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Veterinary Medicine Overview


For more information on careers in this field, see the list on the right. For salary ranges, schooling requirements and more, check out the Career Explorer.      

If you hear the word, "veterinary," you likely immediately think of animals. And rightly so since veterinary medicine is the branch of medicine that deals with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease as well as disease prevention in animals of all types, from family pets to farm livestock and zoo animals.

What you may not know is that veterinary health care workers also contribute to human public health by working to control zoonotic disease, those diseases passed from non-human animals to humans, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus, for example.

The scope of veterinary medicine is wide, covering all animal species, both domesticated and wild, with a range of conditions that can affect different species. Veterinary medical workers include:

  • Veterinarians: Physicians who protect the health of both animals and humans, veterinarians may have their own practice caring for companion animals, or they may work in zoos, wildlife parks, or aquariums; focus on public health and regulatory medicine; enter academia or research; or they may pursue other career paths.
  • Veterinary technicians: These workers assist veterinarians with surgery, laboratory procedures, radiography, anesthesiology, treatment and nursing and client education. Almost every state requires a veterinary technician to pass a credentialing exam to ensure a high level of competency.
  • Veterinary assistants: They support the veterinarian and/or the veterinary technician in their daily tasks. The assistant may be asked to perform kennel work, assist in the restraint and handling of animals, feed and exercise the animals, or spend time on clerical duties.

Other roles in a veterinary office may include a receptionist and a practice manager (someone who manages the office’s business functions).

Animal behaviorists are also a part of the veterinary field though they are not usually found in a veterinarian’s office. They study the way animals behave and try to determine what causes certain types of behavior and what factors can prompt behavior change. Most animal behaviorists are employed in academic settings, usually in biology or psychology departments, where they teach and engage in high-level research.

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Note: The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has reviewed this overview.