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Emily Lambert

Mr. Rhodes

AP Language and Composition

22 February 2018

A Career in Veterinary Medicine

A young child’s parents finally concede, after months of begging from their daughter, to

let her have a puppy. She chooses a sweet collie and they quickly become best friends. The girl

loves playing with her dog and taking care of him, she often imagines herself as an animal doctor

who can spend her days with all kinds of dogs and other pets like her friends have. As she gets

older, she explores careers in medicine and science, and decides to attend medical school to

become a physician. Through her classes, the girl becomes more enamored with the medical field

of study. One day, however, the girl’s parents gently inform her that her beloved childhood pet

has developed a possibly life-threatening disease. Through many trips to the animal hospital,

hoping for an answer and a cure, the girl feels a responsibility to treat her dog, as she had

pretended to do in childhood. She rediscovers her passion for helping animals and their owners,

persuading her to instead pursue a career as a veterinarian. The veterinary field provides an

opportunity for professionals to choose from a wide variety of career paths, offering different

environments and outcomes, and experience the continuous changes of a medical profession.

In total, most veterinarians complete eight years of college studies by the time they

receive their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. While admission to a DVM program

typically does not require a bachelor’s degree, most students choose to earn one before moving

on to graduate school (“Veterinarians - How to”). Students can take undergraduate classes on a
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pre-veterinary track at many different schools, these courses generally include many hours of

chemistry and biology, but fewer schools offer a specific animal science major (“College Search

- Majors”). Since the United States has only 30 accredited veterinary schools, students compete

fiercely for a coveted first-year seat in the program (“Annual Data Report”). In 2016, Ohio State

University offered the most first-year seats, 164, while Oregon State University offered only 56;

nationwide, the 2016 first year class had only 3,372 students (“Annual Data Report”). Attending

veterinary school comes with a financial burden, especially for nonresident students. North

Carolina State University offers the lowest cost of attendance for in-state DVM students, about

$152,000 for all four years, however a DVM degree at the University of Minnesota costs nearly

$260,000 (“Exploring the Cost”). Since all states do not have a veterinary school, students must

assess their options in order to receive the best education for the best cost.

After graduation, veterinarians face a dynamic job market that encourages competition as

a means to stay important and employable. Along with earning a doctoral degree, many

veterinarians choose to receive extended education or certification. Having expertise and

experience in a specialty such as dentistry or surgery leads to better job opportunities and higher

salaries (“Veterinarians - How to”). The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 18 percent

increase in job outlook from 2016-2026, much faster than most occupations (“Veterinarians - Job

Outlook”). By maintaining an expertise in a specific focus area, young and old veterinarians gain

a competitive edge in the job market. Veterinary medicine will continue to advance and offer

services similar to human healthcare because Americans will always have pets. Older

veterinarians retiring, and clients increasing their spending, continuously drive the field’s

employment (“Veterinarians - Job Outlook”). The 179 million pets in North America generate an
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annual expenditure of about $58.5 billion and nearly 30 percent of that spending goes towards

veterinary care, a service that gradually costs more money (Parker). In order to stay up to date on

changes in the field, veterinarians must acquire 20 hours of continued education every year.

Veterinarians can obtain these hours by attending large conferences or small, local classes (Hoe).

Professionals must remain updated and have specialties in order to stay relevant to society and

maintain a stable career.

While one should not pursue a career solely for financial purposes, finding a sustainable

salary should play a notable role in job searches. Certain careers within the field of veterinary

medicine offer higher salaries than others, specifically for a job that requires unique

specialization. A job in a social advocacy organization typically offers higher wages than that of

a government worker or a private practice clinician (“Veterinarians - Pay”). The average

American veterinarian brings in a salary of about $98,000, but the highest earning 10 percent

make more than $157,000 (“Explore Careers: Veterinarians - Wages”). Veterinarians typically

make the most in the Northeastern United States, one in Delaware will make about $130,000,

while the average veterinarian in Montana makes only about $70,000 every year (“Explore

Careers: Veterinarians - Wages”). Varying costs of living and job markets cause this large

disparity in salaries amongst professionals performing similar tasks. Many potential veterinarians

believe this salary does not justify four years of medical school.

As the economy changes, many young adults who attend college will graduate with the

burden of a high student debt that individuals must consider before entering the veterinary field.

