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Veterinary Medical Officer
Significant Points
  • Veterinarians should love animals and be able to get along with their owners.
  • Graduation from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and a State license are required; admission to veterinary school is competitive.
  • Job opportunities should be excellent.
  • About 80 percent of veterinarians work in private practice.
Nature of the Work

For the Veterinary Medical Science Series, 0701, there are several standards that prescribe the following specialty titles:

Clinical Care

Veterinary medical officers engaged in clinical care provide for the medical and surgical management of animals not included in biomedical research, wildlife, or zoological populations. They provide routine and emergency medical and surgical care for domestic animals, consultative services, and oversight of animal health and husbandry programs.

Epidemiology Veterinary medical officers working primarily in epidemiology are responsible for the control and eradication of human and animal diseases including surveillance, disease investigation, emerging infectious diseases including zoonoses, food safety, food security, biostatistics, and review functions. They plan, develop, and deliver epidemiological services and perform duties such as:

  • planning medical and program procedures to address animals infected with or exposed to contagious diseases;
  • developing and recommending methods and procedures for obtaining and analyzing information;
  • coordinating and conducting epidemiological studies of diseases in humans and animals;
  • interpreting test results based on evidence pertaining to population health;
  • establishing and recommending disease control and eradication policies and programs;
  • monitoring global human and animal health systems to evaluate complex relationships of host, environment, and agent factors of multiple diseases and syndromes;
  • performing epidemiological projects to evaluate public health issues concerning food hygiene and preventive medicine;
  • keeping abreast of research literature on food production, food animal production, animal disease agents, and agricultural and industrial practices that might have an impact on public health and preventive medicine;
  • alerting stakeholders of disease trends in humans and animals and potential problems that may impact programs, industries, and public health;
  • participating with other agency epidemiologists in developing plans for using epidemiological methods to reduce public health risks associated with the handling, exhibition, production, and consumption of animals and their products and by-products;
  • working collaboratively with industry to ensure proper application and integration of epidemiology and public health needs;
  • functioning as liaisons between agencies and various parties in taking appropriate measures during a disease outbreak; and
  • serving as epidemiology consultants.
  • Import/Export Veterinary medical officers certify the health of animals and animal by-products for import and export. This work involves duties such as:

  • developing and recommending new procedures and practices for release and retention of quarantined animals;
  • inspecting, examining, and quarantining animals and birds exhibiting symptoms or evidence of communicable disease or animals which do not meet import requirements;
  • evaluating the effectiveness of the import/export program for animal products and related materials;
  • keeping abreast of research literature and food production practices impacting public health, preventive medicine, and animal disease control and prevention;
  • regulating the import and export of animals and animal by-products;
  • enforcing or modifying existing import regulations pertaining to animals and microbial agents that represent threats to human health;
  • advising customs personnel regarding release of products from agricultural hold; and
  • verifying identification of animals and correlating ID to Certificate of Veterinary Inspection.
  • Laboratory Animal Medicine

    Veterinary medical officers in laboratory animal care provide medical and humane treatment to animals. The work involves duties such as:

  • providing clinical support for laboratory animals used in research activities;
  • providing medical treatment and care of laboratory animals;
  • advising on proper housing, containment, use, surveillance, environmental enrichment, and healthcare of research animals;
  • planning and implementing strategies to prevent infectious agents from entering the animal facility;
  • ensuring the use of laboratory animals is consistent with humane principles and the program meets all applicable Federal regulations and guidelines;
  • advising facility and administrative personnel on achieving and maintaining accreditation of the animal care and use programs;
  • consulting with research staff to determine the most suitable animal model for achieving desired research goals and minimizing pain and distress to animals;
  • providing guidance on surgical and post-operative measures;
  • procuring, quarantining, conditioning, supplying, and issuing research animals; and
  • providing consultative services and oversight to animal health and husbandry programs.
  • Pathology

