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What do veterinarians do?

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Quick Answer

Veterinarians diagnose, treat and research diseases and medical conditions in pets, animals and livestock. Veterinarians improve public health by curing communicable diseases that may spread to other animals and to humans. One of the largest employers of veterinarians in the United States is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service.

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Some veterinarians have a private practice to specialize in small animals, dogs, cats, large animals, livestock, birds and exotic animals. Corporate veterinarians work with companies to research animal products and test human drugs on animals. Government veterinarians inspect food supplies, investigate outbreaks, test for environmental quality, and work on biosecurity issues.

Older veterinarians sometimes teach in university settings to educate the next generation. As many as 40 percent of academic veterinarians plan to retire by 2024, and teaching positions must be filled. Some vets work for nonprofit agencies, such as animal shelters, to ensure the well-being of animals in temporary housing.

The 2012 median annual pay for this profession was $84,460. More than 70,300 people held veterinarian jobs in 2012, and an additional 8,400 jobs may be added by 2022. A vet earns a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited program, and each DVM must be state licensed. The veterinarian field is very competitive, and specialized veterinarians with previous work experience earn the best job opportunities.

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