A veterinarian (American English) or a veterinary surgeon (British English), often shortened to vet, is a physician for animals and a practitioner of veterinary medicine. The word comes from the Latin veterinae meaning "draught animals". "Veterinarian" was first used in print by Thomas Browne in 1646.
Many careers are open to those with veterinary degrees. Those working in clinical settings often practice medicine in a limited field such as "companion animal", pet medicine (small animals such as dog, cat, and pocket pets), production medicine or livestock medicine. Production medicine includes specialties in dairy cattle, beef cattle, swine, sheep, and poultry, equine medicine (e.g., sport, race track, show, rodeo), laboratory animal medicine, reptile medicine, or ratite medicine. Veterinarians may choose to specialize in medical disciplines such as surgery, dermatology or internal medicine, after post-graduate training and certification.
Some veterinarians pursue post-graduate training and enter research careers and have contributed many advances in many human and veterinary medical fields, including pharmacology and epidemiology. Research veterinarians were the first to isolate oncoviruses, Salmonella species, Brucella species, and various other pathogenic agents. Veterinarians were in the fore-front in the effort to suppress malaria and yellow fever in the United States, and a veterinarian was the first to note disease caused by West Nile Virus in New York zoo animals. Veterinarians determined the identity of the botulism disease-causing agent; produced an anticoagulant used to treat human heart disease; and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip-joint replacement, and limb and organ transplants.
Like physicians, veterinarians must make serious ethical decisions about their patients' care. For example, there is ongoing debate within the profession over the ethics of performing declawing of cats and docking or cropping tails and ears, as well as "debarking" dogs and in the housing of sows in gestation crates.
Prerequisites for admission include the undergraduate studies listed under veterinary medicine and extensive veterinary and other animal-related experience (typically about 1000 or more hours combined). In the United States the average veterinary medical student has an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 and a GRE score of approximately 1350. In the U.S. and Canada, veterinary school lasts for four years just like human medicine programs, with at least one year being dedicated to clinical rotations. After completion of the national board examination, some newly-accredited veterinarians choose to pursue residencies or internships in certain (usually more competitive) fields.
Veterinary titles are not always consistent. US graduates are awarded a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or the less common Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris (VMD) degree, the latter if they are a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. In Great Britain and Ireland, a qualified veterinary surgeon holds a Bachelor's Degree (e.g., BVSc or BVM&S). In continental Europe and other regions adhering to the Bologna regulations of university education, the graduate is awarded a Master's Degree (MVM) that allows them to practice clinically. In these regions, the Doctorate (Dr. med. vet. or DVM) is a postgraduate title that requires the writing of an original scientific research dissertation. This can sometimes cause confusion when comparing the North American DVM title to the European DVM.
There is some reciprocal international recognition of veterinary degrees. For example:
Veterinarians graduating from AVMA (North American accredited universities), (e.g. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Royal Veterinary College, Sydney, Massey, Murdoch, Melbourne, etc.) may work in the USA or Canada after passing the NAVLE, a veterinary licensing exam taken by all American and Canadian veterinarians. Graduates from these Universities are granted a BVS or BVSc degree which has been accredited in the US and Canada and is entirely equivalent to the DVM and VMD degrees.
Non-AVMA accredited university graduates must also sit a week long Clinical Proficiency Examination in order to work in the USA or Canada.
In the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth nations, a veterinary surgeon is an animal practitioner regulated by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons under the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. This legislation restricts the treatment of animals in the UK to qualified veterinary surgeons only, with certain specific exceptions, including physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon. Various alternative medicine therapies (such as homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine) can only be performed by a veterinary surgeon.
The economic outlook for newly graduated veterinarians is clouded by the high debt carried by many graduates, as the cost of veterinary medical education rises. As in other medical fields, new veterinarians tend to concentrate in urbanized areas and economic competition is limiting post-graduate opportunities in private practice. On the other hand, veterinarians are able to set-up successful new practices in established markets by providing special services such as an emergency and critical care clinics for pets and mobile veterinary clinics or by obtaining advanced training and certification in specialty fields of medicine. More than 3,800 veterinarians in the USA currently work at veterinary schools where they participate in research and teach vet students; teaching is another career path for a veterinarian.
There is some concern about the decreasing number of new veterinary graduates pursuing careers in the livestock industry. The majority of today's veterinary students grew up in urban or suburban areas, providing limited, if any, exposure to livestock medicine or farm animals prior to veterinary school. Livestock medicine, once based on serving many family farms such as those depicted in the James Herriot series, is increasingly specialized, as farms are decreasing in number but increasing in individual size. Today's livestock veterinarian is more likely to work in a one-species discipline, perhaps as a full-time on-site veterinarian for one specific farm, than to work in the charming pastoral settings so common only one generation ago. This change in livestock medicine has brought improvements to the health and efficiency of food production. However, without regular exposure to this growing field of veterinary practice, students are less likely to pursue this line of profession. The concern is that as the baby-boomer generation of large animal veterinarians retires, there will not be enough young veterinarians to continue its work. Veterinary schools are aware of this issue, and most now expect a pre-veterinary background which includes large animal experience. Some veterinary schools are doing more to encourage the acceptance of students planning a career in production medicine by providing an alternate admissions process (e.g., Michigan State University's "Production Medicine Scholars Program") and specific scholarships.
Public health medicine is an option for veterinarians. Veterinarians in government and private laboratories provide diagnostics and testing services. Some veterinarians serve as state epidemiologists, directors of environmental health, and directors of state or city public health departments. Veterinarians are also employed by the US Agriculture Research Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, United States Environmental Protection Agency, National Library of Medicine, and National Institutes of Health. The military also employs veterinarians in a number of capacities — caring for pets on military bases, caring for military working animals, controlling various arthropod-borne diseases, or as food safety inspectors. There are several U.S Senators who are veterinarians, including Wayne Allard (R) Colorado, and John Ensign (R) Nevada.
US-based cable network Animal Planet, with animal-based programming, frequently features veterinarians. Two notable shows are Emergency Vets and E-Vet Interns, set at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colorado.