Over the past 9 years, the median tuition for a DVM degree has increased by nearly $10,000, and

the median debt has increased by more than $50,000 (“Annual Data Report”). In 2016, the
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average American DVM graduate accumulated a debt of over $156,000 throughout schooling

(“Annual Data Report”). The head of the economics division of the American Veterinary

Medical Association criticized the negative return on investment for a veterinary career. The

Wall Street Cheat Sheet ​ranked the field third on a list of worst professions for paying off student

loans (Smither 51). To put this in perspective to a doctor, medical school, on average, costs about

$8,000 more annually than veterinary school, but physicians will earn a salary typically twice as

high as a veterinarian’s (“Tuition and Student Fees”). The average DVM graduates have an

accumulated debt three times higher than their starting salary, causing financial stress for young

adults looking to live independently (Smither 52). Despite this turmoil, nearly 90 percent of

veterinarians reported satisfaction from their career choice (52). If this field does not change and

become more viable financially, students will likely choose a similar career that lacks the

intimidating debt-to-income ratio of veterinary medicine. Those who do pursue the career must

consider the long term cost of their education in order to determine the best route to take.

Working as a privately employed veterinarian in a small practice offers a reliable career

choice for the majority of veterinarians. These practices compare to any doctor’s office,

veterinarians and their technicians work to perform examinations and surgeries, treat diseases,

and more. Most facilities offer overnight care for animals to recover from an in-office procedure

(“Careers in Veterinary Medicine” 8). A career as a small animal veterinarian attracts those who

wish to have a stable and safe job, with flexibility to create their own schedule while maintaining

a family life (Hoe). While the majority of privately employed veterinarians work with small

animals, those who treat larger animals work primarily with farms or ranches in unpredictable

circumstances. They must have mobile equipment and work in less sterile conditions than those
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in a clinic, since many procedures take place in the field (“Careers in Veterinary Medicine” 12).

In general, geographic location has a major effect on the animals veterinarians treat. Someone in

a rural area will treat mostly large farm animals, while someone in a city has more of an

opportunity to work with small pets. This provides chances for professionals who desire a

change of pace to work in different settings.

Veterinary medicine does not only pertain to those with pets, since animals have a large

impact on society as a whole. They affect the food people eat, diseases people contract, and

public health in general. The government employs veterinarians as public health officers through

agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug

Administration (FDA), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and more (“Exploring Veterinary

Career Options”). These veterinarians work to improve the environment, as well as prevent

disease outbreaks primarily by regulating agricultural animal health (“Exploring Veterinary

Career Options”). Veterinarians from the CDC and FDA who work in conjunction, contribute

immensely to the public’s well-being by reducing zoonotic disease, which animals carry, and

foodborne illness by monitoring the nation’s livestock industry. Specialties relevant to a career in

public health include parasitology, epidemiology, and preventive medicine (King 7). Human

health and animal health directly correlate to one another, therefore veterinary science plays a

critical role in maintaining strong societies (7). For centuries, animals and animal products have

sustained the world’s population, and as it grows, so does the demand for animal protein.

Veterinarian expertise has consistently proven vital to safely increasing animal populations and

keeping them in good health (8). Converging the disciplines of human and animal health

sciences reflects how medicine constantly changes in order to improve society.

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Food animal veterinarians work with farm animals raised as a source of food, most

commonly cattle, poultry, and swine. In response to the shortage of DVM graduates entering this

career, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Veterinary

Medical Foundation (AVMF) partnered with the U.S. to initiate a program of student loan

forgiveness in return for the graduate serving a minimum of four years in the food animal

industry (Whitcomb 18). Veterinarians in the food production industry keep animals healthy,

which in turn preserves human health. They also improve efficiency in order to increase profits

and lower the cost for the consumer. Recently, the aquaculture industry has emerged and grown

as overfishing and a changing environment affect fish species. Veterinarians play similar roles in

this industry as they do in the agriculture management. Health assessments, disease

investigations, and biosecurity plans keep facilities running smoothly and safely, as well as

protect public consumer health (Hickey 28). Food security has an integral role in Americans’

lives, veterinarians who keep it safe benefit the nation tremendously. Recently, problems in the

treatment of food animals have come up the industry.

In order to properly care for animals, veterinarians must have an understanding of their

welfare and mental state. Animals experience fear, frustration, and distress similarly to humans,

and veterinarians must recognize and respond to these emotions in response to their

circumstances (Aluja 138). This ethology has earned wide recognition for pets, but less so in

animals bred for food. These animals typically receive unethical care that would disgust the

public if they knew (140). The trauma of these animals does not only affect them, it affects

consumers. Extremely stressed animals experience hormonal and metabolic imbalances that

affect their meat by making it tougher and decreasing the shelf life (141-142). Since
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veterinarians know that animals have conscious thoughts and emotions, their welfare must

receive more attention in the animal husbandry industry.

