Louis Pasteur, a French chemist and microbiologist in the 1800’s, began his study of rabies when two dogs infected with rabies were brought to his laboratory. One of the dogs suffered from the dumb form of the disease: his jaw hung low, he foamed at the mouth, and he had a vacant look in his eyes. The other dog suffered from the viscous form of the disease: he let out terrifying howls, he snapped, and he bit at any object that came close to him.
Through his research Pasteur learned that the rabies germ/organism in saliva could pass to other animals and people through an infected bite. Using this information, Pasteur grew rabies germs/organisms from infected animals and then weakened it, by drying it out, to develop the first vaccine for rabies. (Pasteur) Back then, Pasteur was considered a chemist and microbiologiest, today he would be considered a research veterinarian. Veterinarians ensure that animals are healthy and treated ethically when receiving care, that they cannot transmit potentially fatal diseases to people, and that the food supply is healthy for consumption.
As with all science discoveries, veterinary medicine had to start somewhere. For centuries societies have needed animals for food, farming, and transportation. No surprising people needed to find ways to keep their livestock healthy. The first veterinarians learned their skills by working directly with animals. Early veterinarian’s developed surgical procedures that caused considerable torture to the animal, as a result they were rarely successful, but a new invention in the mid-nineteenth century called anesthetics made veterinary surgery comfortable and reliable. After that animals became the subjects of new surgical techniques being developed or tested. In the late-nineteenth century veterinarians began ensuring the quality of the food supply by controlling the diseases that affect the livestock’s health and inspecting the food itself. (The Veterinary History Society) In 1930 veterinarians helped create the Bureau of Animal Industry who’s responsible for “improving the well-being of the animal industry through development of animal policies and parallel sectors such as marketing, feed quality, livestock production, and research.” (Bureau of Animal Industry)
Today veterinarians are still employeed in many different areas. The most common career for a veterinarian is clinical or private practice. This category is divided into two divisions: companion animal veterinarians and mixed animal veterinarians. Companion animal veterinarians take care of pets includes dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, and reptiles. Mixed animal veterinarians take care of farm animals including horses, pigs, goats, sheep, and cattle; they also take care of wild animals in zoos including lions, tigers, bears, and giraffes. Clinical or private practice veterinarians diagnose health problems, vaccinate against diseases, prescribe medication for animals suffering from infections or illnesses, treat wounds, set fractures and broke bones, and perform surgery.
Clinical and private practice veterinarians also inform and advise animal owners about feeding, behavior, and breeding. Companion animal veterinarians work in clinical or private medical practices while mixed animal veterinarians spend their working time between farms, ranches and their office. Both categories use medical equipment such as stethoscopes, diagnostic equipment, and surgical instruments. They work long hours including evenings and weekends; and respond to emergencies any time of the day and night. Veterinarians maintain a professional behavior while dealing with emotional pet owners, and when treating frightened animals that kick, scratch, and bite. (American Veterinary Medical Association)
Another common veterinarian career is research and public medical health. This category of veterinarians contribute to animal health as well as human medical health, they do basic research to broaden knowledge of animals and medical science, applied science to develop new ways to use the knowledge acquired, clinical research, product testing, and protecting people against diseases carried by animals. They also work with doctors and scientists doing animal experimentation to develop surgical techniques for people like joint replacements and organ transplants, and to determine the effects of new drug therapies. Research veterinarians work in laboratories and offices. They use computers, measuring instruments, microscopes, and a full range of sophisticated laboratory equipment. They usually work regular weekday office hours, and spend their time dealing with people and paperwork rather than animals. (American Veterinary Medical Association)
A final common veterinarian career is food safety and inspection. This category of veterinarians work inspecting meat, poultry, eggs, and plants. Food safety and inspection veterinarians advise ranchers on the care and treatment of their livestock, check livestock for diseases such as e-coli, salmonella, and mad-cow disease, and quarantine livestock when necessary. They inspect at slaughter and processing plants to enforce government regulations on food purity and sanitation. Food safety and inspection veterinarians work for Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at the borders ensuring the quality of animal product imported and exported; which means these veterinarians are responsible for protecting everyone from food borne illnesses both here and abroad. Food safety and inspection veterinarians work family friendly schedules, and must take their job extremely seriously because the public is counting on them for protection. (United States Department of Agriculture)Becoming a veterinarian is not easy.
