, from the client’s side, that large and small animal practices are WAY different, although aspiring vets can and do intern in both fields, and discover whether it’s really for them. (My equine vets often have a student assistant along.) For just one thing, you’ll spend almost all of your time on the road going from one farm or stable to another, and have to do a lot of your work in conditions that range from decent through inconvenient to damn near impossible – often with non-client kibitzers underfoot.

If you have zero experience with large animals, it’s a tougher part of the field to go into than the dog - cat - rabbit - bird - reptile - what-the-heck? branch of veterinary medicine. A big part of being a large animal vet, at least in horsey areas, is assessing lameness, which takes a practiced eye. Not to mention that, as tough as it is to wrestle with a 130-pound mastiff, it’s a whole other world to know how to manage critters that weigh half a ton, stand shoulder-high, and have razor-sharp fight-or-flight reflexes.

Other than that, I’d say CrazyCatLady has nailed it.

I’m bored, so I’m going to play along for another round! Bet you all feel lucky, doncha?

Ya got me there. What I am thinking about is the long, drawn out “residency”. As for most of the rest of my “ideas” and where they come from is me, as an owner, having to spend hours hanging around some vet office while some animal of the wife’s dies anyway after much money wasted. You get to hear all sorts of interesting comments from the back room, usually just after the person who brought the unfortunate critter that just snuffed it left. For example, “Man, this dog is messed up! Its not worth the effort. Get me the needle!” and stuff like that. Its not like you can do that with Grandma. Doctors get to play god. Vets get to play dog. Also, I get to hear the receptionists side of these kinds of phone calls:

“Dr. Quacks office. Can I help you?”
“What kind of animal is it?”
“Dr. Quack isn’t seeing anymore paitents at this time. Thanks for calling.”

Perfectly within thier rite to do so, but I don’t remember that part in “All creatures great and small”.

Supports my point, really. Deal with the customers who can pony (good pun, huh?) up the cash up front, and it seems to me you would make a real comfortable living.

No difference from an MD. Again, supports my point. Pretty nice living to call your own hours and working conditions. As for Saturdays and overnite and emergency, well, that doesn’t happen in any plane of existance I know of around here. The closest “city” has vets that only see dogs and cats during regular daytime, weekday office hours. The closest “big animal” vet, in a rural town to the east pretty much only does horses and cattle. I would assume they have to work crazy hours, but I don’t know for sure since they won’t bother seeing us at all! (Awful lot of critters between dogs/cats and horses/cattle) So, the wife now does all her own vettin’. (Just like I had to buy special tools and learn to work on Italian cars, cause no one else wanted to, not even for money!)

Seems to me that any Vet who opened up shop in my neck of the woods, treated critters other than dogs/cats, worked nights and weekends would do allright. But who wants to do that? That would be hard, and we all know that if its hard, it isn’t worth doing. :rolleyes:

What about being a zookeeper or a biologist/zoologist?

I used to yearn to be a veterinarian, too, and was talked out of by well-meaning people.

Many years later I discovered that there are such things as zookeeper schools (the L.A. Zoo is supposed to have a good one) where you can learn to do what you always wanted: work with animals.

You know how you see those nature shows where the family has cute, little tiger cubs living with them? Wouldn’t you love to take care of baby wild animals? Look into zoology/biology or zookeeping.

That’s what I wish I had done, and what I might do some day when I retire from my office job.

Good luck!

Becoming an actual Vet is perhaps even harder than becoming an MD- at least it’s harder getting into the School. Now- being a Vet’s assistant is way easier than becoming a Nurse.

May vet’s and/or Shelters will take volunteers. Try it- it is rewarding and you’ll se if it is the job for you- and if you think it is- it raises your chances of getting into a vet school.

Becoming a Zookeeper is also very hard. But again- most Zoos take volunteers. It is (or at least was) possible to work your way “up though the ranks” in Zookeeping, starting as a Volunteer, etc. But to get the best jobs you’ll need a degree.

This thread is very convenient for me; I was thinking of asking a couple of these questions. Setup: a young relative of mine is almost 16, says she’d like to work in the veterinary world. However, she spends all her time watching TV and reading, and is well on her way to failing to graduate from HS if she doesn’t quit reading SF instead of paying attention in class and doing her homework. She has no apparent ambition or idea that she will soon be an adult. But she claims to want to be a vet, and does in fact have a great love for animals.

OK, so, what does it take to be a veterinary assistant or a tech, whatever it is? I know nothing about this area. What kind of education, internships, ambition do you have to have to work under a veterinarian? What is the salary like–can you live on it? What would my young relative have to do to actually become something in the animal world, and does anyone have any suggestions? I’d like to be able to tell her how to go find a job at a clinic or something.

