A veterinarian (North 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." The word "veterinarian" was first used in English by Thomas Browne (1605-1682).
Although veterinarians in many countries may have been awarded with doctoral degrees and receive extensive training in veterinary medical practice, there are many career fields open to those with veterinary degrees other than clinical practice. Those that do work in clinical settings often practice medicine in specific fields, such as companion animal or "pet" medicine, livestock medicine, equine medicine (e.g. sport, race track, show, rodeo), laboratory animal medicine, reptile medicine, or ratite medicine or they may specialize in medical disciplines such as surgery, dermatology or internal medicine, after post-graduate training and certification.
Many veterinarians pursue post-graduate training and enter research careers and have contributed many advances in many human and veterinary medical fields, including pharmacology. 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.
Education and regulation
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). The average veterinary medical student has an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 and a GRE score of approximately 1350. US graduates are awarded either 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. 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.
There are some inconsistencies concerning the titles awarded upon completion of veterinary studies. In Great Britain and Ireland, a qualified veterinary surgeon merely holds a Bachelor's Degree (BVSc). 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 him/her 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 after passing the NAVLE, a veterinary licensing exam taken by all American veterinarians. Graduates from these Universities are granted a BVSc degree which has been accredited in the US and Canada and is 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.
In the United Kingdom and some Commonwealth nations, a veterinary surgeon is an animal practicioner 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.
In the United States veterinarians in private practice earn an average salary of $66,590 per year, while those working for the US government average $78,769 per year (2004 Bureau of Labor Statistics data). More recent data from the American Veterinary Medical Association reports median earnings of $77,500-$98,500, for all types of private, public, and corporate veterinarians. Most veterinarians are paid based on production, rather than a straight salary, so earnings can vary based on type of practice, location of practice, and even the season of the year.
The economic outlook for newly graduated veterinarians is clouded by the high debt level 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.
Some veterinarians work in a field called regulatory medicine, ensuring a nation's food safety, e.g. the USDA FSIS, or work by protecting a country from imported exotic animal diseases. e.g the USDA APHIS. The emerging field of conservation medicine involves veterinarians even more directly with human health care, providing a multidisciplinary approach to medical research that also involves environmental scientists.
Public health medicine is another 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.
In popular culture
Perhaps the best known depictions of a veterinarian at work are in the autobiographical books by James Alfred Wight, better known to his readers as James Herriot. Dr. Wight's books were also made into a famous BBC adaptation, All Creatures Great and Small. The most popular in mainstream media is Dr. Dolittle, which was a children's book turned into a movie in 1967 with Rex Harrison in the title role. The movie was then remade in 1998 casting Eddie Murphy as Dr. Dolittle. The original Dr. Dolittle involved an island as the main setting, whereas the remake of Dr. Dolittle has a setting in a city.
The US-based cable network Animal Planet, because of its animal-based programming, features shows about veterinarians frequently. Two of its most notable shows about vets are Emergency Vets and E-Vet Interns, both set at Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver, Colorado.
In the hit TV-show "Grey's Anatomy", the main character (Meredith) dates a vet named Finn Dandridge for several episodes. Their first date was interrupted when Finn received a call to birth a horse. Later, Finn helps diagnose Meredith's dog, Doc, which she shares with Derek Shepherd. Sadly, the dog has to be put to sleep. Finn becomes known as "McVet" by many of the interns at the hospital, following the show's tradition of McLabeling.
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