types of veterinarian jobs, different types of veterinarian jobs

The world of veterinary medicine is dynamic and diverse. Vets can pursue a wide variety of career paths, all of which offer unique contributions to animal care. There are dozens of different types of veterinarian jobs, ranging from specialty jobs like dermatology and emergency care, to focusing on one aspect of care, like euthanasia—to necessary public services, like the government veterinarians who protect the nation’s food supply.

Here are nine types of veterinarian jobs, as well as what’s required for each role.


1. General Practice Veterinarians

General practice vets will typically work with companion animals, handling preventative care—like routine checkups, vaccinations, and offering guidance to pet owners—as well as treating common ailments and potential emergencies.

General practice vets work in a variety of settings. Some may opt to work at small, private clinics, while others are employed by larger, corporate veterinary practices. Others may work with organizations like IndeVets, a veterinary staffing company that combines the flexibility of relief work with the stability and benefits of a traditional workplace.

General practice veterinarians get to develop relationships with animals and pet parents after seeing them year after year. The most typical patient species will be cats and dogs, and some vets may opt to work at specialized clinics that cater to cats or dogs only.

After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (like biology), general practice vets must successfully graduate from a DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine) program, and then complete a licensing examination.

2. Veterinary Specialists

Veterinary specialists provide specialized and advanced care for the animals they treat. There are many areas of specialization, including cardiology, dermatology, oncology, radiology, and more. These vets hone in on specific disciplines within the veterinary field.

Vet specialists get to apply their in-depth knowledge to complex cases, and they collaborate with general practice veterinarians to solve patient problems. The answers aren’t always easy to find when it comes to diagnosing and treating animals, which can be both challenging and rewarding in equal turns.

Becoming a specialist involves additional schooling and certification. After receiving a DMV, vets will need to complete an additional 3-year residency in their field of study. Then, they’ll need to pass certification exams to become a board-certified specialist.

3. Emergency and Critical Care Veterinarians

Emergency and critical care veterinarians deal with everything from toxic ingestion to hit-and-run emergencies. It’s a fast-paced role that requires veterinarians to make quick decisions and flex a wide variety of skills, as one patient might be a dog with a broken leg, and the very next patient could be a cat unable to urinate. The nature of the job means that vets will sometimes have to take on night and on-call shifts or work holidays, as emergencies happen beyond the 9-to-5.

For this role, adaptability is crucial—emergency vets encounter a wide range of cases that will all need a unique approach. Emotional resilience is also important: emergency and critical care veterinarians are dealing with animals in extreme distress. These vets have to be able to compartmentalize their experience to prevent compassion fatigue.

While the demands of emergency veterinary medicine may be intense, these vets offer an invaluable service—often saving animals’ lives in critical situations.

After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (like biology), emergency vets must successfully graduate from a DVM program, and complete a licensing examination upon graduation. Then they need to pursue a board certification in emergency medicine, with an additional three-year residency.

4. Research Veterinarians

Veterinarians serve a vital role in medical research. Their duties can range from taking care of animals and documenting their health, to performing medical procedures. They may have to design clinical health programs for animals used in experiments.

Research veterinarians also run clinical and observational trials—these can be pharmaceutical products or procedures. One clinical trial, for example, might compare whether a new therapeutic approach has better outcomes than the current standard of care.

Research veterinarians contribute to the understanding of complex health issues, and the outcomes of their trials often serve both animals and humans alike—as some drugs developed for or tested on animals have applications for human health as well.

After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (like biology), research vets must successfully graduate from a DVM program, then complete a licensing examination upon graduation. Then they need to pursue board certification in veterinary research, which involves an additional three-year residency, or an additional degree in a field such as pharmacology or parasitology.

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5. Veterinary Roles in Public Health and Policy

Veterinarians play a vital role in protecting public health and ensuring a safe food supply; as a result, there are numerous job opportunities for veterinarians within different government agencies.

USDA veterinarians, for example, make sure that livestock producers comply with sanitation standards as well as the Humane Slaughter Act. These veterinarians look for signs of disease on live animals and carcasses, helping prevent disease outbreaks.

Veterinarians also have a role in shaping public policy, with several veterinarians currently serving in the US House of Representatives and in senior leadership positions (such as in the USDA).

6. Exotic Animal and Wildlife Veterinarians

Working with alligators might sound like a nightmare for some, but it’s a dream scenario for vets drawn to exotic animals and wildlife positions. As a zoo or wildlife vet, they’ll handle dozens of diverse species types, all with unique problems—and these animals will often be untamed or completely wild. Vets won’t just be diagnosing illnesses and performing surgeries—they’ll also be instructing zoo workers on how to properly feed and care for the various animals.

