What roles do veterinarians play in society and what are their duties on the job?

Veterinarians are at the forefront of protecting the public’s health and welfare as they play a major role in the health of our society by caring for animals. They also use their expertise and education to protect and improve human health. It’s likely that you are most familiar with veterinarians who care for our companion animals, but there are many other opportunities for veterinarians. Veterinarians also help keep the nation’s food supply safe, work to control the spread of diseases, and conduct research that aid both animals and humans.  There is a growing need for vets with postgraduate education in particular specialties, such as molecular biology, laboratory animal medicine, toxicology, immunology, diagnostic pathology or environmental medicine. The veterinary profession is becoming more involved in aquaculture, comparative medical research, food production and international disease control. 

Veterinarians who work directly with animals use a variety of medical equipment, including surgical tools and x-ray and ultrasound machines. They provide treatment for animals that is similar to the services a physician provides to treat humans. Veterinarian duties include:  

-Examine animals to diagnose their health problems  
-Treat and dress wounds  Perform surgery on animals  
-Test for and vaccinate against diseases  
-Operate medical equipment, such as x-ray machines  
-Advise animal owners about general care, medical conditions, and treatments  
-Prescribe medication  
-Euthanize animals  

Adapted from https://hpa.princeton.edu/sites/hpa/files/veterinarymedicine-2018.pdf, https://hpa.princeton.edu/explore-careers/veterinary-medicine

What careers are available in the veterinary medicine field?

The following list is not exhaustive but provides an overview of careers where graduates of veterinary medical schools can effectively apply their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degrees.  

-General private practice as standard veterinarian
-General public practice in shelter medicine and community medicine
-With advanced training and experience, practice a specialty field such as ophthalmology, orthopedics, aquatic animal medicine, marine biology, wildlife animal medicine, zoo medicine, or emergency animal medicine. 
-The Federal Government employs veterinarians through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) working on biosecurity, environmental quality, public health, meat inspection, regulatory medicine, and agricultural animal health, or the investigation of disease outbreaks.  
-Research, either in a university setting or with companies that produce animal-related products or pharmaceuticals, as laboratory medicine veterinarians and veterinarian-scientists
-Public Health, particularly with governmental agencies such as the United State Public Health Service, which works to control the transmission of animal-to-human (zoonotic) diseases.  
-Global Veterinary Medicine, in private practice or with international agencies working in areas such as food production and safety or emerging diseases.  
-Public Policy, working for governments and non-profit organizations on animal and zoonotic diseases, animal welfare, public health issues, or as consultants with non-governmental agencies. 

Adapted from https://hpa.princeton.edu/sites/hpa/files/veterinarymedicine-2018.pdf

I love animals. Should I pursue veterinary medicine?

Today’s veterinarians are extremely dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of animals and humans. Veterinarians are animal lovers and understand the value of animals in our families and society. However, being an animal lover is simply not enough to be admitted to vet school. There are a plethora of potential careers for animal lovers including being a zoologist, kennel attendant, humane educator, marine biologist, veterinary technician, marine biologist, and wildlife rehabilitator. Ask yourself: why am I drawn to vet medicine? What qualities do I possess that would help me become a successful vet? How do I see myself contributing to the field and my community as a future vet? Gaining experience by volunteering or working at a veterinary clinic/hospital and directly working with vets should help inform your decisions regarding a veterinary medicine career. It is also essential for aspiring vets to possess other personal attributes that contribute to a successful career in veterinary medicine. These include:

A Scientific Mind: A student interested in veterinary medicine should have an inquiring mind and keen powers of observation. Aptitude, interest, and doing well in the biological sciences is important.  
Good Communication & Interpersonal Skills: Veterinarians must meet, talk, and work well with a variety of people. 
Compassion: Being compassionate is an essential attribute for success as it should guide humane treatment and medical decisions by a veterinarian. It is also important for veterinarians working with owners who form strong bonds with their animals. 
Leadership Experience: Many environments (e.g., clinical practice, governmental agencies, public health programs) require that veterinarians manage employees and businesses. Having basic managerial and leadership skills contribute to greater success in these work environments.

Adapted from https://hpa.princeton.edu/sites/hpa/files/veterinarymedicine-2018.pdf

I love money. Should I pursue veterinary medicine?

A harsh reality that pre-vets should be aware of is although vet school is as expensive and time-consuming as medical school, the economic return is one of the lowest in the healthcare industry. The average starting salary for Princeton grads is roughly about the average starting salary of vet school grads(~60-80k). 99% of the time, students who apply to vet school genuinely care about animals, are not in it for the money, and are willing to be broke for the job even after years of extra training. Financial struggles reportedly contribute to veterinarians having disproportionately high suicide rates in the healthcare field.

Vet school graduates may choose to pursue a specialty, which can give a salary boost, but specialization requires years of residency and internships with low pay all while paying off your loans. Location and type of practice can also impact salaries.

There is essentially very limited grant aid for vet schools (unlike some medical schools that are now beginning to cover full tuition for financial aid students) and it is probably because vet school graduates are too broke to afford large gifts to their vet school alma maters. There are some scholarships that students could apply to, but financial aid tends to be mostly in the form of loans and you are expected to work jobs during the summers and/or the academic year. However, attending your state vet school could help you get a somewhat reduced tuition charge for being an in-state resident.