What is it Like to Work as a Veterinarian in the United States?

By Angela Beal, DVM

Countries worldwide are dealing with veterinarian shortages, and the United States is no exception. As demand for companion animal veterinary care grows like wildfire, the profession is unable to keep up, despite the fact that the vast majority of veterinary graduates seek clinical small animal practice jobs. Attracting veterinarians to the already ailing food and farm animal sector is also growing more difficult.

With veterinary service demands expected to grow 33% by 2030, the United States needs 41,000 more veterinarians in the workforce but is expected to fall short by around 15,000.  This means that qualified, foreign-born veterinarians who complete the necessary licensure requirements will be welcomed into the country. Current and prospective U.S. veterinarians can also expect better working conditions, benefits, mental health support, and pay as part of the effort to attract and retain top talent. 

Register with The Vet Service today to speak to our team to help you take the next step in finding your dream USA Vet Job.

Ready to buy your plane ticket? First, let’s take a closer look at working in the U.S. veterinary profession.

Getting here: Education and Licensure

You can take one of two paths to become a veterinarian in the United States. The first is to graduate from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-accredited veterinary school, pass the national board licensing examination, and obtain licensure in the state or states in which you plan to practice. Most AVMA schools are located in the United States and Canada, with a few scattered across other English-speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom. 

The second path is through attending a non-AVMA accredited school. If you attend a school on this list, you are eligible to complete the AVMA’s educational equivalency certification program administered by the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG). You will also need to pass the national veterinary exam, obtain licensure in the state where you plan to live and work, and apply for a visa to enter and work in the country temporarily or permanently.

Speak to one of our team today for further information on these pathways.

U.S. Veterinary Demographics

A few decades ago, U.S. veterinarians were primarily men, but the profession is now heavily female-dominated, with women outnumbering men two to one. About two-thirds of the 124,000 U.S. veterinarians work in clinical practice, most choosing companion animal medicine over equine, food animal, or other species. The government, academia, and industry also employ veterinarians, so those entering the profession have many options.

Corporate Versus Private Practices

As of 2021, at least 25% of U.S. companion animal veterinary practices were owned by large corporate consolidators. Because these practices tend to be larger than private practices and include most major specialty centers, they account for 40% to 50% of all veterinary visits. Whether you choose a private or corporate practice depends on your individual values and preferences—do you want a small community practice with a mom-and-pop feel, or would you prefer access to a large network of veterinarians?

Working for a large corporation has advantages and disadvantages. You will have less control over medical protocols, available equipment, staffing, and other managerial decisions, but you will likely enjoy better benefits, higher pay, and opportunities for advancement or relocation. Specialist veterinarians typically work either in private corporate practice or academia.

Veterinary Technicians and Veterinary Assistants

Veterinary practices differ from country to country in the amount of responsibility given to veterinary nurses—currently titled veterinary technicians in the United States. Qualified, credentialed technicians with formal education and who have passed a licensing exam have advanced skills that parallel human registered nurses and other medical paraprofessionals, while veterinary assistants are trained on the job. A good nursing team can greatly influence your efficiency and success as a U.S. veterinarian, so choose a practice that employs veterinary technicians, allows them to use their skills, and compensates them appropriately.

Working Conditions and Mental Health Concerns

Although the U.S. veterinary field has become more specialized, the majority of veterinarians practice primary care or emergency medicine, with only a few choosing specialties. Daily life for the primary care veterinarian includes a mixture of preventive care and sick visits, along with surgical procedures. Veterinarians here routinely spay and neuter young pets, and place heavy emphasis on wellness screenings and preventive and therapeutic dental procedures.

Veterinarians choose their profession because they are passionate about caring for animals and helping their owners, but their work is often stressful, demanding, and emotionally draining. Long hours, moral and ethical stress, and poor work-life balance have plagued the profession for many years, leading to high burnout numbers, compassion fatigue, and increased suicide risk. The profession likely faces similar issues in other countries.

Read our blog ‘Burnt Out and Under 30 in the Veterinary Industry,’ to learn the common causes, signs, and treatment of burnout. 

Many practices, companies, and independent organizations now recognize this problem and prioritize mental health by providing resources and support. Veterinary employers want to keep their veterinarians healthy and happy, so you should ask for exactly what you need to thrive, such as a flexible schedule or specific benefits. Employer-provided counseling and organizations such as Not One More Vet (NOMV) and the Veterinary Mental Health Initiative (VMHI) aggressively advocate for change and can support you through tough times.

Compensation and Cost of Living

U.S. veterinarians are some of the highest-paid in the world, with a mean annual wage of around $129,000. Check out our Global Vet Salary Report for more info on US Salaries as well as globally. 

Although you must consider your particular area’s cost of living and your student debt load to ensure you can afford to move. Pay and contract negotiations are standard practice, so do not feel obligated to accept your first offer.

Are you looking for employment as a veterinarian or veterinary technician in the United States? Whether your next adventure will be a locum or a permanent position, The Vet Service advisors can help you find your perfect fit and support you throughout the entire relocation process, from visa acquisition, to licensure, to adjusting to a different culture. Register for free to speak with an advisor or browse some of our open U.S. veterinary positions here

Maybe the USA isn’t for you, Get in touch today and check out our other international vet jobs on our website, Vet Jobs in Australia, Vet Jobs in NewZealand, Vet Jobs in Canada, Vet Jobs in the UK, and Vet Jobs in Ireland.