Becoming a Veterinarian is a Wise Decision

To maintain a license to practice, veterinarians are required to
attend continuing education conferences on a regular basis. In
California, each of us must go to at least 36 hours of classes
every two years. This way, we keep up to date on the latest in
medicine and surgery.
To maintain a license to practice, veterinarians are required to attend continuing education conferences on a regular basis. In California, each of us must go to at least 36 hours of classes every two years. This way, we keep up to date on the latest in medicine and surgery.

Peg and I went to Reno, Nev., a little over a week ago for the annual Wild West Veterinary Conference. As usual, the discussions attracted lots of vets and their staff members. I met with two of my former classmates and caught up on their lives as much as possible in one evening.

Continuing-education conferences are both informative and fun. We enjoy them because we get to see old friends whenever we go. There’s a huge sense of camaraderie in our profession, and conferences allow us all to get together and trade stories.

Every year at the Reno meetings, University of California, Davis (my alma mater) has a social gathering to bring alumni together. This year our dean, Dr. Bennie Osburn, greeted us and delivered an update on new classes and construction at the veterinary school.

He also discussed the status of all the veterinary schools across the country. Some of the information he gave us was a little disturbing.

Surprisingly, there is a shortage of applicants to vet schools in many parts of our country. Fewer young students are considering a career in veterinary medicine. And the numbers are shocking: Each year there are approximately 2,500 positions open in the freshman classes in all vet schools across the nation. This past year, a little more than 5,000 students applied. The number of applicants had decreased dramatically from where it once was (at one time, the ratio was almost 10-to-1).

In some schools, there are now fewer than two applications for each freshman position. This means that it’s easier for almost any student to get into vet school. It also signals more difficulty for some institutions to pick truly qualified applicants for their schools. And looking at this, we really have to wonder why there is seemingly less interest in veterinary education.

Maybe the trend is related to the economics of our industry. Many students know that new college graduates can earn good money in some of the high-tech jobs. To get some of these jobs, they only need a four-year degree. Compare this to the veterinary student who must go to school for seven to eight years before graduating. A computer science student can get a nice entry-level job after going to college for about half the time a vet student stays in school. No wonder the high-tech world looks so appealing to some college freshman.

Problem is, this analysis is very short sighted. Down the line a few years, a graduate with a veterinary degree has higher earning potential, and more importantly, a wide variety of job opportunities. The average earnings for a veterinarian more than three years out of school is very comfortable. Financially, life is good for animal doctors.

But some of the best-kept secrets are the career alternatives available to graduate veterinarians. There are literally hundreds of different jobs from which to choose.

Most people assume that a doctor of veterinary medicine only practices medicine, caring for large and small animals. But there is so much more that a new grad can do after vet school. Veterinarians are needed in government public health positions (they are extremely important in protecting the safety of our food supply), as well as in the military. Demographic studies project a marked shortage of vets in both of these areas in the next decade.

Some veterinarians work in the NASA space program. Others work in scientific fields such as nutrition and genetics. Vets are an integral part in research throughout the medical and other science fields. Historically, they played a vital role in the development of the smallpox vaccine. And many veterinarians are working with other researchers on developing a vaccine and treatment for the recent avian flu outbreak in Asia. The work of veterinarians is absolutely vital in this effort to prepare for a potential pandemic. High-paying job opportunities will always be everywhere a vet wants to go.

For someone interested in a veterinary career but not wanting to go to school for so long, there are programs in community colleges offering a degree for registered veterinary technicians. RVT’s are para-professionals who play a vital role in our field assisting veterinarians. These technicians are licensed to administer anesthesia, take radiographs, perform dental prophylaxis and even suture wounds. In any hospital, their contribution is huge.

A veterinary degree opens the horizon to all kinds of opportunities. Veterinarians hold positions in many different industries. And, yes, they can also choose to work in pet hospitals or on farms.

I chose my field because I wanted to be an important member of my community. I was lucky enough to find a perfect home where I could live and work with many friends and neighbors. And I also used my expertise and training to develop a small career in media. Sixteen years in television, radio, electronic and print media talking about pets – who would’ve thought that would happen? It just shows that there are no career limits to someone who goes to veterinary school.

Success in any career requires knowledge and passion. If a student has a passion for animals, science and medicine, there can’t be a more rewarding career than one in the veterinary field. Every day brings new and refreshing professional challenges. Every day, vets get to solve problems or help people with their pets. What a great life!

There’s never been a more opportune time to consider an education in veterinary medicine. Openings will be available in many schools around the country. And with a degree, a graduate veterinarian has the world by the tail.  

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