    Veterinary medical officers working in pathology deal with the essential nature, causes, and consequences of disease. This work involves duties such as:

  • advising laboratory personnel on detecting and interpreting complex pathological conditions;
  • organizing and coordinating the approach to pathological activities;
  • evaluating quality control and quality assurance programs for pathology activities within laboratories;
  • evaluating findings that indicate the presence of foreign or emerging animal diseases of economic or public health significance;
  • working with public health groups on issues pertaining to disease management;
  • identifying disease conditions occurring in animal collections and developing strategies for disease prevention;
  • addressing disease problems in diverse groups of animals with respect to sources, susceptibilities, and interrelationships;
  • developing diagnoses and coordinating the dissemination of information;
  • conducting research on the mechanisms of disease to advance the knowledge of animal and human health;
  • evaluating animals and animal specimens and tissues, including samples generated from natural or research sources;
  • consulting with other scientists on interpretation of pathological data; and
  • ensuring safety of food, pharmaceutical, and biological products.
  • Product Development

    Veterinary medical officers primarily working in product development use their knowledge of animal models, pathology, pharmacokinetics, product testing, and regulatory requirements for product licensure to review and evaluate data to ensure the safety and effectiveness of drugs, biologics, devices, and feed for domestic and companion animals.

    Public Health Veterinary medical officers working in public health provide technical expertise, metrics, and communication for the administration of public health programs. They perform tasks such as:

  • developing and participating in the prevention, surveillance, detection, control, and regulation of human and animal health vulnerabilities from possible weapons of mass destruction such as bio-terrorism and agro-terrorism threats;
  • conducting ante-mortem and post-mortem inspection or verification of livestock or poultry operations;
  • examining animals for conditions that render meat and poultry products unfit for human consumption;
  • regulating the production of meat and poultry products and their distribution to consumers;
  • determining the significance of various agents and conditions important to food hygiene and animal disease control;
  • gathering and analyzing bacteriological, parasitological, and epidemiological data related to animal symptoms;
  • developing procedures for the uniform application of meat and poultry standards; and
  • determining differential diagnoses of zoonoses and foreign animal diseases.
  • Toxicology Veterinary medical officers who provide expertise in veterinary toxicology specialize in pesticide, industrial, chemical, and mycotoxin contaminants. For example, they perform tasks including:

  • evaluating the safety of animal feed relative to non-microbial contaminants;
  • advising on pesticide, industrial, chemical, and mycotoxin contaminants in feed;
  • reviewing laboratory data to determine the extent and severity of contamination;
  • performing scientific reviews of consumer complaints; and
  • advising other veterinary medical officers about the potential for a toxicological cause or other public complaints.
  • Wildlife Veterinary medical officers who specialize in wildlife provide medical and surgical expertise and program administration for captive and free roaming wildlife, including epidemiology, pathology, and toxicology investigations. These veterinary medical officers specialize in:

  • controlling and eradicating wildlife diseases;
  • determining whether wildlife can be compartmentalized;
  • recommending policies and programs for wildlife control and eradication;
  • conducting epidemiological research studies of wildlife diseases and investigating the disease threats that impact human and domestic animal populations;
  • serving on ecological or recovery teams evaluating life histories and making management recommendations for wildlife;
  • administering comprehensive animal health programs for wildlife research facilities;
  • observing the health of wildlife used in research programs and providing diagnostic, therapeutic, clinical, and surgical services;
  • assisting in disasters or other major emergencies requiring wildlife veterinary services; and
  • advising appropriate stakeholders.
  • Zoological Animal Medicine

    Veterinary medical officers responsible for a comprehensive animal health program in a zoo’s collection perform duties such as:

  • ensuring the health of the animal collection through preventive medicine and diagnostic and therapeutic techniques;
  • collecting and interpreting biological samples from ill animals to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions;
  • keeping abreast of research literature and knowledge of anesthesia, diagnosis, treatment, disease transmission, and preventive medicine;
  • planning and implementing strategies to prevent infectious agents from entering the animal facility;
  • advising facility and administrative personnel on achieving and maintaining accreditation of the facility;
  • advising groups such as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC);
  • determining disease transmission paths between species;
  • providing training and advice to zoological veterinary medical officers in developing nations;
  • conducting research to assess reproductive conditions and eliminate infertility in rare animal species and populations;
  • applying knowledge of nutrition and preventive medicine using vegetation found in the native habitat of captive zoological species; and
  • studying diseases of zoo animals, including disease threats that may affect public health.
  • Veterinary medical officers employed by the Federal Government apply their veterinary expertise to a wide range of work from routine clinical care and maintenance to epidemiology and pathology research. Veterinary medical officers across all specialties provide programmatic training and education to government employed personnel, private industry, and citizens. Federal veterinary medical officers are also actively engaged in basic and applied research activities.

    Veterinary medical officers may perform emergency response work as a temporary duty assignment and/or in support of emergency programs. Examples of emergency response work after a disaster may include, but are not limited to: assessing the infrastructure for providing local animal care; arranging for proper sheltering and treatment of livestock; providing preventive medicine support, sanitation, and water quality inspection; monitoring and treating infectious (epizootic and zoonotic) diseases; and negotiating with local and state veterinary centers for services. Agencies are encouraged to develop appropriate internal guidance and supplements to this standard in assessing emergency response work in support of their mission.

    Veterinarians in general, diagnose and treat diseases and dysfunctions of animals. Specifically, they care for the health of pets, livestock, and animals in zoos, racetracks, and laboratories. Some veterinarians use their skills to protect humans against diseases carried by animals and conduct clinical research on human and animal health problems. Others work in basic research, broadening our knowledge of animals and medical science, and in applied research, developing new ways to use knowledge.

    Most veterinarians diagnose animal health problems, vaccinate against diseases, medicate animals suffering from infections or illnesses, treat and dress wounds, set fractures, perform surgery, and advise owners about animal feeding, behavior, and breeding.

    According to the American Medical Veterinary Association, 77 percent of veterinarians who work in private medical practices treat pets. These practitioners usually care for dogs and cats but also treat birds, reptiles, rabbits, ferrets, and other animals that can be kept as pets. About 16 percent of veterinarians work in private mixed and food animal practices, where they see pigs, goats, cattle, sheep, and some wild animals in addition to farm animals. A small proportion of private-practice veterinarians, about 6 percent, work exclusively with horses.

    Veterinarians who work with food animals or horses usually drive to farms or ranches to provide veterinary services for herds or individual animals. These veterinarians test for and vaccinate against diseases and consult with farm or ranch owners and managers regarding animal production, feeding, and housing issues. They also treat and dress wounds, set fractures, and perform surgery, including cesarean sections on birthing animals. Other veterinarians care for zoo, aquarium, or laboratory animals. Veterinarians of all types euthanize animals when necessary.

    Veterinarians who treat animals use medical equipment such as stethoscopes, surgical instruments, and diagnostic equipment, including radiographic and ultrasound equipment. Veterinarians working in research use a full range of sophisticated laboratory equipment.

    Some veterinarians contribute to human as well as animal health. A number of veterinarians work with physicians and scientists as they research ways to prevent and treat various human health problems. For example, veterinarians contributed greatly to conquering malaria and yellow fever, solved the mystery of botulism, produced an anticoagulant used to treat some people with heart disease, and defined and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip and knee joint replacements and limb and organ transplants. Today, some determine the effects of drug therapies, antibiotics, or new surgical techniques by testing them on animals.