A career path in the military may not seem like a viable option for a veterinarian,

however, hundreds serve in the United States Veterinary Corps. These team members provide

medical service to animals while deployed as well as when they come home, most commonly to

canines. Along with treating military animals, the veterinarians work on bases in the United

States to provide services for the family pets of those who serve. The U.S. Veterinary Corps also

act as public health officers by preventing spread of zoonotic disease from nations overseas and

inspecting food to ensure that the U.S. Department of Defense purchases quality, safe foods and

drinks.​ ​Following this uncommon career path has many opportunities, including potential

scholarship or student loan repayment programs in exchange for a three year service

commitment (Garber 48). Other unique roles include working as a humanitarian in disaster relief

and assisting the U.S. Navy in their Marine Mammal program (49). This job offers a special

experience for those who do not want to work in a tradition practice, but who want to travel the

world and serve their country.

Veterinary forensic medicine involves the use of a veterinarian’s expertise in a variety of

criminal and noncriminal cases. The career has grown in recent years as legal investigators have

learned to value the assistance of veterinarians in cases most commonly involving animal cruelty

and abuse, but also a variety of other legal case involving animals, that may include wildlife

crimes, animals attacking humans, or even domestic disputes (Merck 41). Investigating an

animal abuse case can lead law enforcement towards a larger felony case, such as homicide or

arson. Forensic veterinarians may work in animal shelters, private practices, animal welfare
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organizations, or government agencies, depending on where they live and what specifically they

want to do (41). For example, the United States Department of Agriculture employs veterinarians

with specialties in forensics in order to conduct research and examinations related to pathology.

A welfare organization such as the American Humane Society may employ them in departments

specific to animal cruelty prevention, involving cases with puppy mills, hoarding, or dog fighting

(43). Legislation varies by state that gives the authority for investigating and pressing charges in

these cases, so the veterinarian likely works in conjunction with a law enforcement officer (42).

Although this career presents heavy emotional challenges, it offers a rewarding opportunity for

veterinarians to work towards justice for animals.

As the planet continuously goes through anthropogenic changes, animal species need

more attention from scientists in order to survive. Veterinary medicine has recently played a

significant role in wildlife conservation, both through animals in captivity, ​ex situ, a​ nd

management of free ranging, ​in situ,​ populations (Deem 3). Veterinarians have worked in zoos

for decades, but when these facilities expand their reaches beyond the parks and into the wild,

their teams must expand in order to maintain healthy, biodiverse ecosystems in surrounding

areas. Scientists have observed the rapid extinction of species around the globe in relation to

human activities and many zoos have responded to this crisis by implementing or improving

their programs that work towards long-term survival of animal populations (3). Zoos have the

perfect foundation for a successful conservation program because of their capable staff and

facilities, as well as ample funding (Vitali et. al 161). Today, scientists struggle to define “wild”,

since humans have affected nearly every ecosystem in some way, whether through construction

destroying habitats, or ecotourism exploiting vulnerable animals to human disease (Deem 4).
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Considering the ever-growing need, the role of the zoo as a conservation center and the zoo

veterinarian as an expert in the practice have both grown tremendously. For ​ex situ​ species,

preventative medicine efforts offer the most efficient results because it simplifies the need for

corrective treatments. As for ​in situ s​ pecies, many zoos have rehabilitation programs allowing

for at-risk animals to receive care within the zoos, before returning to their natural environment.

Conversely, veterinarians can give treatment to individual animals in the wild, especially in

response to a human-induced situation (7). For example, t​he Perth Zoo in Australia has a focus

on protecting the biodiversity hotspot of Western Australia, specifically through their

breed-for-release program, where the staff breeds endangered or at risk species in captivity, with

the goal of eventual release back into the wild. The zoo’s veterinary staff also values wildlife

rehabilitation, even though some question the program’s effectiveness (Vitali et. al 161).

Conservation medicine takes an interdisciplinary approach to a complex problem and the field

constantly develops in response to environmental needs.

Medical research as a career for a veterinarian typically involves working in a university

or corporate setting where a team of doctors study diseases and develop vaccines and

pharmaceuticals to benefit both animals and humans. The stigma of laboratory research on

animals tends to push newcomers away from the field, however, those animals receive better

care now than ever (Kopp S19). With a growing emphasis on animals’ rights and humane care

for all creatures, labs have transformed the way the work in order to focus on animal welfare by

identifying and treating signs of distress, pain, and fear. This means utilizing an entirely new

training method, since every species will demonstrate physical or emotional pain differently

(S20). Instead of dealing with the animals’ pain, some pharmaceutical companies have
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implemented programs designed to simply reduce or replace the large number of lab animals

needed in the first place. For example, one laboratory company with a record of efforts to honor

animal welfare has a policy of incentivizing employees who think of new ways to improve the

care of their lab animals. This program led to a blood collection technique that utilized 50

percent fewer mice than before for a particular research study (S21). However, many lab workers

do not need incentivization to pursue methods of improved treatment for the animals they work

with, since they tend to form an emotional connection (S22). Medical researchers contribute

immensely to society through their work with the bodies of animals, and this work should not get

ignored or taken for granted.

