According to a recent AVMA survey, 44% of private veterinary practitioners are thinking of exiting veterinary medicine before retirement—an alarming statistic given the looking veterinarian shortage. Burnout from being overworked is incredibly common, especially among younger vets.
If you find yourself among this statistic, you’re far from alone—and far from out of options.
Instead of exiting the industry completely, veterinarians should feel empowered to explore all the alternative veterinarian career options open to them.
Here are several veterinary careers worth exploring, and what pursuing them would look like.
Relief work veterinarians step in to different clinics and hospitals every week, filling in for veterinarians who are sick, on maternity leave, on vacation, or to relieve busy caseloads so that associate vets don’t experience burnout themselves.
Relief work allows veterinarians to set their own schedule. They can limit themselves to part-time work if they like—or take Mondays off if needed.
This career path is the right fit for veterinarians who are good communicators with a flexible mentality, since they will have to adjust to new clinics, practice styles, and the vets and technicians who work there.
However, relief work is typically contract work. Rather than working for a single employer, veterinarians will be in charge of handling everything—paperwork for the clinics, negotiating, health insurance, time off, etc. For vets who really want to focus on providing care to patients, there are a lot of distractions involved with being their own business.
IndeVets: a Different Way to Do Relief Work
IndeVets combines the flexibility of relief work with the support of a traditional associate position. Instead of working as contractors, vets at IndeVets are W2 employees. This means they receive a competitive salary with important benefits (like time off and health insurance), and the paperwork, contracts, and schedules with hospitals are handled by IndeVets. This allows vets to focus on what they truly love doing: treating patients.
Vets still get to make their own schedule and are in control of which clinics and hospitals they want to practice at. For veterinarians who have dealt time and time again with unwanted overtime, IndeVets allows for vets to walk away when their shift is up (and get paid by the hour for any overtime they do consent to).
Plus, vets at IndeVets get to be part of the larger IndeVets community, which is there to support them and offer guidance on decisions and diagnostics.
“I’m able to do the things that I love when it comes to veterinary medicine, and it gives me freedom. And honestly, I think that’s the most important thing about the job,” explains IndeVet Dr. Crystal Lora.
Someone needs to teach the next generation of veterinarians! Schools are hiring vets as professors, and the typical requirement is a DVM/VMD or equivalent degree along with excellent communication skills.
Teaching can be an excellent career track for vets who enjoy working with others and who can handle the responsibility of overseeing student decisions. It’s important to be comfortable with public speaking, as you’ll be expected to handle a classroom of students. You’ll need to design and teach lessons, while potentially working on scholarly activities on your own.
College and university employers tend to offer great benefits and semi-flexible scheduling, which will come as a relief to anyone feeling burnt out from the constant requests for overtime from a small animal clinic.
Education will be a poor fit for vets who prefer minimizing human interactions. Higher education can also come with its own challenges when it comes to dealing with administration and bureaucracy.
In Home Euthanasia Services
In-home euthanasia services are a caring, compassionate option for pet parents who want to spare their pet a final confusing trip to the vet.
This type of work involves being on the road a lot, and compensation is typically given per job worked (contract), allowing vets to take on a workload that feels manageable to them and control their earning potential. If you’re looking to avoid clinical paperwork, there’s going to be less of that here—as patients won’t need ongoing medical records.
This is a good veterinary career option for vets who value autonomy and who find dignity and honor in helping pets cross over, while simultaneously counseling their human companions. Assisting pets over the rainbow bridge, while a valuable and empathetic service, can lead to compassion fatigue—so it will not be the best fit for everyone.
Although flexibility may sometimes be required for this position (euthanasia decisions are not always made far in advance), many job listings for this role still have traditional work hours (8am to 6pm).
And for those looking for new veterinarian career options because they’re experiencing understaffing and overbooking, in-home euthanasia might be the key. Unlike a traditional clinic where vets might be expected to see up to 50 pets a day, in-home euthanasia vets typically visit just 1-6 patients. “We get to be so present with each client, and it’s a very different experience for everyone,” explains Dr. Dani McVety, a hospice veterinarian for Lap of Love.
Not every practice is equipped with ultrasound equipment, and clinics often want to offer these services to patients rather than refer them out as a way to ensure convenience and comfort. Mobile ultrasound services will travel from clinic to hospital offering services as needed. You might end up serving dozens, or even hundreds of local clinics.
If you’re exploring veterinary career options, mobile ultrasound jobs are a good fit for veterinarians who enjoy the problem-solving aspect of the job, since you’ll be diagnosing issues and helping owners uncover what’s wrong with their beloved pet.
This can be a great match for someone who wants to specialize in an area of practice, especially if they’ve been feeling burnt out by other aspects of veterinary care. Cardiologists, radiologists, and pathologists are in high demand for these positions. This position will involve a fair amount of driving to different locations, so be prepared for a lot of time on the road.
Benefits will vary by company, but many mobile ultrasound companies stick to regular work hours (8am-6pm), offer company vehicles, and cover licensing dues for all areas if you are required to work in multiple states.
Food Safety and Inspection Services
Having experienced veterinarians oversee the nation’s food supply is critical for ensuring food safety.
USDA Veterinarians ensure that producers comply with sanitation standards, inspect livestock and meat to make sure they meet federal standards, supervise food inspectors, enforce the Humane Slaughter Act, and more. Veterinarians may also work on preventing livestock disease outbreaks (and dealing with them when they arise).
Veterinarians will need to become USDA accredited for this job—but there is no cost to getting accredited!
The USDA is currently the largest employer of veterinarians in the world. Working for the government has many perks—it’s typically a stable career path that comes with great benefits, like a federal government retirement plan. This job path is a good fit for those who see the value in providing a public service and who want the stability and predictability of a government job.
As a plus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a loan repayment program that helps eligible veterinarians pay off their loans (up to $25,000 per year) in exchange for their service in high-priority veterinary shortage roles.
Your Future Veterinary Career Awaits
Exploring veterinary career options can open up the door to new ways to use your degree, and practice veterinary care in a way that feels right to you.
Vets are also employed by pet rehab centers, pet insurance companies, and zoos—and beyond that, a DVM can be applied to a wide range of career paths that may not necessarily involve direct animal care. The Centers for Disease Prevention (CDC), for example, hires veterinarians for important work regarding border health services and quarantine.
Don’t be afraid to use your existing network to find out about new and alternative opportunities that might be the right fit for your career path.