    Some veterinarians are involved in food safety and inspection. Veterinarians who are livestock inspectors, for example, check animals for transmissible diseases such as E. coli, advise owners on the treatment of their animals, and may quarantine animals. Veterinarians who are meat, poultry, or egg product inspectors examine slaughtering and processing plants, check live animals and carcasses for disease, and enforce government regulations regarding food purity and sanitation. More veterinarians are finding opportunities in food security as they ensure that the Nation has abundant and safe food supplies. Veterinarians involved in food security often work along the country’s borders as animal and plant health inspectors, where they examine imports and exports of animal products to prevent disease here and in foreign countries. Many of these workers are employed by the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service division, or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

    Work environment. Veterinarians in private or clinical practice often work long hours in a noisy indoor environment. Sometimes they have to deal with emotional or demanding pet owners. When working with animals that are frightened or in pain, veterinarians risk being bitten, kicked, or scratched.

    Veterinarians who work with food animals or horses spend time driving between their offices and farms or ranches. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather and may have to treat animals or perform surgery, often under unsanitary conditions.

    Veterinarians working in nonclinical areas, such as public health and research, work in clean, well-lit offices or laboratories and have working conditions similar to those of other professionals who work in these environments. Veterinarians in nonclinical areas spend much of their time dealing with people rather than animals.

    Veterinarians often work long hours. Those in group practices may take turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend work; solo practitioners may work extended hours (including weekend hours), responding to emergencies or squeezing in unexpected appointments.

    Veterinarian, GS-0701-12/13

    Performs as an accredited and licensed veterinarian. Veterinary care and treatment of government, privately-owned, and indigenous animals:

    Provides Military Working Dogs (MWDs), military horses, other government-owned animals direct full service veterinary medical and surgical care and treatment.

    Veterinary care and treatment are provided to privately owned animals as part of a program to promote the health and well-being among the eligible population and their privately-owned animals. Examines, vaccinates, and treats animals within the scope of veterinary service guidelines. Interprets laboratory, radiological, and diagnostic procedures.

    Organizes, provides, and supervises food safety and inspection services in support of various government agencies and commands.

    Serves as consultant to the Medical Treatment Facility Cmdr and the Installation Commander on animal bites, rabies control, and zoonotic disease control within established regulation and guidelines. Other duties as assigned.

    Salary Range: $60,274.00 - $125,926.00 /year

    Suvpervisory Veterinary Medical Officer, GS-0701-13/14
    • Provides leadership by fostering and promoting Agency mission programs and goals within the organization, with other Federal agencies, State officials, industry groups and other interested organizations or individuals.
    • Plans, organizes and implements difficult and complex scientific programs designed to exclude, control and eradicate infectious and communicable diseases, parasites and disease vectors of livestock and poultry that are significant to the economy and public health. Responsible for animal health activities for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
    • Develops and maintains cooperative relationships with State and industry officials and with diagnostic laboratories, veterinary practitioners, universities and other individuals or groups that are concerned with the administration of animal health programs. Reviews and evaluates individual program efforts through techniques such as economic analyses and risk assessments to determine disease risk and to ensure cost effectiveness, public and industry acceptance, productivity and overall efficiency.
    • Designs, implements, evaluate, promotes and modifies the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) for the Area. Directs efforts to combat incursions and epidemics of foreign animal diseases through prompt detection, assessment of needs and appropriate response.
    • Organizes, directs and operates import/export program that includes interpretation of requirements, conducting inspections, issuance of permits and certification of the health status of animals or product.
    • Engages in a variety of initiatives to enhance the distribution and presentation of technical information. Keeps abreast of the latest management techniques in the public and private sectors.
    • Serves as a liaison and representative in a variety of initiatives to link and coordinate efforts of the Agency organization.
    • The incumbent oversees the financial affairs and the establishment and administration of Cooperative Agreements, Interagency Agreements, Grants, and Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) in the Area.
    • Incumbent manages an area recruitment program that provides both short and long range initiatives. The incumbent oversees the information technology operations for the Area. Provides equal opportunity in employment for all subordinates, applicants, and new hires. Engages in management activities associated with labor unions, including contract negotiations, addressing concerns and grievances.