Along with the research of the physiology of animals and how that can benefit mankind,

many also explore the psychology of animals. Scientists do not doubt the many possible benefits

animals have on humans overall well-being, both physically and emotionally. Classroom pets

including rabbits and lizards have proven effective in improving educational outcomes for young

students on the autism spectrum (Bohanan 58-59). Equine therapies provide relief to children

living with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy. Many veterans living with post-traumatic

stress disorder have therapy animals to ease anxiety. Even placing a fish tank in a center for

people with Alzheimer's Disease can improve the patients’ eating habits and decrease their

negative behaviors (59). The emotional connection of humans and animals has existed since

prehistoric times, but improving technology and knowledge of psychology have given

researchers a tool to harness the power of this relationship and use it productively (Kopp S22).

The innovators that contribute to this field have helped spur change both within careers and in

society as a whole.
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Over the last few decades, the veterinary field has shifted from a male dominated to

female dominated profession. Legislation such as Title IX allowed more women to enroll in

post-graduate education programs (Lincoln 1989). In 1970, women made up just 11 percent of

DVM classes, but in 2016, females dominated the DVM classes in the United States, taking up

80 percent of the seats (“Annual Data Report”). As this trend continues and the women take over

the majority of the field, more men choose alternative careers because of the stigmatization of a

female dominated profession; men also will more likely seek a career with higher earnings and

prestige that may come from a different occupation. Conversely, the feminization encourages

more women to pursue the career since they see it as attainable and they have more female role

models (Lincoln 1972). This shift has affected small animal veterinarians since fewer women

want to personally own a practice, while men more likely want to participate in the business side

of the operations. As a result, veterinary corporations will buy out more practices, creating a

change from the typical small business veterinarian offices (Lee 24). Female veterinarians tend

to have a better impression than their male colleagues because of the way they communicate and

express empathy. According to clients, women act friendlier and less rushed than men

(McMurray and Boysen 203). Since women have dominated DVM classes for the last 20 years,

the field will continue to feminize in the future as the past majority of men retire and young

women replace them.

Technology constantly drives change in every field, and improvements in veterinary

technology have made the lives of doctors easier and bettered the welfare of animals. In 2003, an

initiative began in the United States to map the canine genome sequence. This tool has

drastically changed diagnostics in human medicine since the 1950s, and has already begun to do
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the same with veterinary medicine (Ruderman 25). The complicated process will take years to

fully complete, since different breeds carry different genetic diseases. Genetic deficiencies have

the highest prominence amongst purebred dogs due to inbreeding in order to pass along

favorable cosmetic and behavioral traits (25). Many mutations in the canine genomes occur on

multiple genes, making them harder to identify and treat. By simplifying the process to identify

carriers of genetic mutations, veterinarians can practice preventive medicine or advanced care so

that the genetic defect does not pass through future offspring (26). Blood analysis has also grown

and developed as a key diagnostic tool in veterinary medicine. Blood samples that used to take

days to determine and deliver results, now take about ten minutes to find out from what disease

the animal suffers (Dunn 44). Additionally, simple changes such as paperless practices that

digitize everything from patient files to radiography have improved organization and

communication between the doctor and the client (Hoe). As society changes and technology

advance, professionals must keep up and consistently improve their techniques and management

in order to remain relevant. Veterinarians have to avoid over reliance on technology because

clients facing difficult decisions for their pets want to have an emotional connection with

someone who understands their feelings and concerns.

Since people have such a strong emotional bond with their pets, veterinarians have to

effectively express empathy without showing too much attachment. Clinical empathy involves

understanding of the client’s feelings, acknowledgement of that feeling, and professionally

acting in accordance with it. Veterinarians who practice verbal and physical empathetic cues

typically have a higher satisfaction rate among their clients (McMurray and Boysen 199).

Discussions about euthanasia or other possible end-of-life situations carry heavy emotions for pet
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owners and veterinarians must show proper empathy in guiding their mourning clients under

these circumstances (202). Veterinarians commonly face problems with clients who cannot

afford to pay for treatment for their beloved pet, leading to difficult conversations (Hoe).

Expressing reassurance to a client can end poorly if anything unexpected occurs. A client should

not expect a procedure to go poorly, but they should feel prepared should something go wrong.

Doctors also walk a fine line between conveying inauthentic empathy and excessive empathy. A

veterinarian who feels overly connected to their patients and to clients’ feeling tend to feel

emotionally drained (203). Any doctor dealing with a difficult situation for their patient must

form habits of effective emotional, yet professional, communication and find a personal balance.

Veterinarians study for years and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to earn

their DVM degree, opening doors to countless unique career paths that constantly change

technologically and demographically. Whether they spends their days in research labs, small

clinics, or overseas in the military, veterinarians work to keep both human and animal

populations healthy.
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