OK, so, what does it take to be a veterinary assistant or a tech, whatever it is? I know nothing about this area. What kind of education, internships, ambition do you have to have to work under a veterinarian? What is the salary like–can you live on it? What would my young relative have to do to actually become something in the animal world, and does anyone have any suggestions? I’d like to be able to tell her how to go find a job at a clinic or something.


Basically almost all veterinary employees start out as kennel attendants. At your young relative’s age (she may have to wait, some vets want 18 and older but we’ve hired 16=17 year olds on occasion). Regardless of what she wants to become- vet assistant, tech or vet- Ideally, she would need to start at kennel level to learn the basics of animal care and proper handling (harder than it would seem!). She would also learn whether this business is for her- this can be a dirty, loud, sometimes frustrating, often disgusting job. The reward is usually minimum wage and maybe a puppy kiss sometimes. I started in kennel, switched from 7 years of manager work in another field and started at “entry level”. Cleaning poop, walking dogs and holding animals. Worked my way up from vet assistant to receptionist and then to office manager. I enjoyed working in the back office quite a bit, even when I worked for a slave driver ;). Now I enjoy manager position- I like the challenge and even like dealing with people most of the time. I had a crossroads where I could have chosen to pursue veterinarian technician education and IMHO would have done well but am very happy that I decided to pursue the managerial path instead. I don’t make a lot, but I do make enough to support myself, four dogs, 2 cats and 6 sheep. My employers now are excellent vets and I’m proud of the work our hospital does.

The pay in the veterinary field is not very good unless your relative becomes a licensed tech- and even they don’t make nearly as much as their human nurse counterparts. Techs that do specialty or emergency work tend to make better money than general practice techs. Tech school here is 2-3 years, you can do a short-track program if you have the required amount of practical working experience hours. The pay is getting better, its more common now for vets to offer decent wages and benefits than it used to be. I am considering going for a CVPM (certified veterinary practice manager)- will have to hit the books again for that one.

I’m afraid, dangermom, that your young relative has diddlysquat chance of making it even as a vet tech, with nothing to recommend her but a “great love of animals”. No interest in working at her studies, no ambition, no work ethic visible? Does she think some fairy godmother will tap her with a wand and make her a vet?

Okay, that’s awfully harsh, but – well, geez, I’m trying to find a polite way to say this, and failing. You ask, “What would my young relative have to do to actually become something in the animal world?” To be blunt, I’d say: “Get off your ass, get cracking on your studies, develop the ability to put business before pleasure, take responsibility for your future, show some initiative, and demonstrate you’re willing to do hard, dirty, demanding entry-level work for entry-level pay if you want to get into the field at all.” Reading sci-fi gets her nowhere; studying – and doing well in – the biological sciences is what she needs to focus on.

I tell you what: Having seen the long, hard hours my large and small animal vets put in, and the hectic, hard world of their excellent vet techs (who manage to keep their cheerful cool no matter what excrement has hit the fan), I can say with complete confidence that they’d have zero interest in wasting their time trying to whip your relative into some sort of useful shape for their practice. There are plenty of hard-working, committed, mature high-schoolers seeking internships or entry-level positions as a first step in a well-thought-out plan for their future.

If your young relative persists in this vague dream of hers, steer her into working as a volunteer at a shelter. When she discovers that working with animals isn’t all cuddling fluffy kittens and cute puppies, she will either readjust her expectations to something more realistic,

On preview: Smokinjbc offers great practical advice on getting established in teh field. I’ll stand by my comments about the attitude your relative needs to acquire.


…or buckle down and do the hard scholastic work she’ll need to succeed in the veterinary world.

My brother is a vet. Vet school is extremely difficult to get into. He’s a large animal vet with a mobile clinic, which means less overhead but tons of driving. He grosses over 6 figures but after expenses he probably doesn’t make much more than I do as a mid-level government bureaucrat. He can’t even afford health insurance for himself and was just able (at age 36) to buy his first house this year.

It’s hard work. He works 6 days a week and is on call unless he’s out of town. Working with large animals can be quite dangerous–he’s had several serious injuries but he has to keep working even when he’s in pain, because all of his income is dependent on him being out in the field. He worked as a vet tech for many years as an undergrad to make sure this was the career he wanted; in fact, such experience is crucial for the competitive application process. I have heard him discourage young people from going into vet science just because “they love cute, cuddly animals”–you’ve got to have much more than that to be happy as a vet. Whatever you decide, though, I wish you the bestof luck!