    Salary Range: $78,440.00 - $120,498.00 /year

    Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

    Veterinarians must obtain a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and a State license. Admission to veterinary school is competitive.

    Education and training. Prospective veterinarians must graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree from a 4-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. There are 28 colleges in 26 States that meet accreditation standards set by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

    The prerequisites for admission to veterinary programs vary. Many programs do not require a bachelor's degree for entrance, but all require a significant number of credit hours—ranging from 45 to 90 semester hours—at the undergraduate level. However, most of the students admitted have completed an undergraduate program and earned a bachelor's degree. Applicants without a degree face a difficult task in gaining admittance.

    Preveterinary courses should emphasize the sciences. Veterinary medical colleges typically require applicants to have taken classes in organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, general biology, animal biology, animal nutrition, genetics, vertebrate embryology, cellular biology, microbiology, zoology, and systemic physiology. Some programs require calculus; some require only statistics, college algebra and trigonometry, or pre-calculus. Most veterinary medical colleges also require some courses in English or literature, other humanities, and the social sciences. Increasingly, courses in general business management and career development have become a standard part of the curriculum to teach new graduates how to effectively run a practice.

    In addition to satisfying preveterinary course requirements, applicants must submit test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT), or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), depending on the preference of the college to which they are applying. Currently, 22 schools require the GRE, 4 require the VCAT, and 2 accept the MCAT.

    Admission to veterinary school is competitive. The number of accredited veterinary colleges has remained largely the same since 1983, but the number of applicants has risen significantly. Only about 1 in 3 applicants was accepted in 2007.

    New graduates with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree may begin to practice veterinary medicine once they receive their license, but many new graduates choose to enter a 1-year internship. Interns receive a small salary but often find that their internship experience leads to better paying opportunities later, relative to those of other veterinarians. Veterinarians who then seek board certification also must complete a 3-year to 4-year residency program that provides intensive training in one of the 39 AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties including internal medicine, oncology, pathology, dentistry, nutrition, radiology, surgery, dermatology, anesthesiology, neurology, cardiology, ophthalmology, preventive medicine, and exotic-small-animal medicine.

    Licensure. All States and the District of Columbia require that veterinarians be licensed before they can practice. The only exemptions are for veterinarians working for some Federal agencies and some State governments. Licensing is controlled by the States and is not uniform, although all States require the successful completion of the D.V.M. degree—or equivalent education—and a passing grade on a national board examination, the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. This 8-hour examination consists of 360 multiple-choice questions covering all aspects of veterinary medicine as well as visual materials designed to test diagnostic skills.

    The Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates grants certification to individuals trained outside the United States who demonstrate that they meet specified requirements for English language and clinical proficiency. This certification fulfills the educational requirement for licensure in all States.

    Most States also require candidates to pass a State jurisprudence examination covering State laws and regulations. Some States do additional testing on clinical competency as well. There are few reciprocal agreements between States, so veterinarians who wish to practice in a different State usually must first pass that State's examinations.

    Other qualifications. When deciding whom to admit, some veterinary medical colleges place heavy consideration on candidates’ veterinary and animal experience. Formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research, or some area of health science, is particularly advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm, or at a stable or animal shelter, also can be helpful. Students must demonstrate ambition and an eagerness to work with animals.

    Prospective veterinarians should love animals and have the ability to get along with their owners, especially pet owners, who usually have strong bonds with their pets. They need good manual dexterity. Veterinarians who intend to go into private practice should possess excellent communication and business skills, because they will need to successfully manage their practice and employees and promote, market, and sell their services.

    Advancement. Most veterinarians begin as employees in established group practices. Despite the substantial financial investment in equipment, office space, and staff, many veterinarians with experience eventually set up their own practice or purchase an established one.

    Newly trained veterinarians can become U.S. Government meat and poultry inspectors, disease-control workers, animal welfare and safety workers, epidemiologists, research assistants, or commissioned officers in the U.S. Public Health Service or various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. A State license may be required.