In wildlife rehabilitation, veterinarians will be at the forefront of protecting and providing treatment for native fauna—releasing animals back into the wild or transferring them to a suitable sanctuary once they’ve healed. While this can be incredibly rewarding, the reality of the work can be challenging as well: vets will be working with animals that have been injured by cars, poison, or traps.

After receiving a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant field (like biology), exotic animal vets must successfully graduate from a DVM program, followed by a one to two-year internship. Then they need to pursue an additional three to four-year residency to get board certification in zoological medicine.

7. Industry and Corporate Roles for Veterinarians

Many private-sector jobs for veterinarians are in the pharmaceutical and pet food industries. Not only do these industries offer many job opportunities for veterinarians—they also tend to offer very lucrative salaries. Veterinarians in the pet food industry ensure that food is safe and nutritious, meeting the highest standards available.

The market for veterinary medicine is expected to hit $45 billion by 2030, making this a lucrative industry to get into. Veterinarians can become research scientists who design experiments and supervise clinical trials, or they can take on leadership roles within the companies themselves.

Consulting is another corporate route vets can take—offering advice and expertise to clinics to help them improve their business performance. This requires a holistic knowledge of how organizations should function, ranging from business strategy to management, finance, and marketing. Being an expert on the business side of veterinary medicine helps ensure the sustainability and success of veterinary clinics.

In addition to being a DVM, it will help to either have a business degree (such as an MBA) or in-depth business experience if one plans on being a consultant.

8. Veterinary Education and Academia

Veterinary education and academia offer a pathway to train the next generation of veterinarians and veterinary technicians. In most cases, a DVM is enough education to land a teaching position, as most schools will not require a teaching degree. However, they will look for important soft skills (good communication, organization, and patience) as well as a vet’s experience in the specialist field they’ll be teaching about.

Veterinarians can also be academic researchers who contribute to the advancement of veterinary studies by exploring new treatments and enhancing our understanding of animal diseases.  Academic researchers will typically need to complete a research veterinarian residency program.

9. Niche and Emerging Roles in Veterinary Medicine

Pet owners have a growing interest in new and alternative treatments for their pets. Antidepressants for pets were virtually unheard of 20 years ago—but today, the majority of small pet practitioners report having prescribed fluoxetine (the pet “Prozac”).

Consequently, there are emerging roles in veterinary medicine such as telemedicine, genetic medicine, veterinary acupuncture, and animal behaviorists as more pet owners seek these services out. Acupuncture is used to cure both existing ailments and act as preventative care, and can be used to treat everything from skin conditions to gastrointestinal problems.

Some veterinarians may opt to be animal behaviorists, who take a holistic look at an animal’s environment, experiences, and health to address their behavior. They are licensed to prescribe psychotropic medications as needed. Although vets will often be working with reactive dogs—which can be challenging—it can be an incredibly rewarding experience to help these pets start to live a better, less anxious life.

For emerging roles in veterinary medicine there is often less of a clear career path to follow, as these specialties are still developing and don’t involve traditional internships and board certifications. When this is the case, it’s a good idea to see what other specialists in the field have done.

Charting New Paths: The Future of Job Opportunities for Veterinarians

Veterinary medicine lends itself to many types of veterinarian jobs—each with its own unique set of challenges and rewards. Ranging from the traditional role of the small animal practitioner—who establishes a bond with both animal and owner—to veterinary educators, who teach the next generation of veterinarians—the profession as a whole is evolving to meet the growing needs of animals as well as people. As the veterinary industry continues to move forward, new roles will emerge for veterinarians eager to leave their mark and potentially lead innovation within the field.

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What are the different types of veterinarians?

There are dozens of different types of veterinarian jobs, including:

General practice veterinarians, veterinary specialists (such as dermatology, oncology, cardiology, etc), emergency and critical care veterinarians, research veterinarians, exotic animal and wildlife veterinarians, pet food and pharmaceutical-role veterinarians, research veterinarians, teaching veterinarians, veterinary acupuncturists, animal behaviorist veterinarians, and more.

Can you be a vet and not do surgery?

After you graduate and take an associate job, absolutely! Each veterinarian works with their clinic management to determine where their skills and wishes align.

What are the top three industries that employ vets?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83% of veterinarians provide veterinary services while other industries reflect a much lower percentage; Government (2%), Social Advocacy Organizations (1%) and Educational services; state, local, and private (1%).