Veterinary medicine is a scientific field that requires extensive training and education. Anyone wanting to become a veterinarian should start by volunteering at animal shelters or veterinary practices, and participate in animal related programs such as 4-H while in high school. They should take a rigorous curriculum including composition, communication, mathematics, and science including biology, chemistry, and physics both in high school and in college; then take the required standardized entrance tests before applying to one of the twenty-eight accredited veterinary universities in the U.S. Admission to veterinary universities is very competitive with only one out of three applicants accepted. After finishing the veterinary curriculum, graduates usually pursue additional specialty education such as preventive medicine, internal medicine, and surgery.
Education is not the only requirement to practice veterinary medicine. In addition veterinarians must pass two exams: the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam and the State Exam covering state laws and regulations and take the veterinary oath. The veterinary oath was created by the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics and states “Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of livestock resources, the promotion of public health and the advancement of medical knowledge. I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.” (American Veterinary Medical Association) The major objective of the veterinary oath is to encourage moral and ethical practices in all aspects of the profession.
Becoming a veterinarian is considered a good career because veterinarians receive a good income. The average 2008 starting salary for a veterinary college graduates vary by the type of practice. Companion animal veterinarians could expect to start at $64,750 while mixed animal veterinarians earn slightly less starting at $62,500. With five years experience these animal care givers annual salary should increase to over $79,000. Research and public medical health veterinarians could expect to start at $53,500. With five years experience these veterinary researchers annual salary should increase to over $86,500. Food safety and inspection veterinarians could expect a start at $84,000. With five years experience these veterinary inspectors annual salary should increase to over $93,400. On average veterinarians across the country earn a similar wage this means a veterinarian working in Massachusetts earnings are fairly close to veterinarians working in California. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
The employment outlook for the veterinary field is growing. In 2008 there were 59,700 veterinarians, but by 2018 this number is expected to go up by 33% to 79,400. With only 28 accredited veterinary colleges in the U.S. producing 2,500 graduates a year job prospects are excellent. Most veterinary graduates choose to work in the companion animal area making these employment opportunities more competitive than the mixed animal area, but the companion animal area is still growing. People consider their pets as members of the family are willing to pay for intensive veterinary medical care. Although the number of veterinarians needed for research and public medical health is smaller than for private practice there is still a demand in this area. Homeland security is also providing opportunities for veterinarians with training in food safety and inspection. This area is by far the largest single employer of veterinarians in the United States employing more than 1,100 veterinarians. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Although there are many positive reasons for becoming a veterinarian, there are also a couple of negative aspects of the job that would disuade some individuals from becoming veterinarians. The first negative aspect is the education required. The course work to becoming a veterinarian is more challenging than the course work to become a doctor because of the variety of animal species anatomies. Also the cost of a veterinary education is not cheap. The tuition for Michigan State University’s undergraduate program averages $19,000 per year, and their tuition for the veterinary graduate program averages $20,000 per year.
That equates to tuition of $156,000 for the eight years of education required, not taking into account that actual tuition is likely to be higher as rates increase each year. (Michigan State University) The second negative aspect of becoming a veterinarian is dealing with sick animals and their possible deaths. Perhaps the hardest job a veterinarian is the responsibility to take care of a pet that is so severely ill or injured that it will never be able to resume a good quality life. In this circumstance it is a veterinarian’s job to assist a pet owner concerning the most difficult decision they will ever make regarding inducing their pet’s death quietly and humanely through euthanasia.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has more than 80,000 members who use their skills to care for the health and well being of millions of animals, who contribute to medical research to develop scientific breakthroughs that improve the quality of human life, and who insure the safety of the food supply from disease and terrorism. Individuals who want to become veterinarians should have a compassion for animals and a life long interest in science.
Veterinary training includes four years of college, four years of veterinary college, and passing licensing examinations. The job opportunities for a veterinarian include everything from private practice taking direct care of animals including preservation and conservation, to advancing knowledge through research, to working for the government in the public health department. The veterinary profession has made many contributions that touch every aspect of human life in society, and everyone’s life is improved because of those contributions.
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