    Nearly all States have continuing education requirements for licensed veterinarians. Requirements differ by State and may involve attending a class or otherwise demonstrating knowledge of recent medical and veterinary advances.

    Job Outlook

    Employment is expected to increase much faster than average. Excellent job opportunities are expected.

    Employment change. Employment of veterinarians is expected to increase 33 percent over the 2008–18 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. Veterinarians usually practice in animal hospitals or clinics and care primarily for small pets. Recent trends indicate particularly strong interest in cats as pets. Faster growth of the cat population is expected to increase the demand for feline medicine and veterinary services, while demand for veterinary care for dogs should continue to grow at a more modest pace.

    Many pet owners consider their pets as members of the family, which serves as evidence that people are placing a higher value on their pets and is an example of the human-animal bond. These pet owners are becoming more aware of the availability of advanced care and are more willing to pay for intensive veterinary care than owners in the past. Furthermore, the number of pet owners purchasing pet insurance is rising, increasing the likelihood that considerable money will be spent on veterinary care.

    More pet owners also will take advantage of nontraditional veterinary services, such as cancer treatment and preventive dental care. Modern veterinary services have caught up to human medicine; certain procedures, such as hip replacement, kidney transplants, and blood transfusions, which were once only available for humans, are now available for animals.

    Continued support for public health and food and animal safety, national disease control programs, and biomedical research on human health problems will contribute to the demand for veterinarians, although the number of positions in these areas is smaller than the number in private practice. Homeland security also may provide opportunities for veterinarians involved in efforts to maintain abundant food supplies and minimize animal diseases in the United States and in foreign countries.

    Job prospects. Excellent job opportunities are expected because there are only 28 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, resulting in a limited number of graduates—about 2,500—each year. However, admission to veterinary school is competitive.

    New graduates continue to be attracted to companion-animal medicine because they usually prefer to deal with pets and to live and work near heavily populated areas, where most pet owners live. Employment opportunities are very good in cities and suburbs but even better in rural areas because fewer veterinarians compete to work there.

    Beginning veterinarians may take positions requiring evening or weekend work to accommodate the extended hours of operation that many practices are offering. Some veterinarians take salaried positions in retail stores offering veterinary services. Self-employed veterinarians usually have to work hard and long to build a sufficient client base.

    The number of jobs for farm-animal veterinarians is likely to grow more slowly than the number of jobs for companion-animal veterinarians. Nevertheless, job prospects should be excellent for farm-animal veterinarians because of their lower earnings and because many veterinarians do not want to work outside or in rural or isolated areas.

    Veterinarians with training in food safety and security, animal health and welfare, and public health and epidemiology should have the best opportunities for a career in the Federal Government.


    Median annual wages of veterinarians were $79,050 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $61,370 and $104,110. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,610, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $143,660.

    The average annual salary for veterinarians in the Federal Government was $93,398 in March 2009.

    According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, average starting salaries of veterinary medical college graduates in 2008 varied by type of practice as follows:

    Small animals, exclusively $64,744
    Large animals, exclusively 62,424
    Small animals, predominantly 61,753
    Mixed animals 58,522
    Large animals, predominantly 57,745
    Equine (horses) 41,636
    Sources of Additional Information

    For additional information on careers in veterinary medicine, a list of U.S. schools and colleges of veterinary medicine, and accreditation policies, send a letter-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope to:

    • American Veterinary Medical Association, 1931 N. Meacham Rd., Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Internet:

    For information on veterinary education, contact:

    • Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, 1101 Vermont Ave. NW., Suite 301, Washington, DC 20005. Internet:

    For information on scholarships, grants, and loans, contact the financial aid officer at the veterinary schools to which you wish to apply.

    For information on veterinarians working in zoos, see the Occupational Outlook Quarterly article “Wild jobs with wildlife,” online at

    Information on obtaining Veterinarian positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


    • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
    • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

    Last Modified Date: March 7, 2011

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