There are many paths that you can take with a doctoral degree in Veterinary Medicine, though most people think of veterinarians as people who work as dog & cat vets in a hospital setting. While that is what a lot of veterinarians do, it is only one of many different paths that you can choose. One of the benefits of the DVM degree is that it doesn’t box you into just one of these career paths — you can change paths throughout your career if you want. This is particularly beneficial given that the number of jobs available in particular sectors, such as small animal private practice, are dwindling.
Here are some of the options available to you:
Private practice. This is the typical veterinarian that most of us think about. The person has a DVM degree and works in a hospital setting seeing client-owned animals. Oftentimes people choose to own their own practice or buy in to a practice that they work at. Vets in private practice can work with a variety of species, whichever they choose really — small animals (dogs & cats), equine (horses), food animals (cows, pigs, chickens, etc.), and exotics.
Specialty practice. You can go on for additional training past your DVM degree and pursue a residency in order to specialize in a field such as surgery, cardiology, neurology, emergency & critical care, etc. These vets are so specialized that they often are limited in the types of practices that will hire them — often referral hospitals such as specialty practices or veterinary schools hire specialists, however, certain specialists, particularly radiologists and surgeons, have contracts with private practices to come in and do work for one or two days per week. Others are able to consult over the phone as well.
The Federal Government. This comes as a surprise to some people, but the US government needs veterinarians to be involved in various niches including meat inspection, public health, biosecurity, environmental quality, regulatory medicine, and agricultural animal health, or the investigation of disease outbreaks. There are various agencies through which you can find employment as a veterinarian including United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The U.S. Army Corps. There are huge incentives for people to join the army before or during veterinary school. You may have to serve for four years, but what you get is pretty substantial! The Army covers your tuition, books, fees, etc., and gives you a monthly stipend/pay. You will start off as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army Reserve but will be promoted to Captain once you graduate. You will have to be stationed somewhere in the US/internationally for four years and work in areas such food safety and military working dog veterinary medicine. However, another perk is that if you want to specialize or get another degree such as a masters or a PhD, the military might pay you for that too! For more information, please see the US Army Veterinary Corps page.
Research. Whether you wish to work at a University doing research or with a company that does research to either produce animal related products or uses animals to test products or develop drugs and other pharmaceuticals, there are jobs available.
Teaching. You can become a professor at a veterinary school or another non-professional school.
Public Health. This overlaps with the Federal Government in some ways, but agencies such as the United States Public Health Service works to control the transmission of zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases.
Food supply medicine. This may involve working for the government or working for a company that produces animals for food. The animals you work with often are cows, chickens, pigs, etc.
Global Veterinary Medicine. Work throughout the world in private practice or with international agencies in areas such as food production and safety or emerging diseases.
Public Policy. This usually entails working for the governments on issues such as animal and zoonotic diseases, animal welfare, and/or public health issues. However, you may also work independently or with a company as a consultant.
Zoo Medicine. This field is special because vets can find work in private practice, with government agencies, private organizations, academia, and even industry and be responsible for a wide variety of species. Veterinarians offering clinical management of privately owned zoological species or for smaller zoological institutions may enter practice with just a DVM degree. However, vets seeking to serve major zoological institutions, government agencies, large private organizations or academia typically receive post-DVM training, through an internship/residency and/or or research training in MS or PhD programs. The post-DVM residencies in zoo med are very competitive, so while many people come to veterinary school wanting to become a veterinarian at a zoo, few actually achieve this as there are very competitive training programs and not many jobs.
Shelter medicine. Work with public or private agencies and their communities to ensure the health and well being of animals housed in shelters. Check out Tails of a Shelter Vet for insight into what goes on in shelters.