What is the Role of a Veterinarian?
Veterinarians are the doctors of the animal world. They use their skills to evaluate patients, make diagnoses, and treat a wide range of conditions.1 For most people, the role of a veterinarian consists of maintaining their pet's (or pets') health: Wellness exams, vaccinations, dietary recommendations and the occasional surgery or treatment of an injury. The role of a veterinarian includes these, to be sure, but there are other important functions performed by veterinarians that can go unnoticed by most of those who rely on their veterinarian to perform the above functions.
The veterinary doctor does indeed care for the health of animals in that they diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals. Veterinarians in private clinical practices treat the injuries and illnesses of pets and other animals with a variety of medical equipment, including surgical tools and x-ray and ultrasound machines. They provide treatment for animals that is similar to the services a physician provides to treat humans.2
The Veterinarian: Duties Versus Roles
It could be said that veterinarians have many roles, or at least several, depending on their field of study and their concentration. In general, however, the role of a veterinarian differs from what would be called their duties. These roles are predicated upon the concentration the veterinarian has chosen (see below), as well as socially and legally-defined public health roles.
The following are examples of types of veterinarians:
Companion animal veterinarians treat pets and generally work in private clinics and hospitals. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 75 percent of veterinarians who work in private clinical practice treat pets. They most often care for cats and dogs, but also treat other pets, such as birds, ferrets, rabbits and some exotic species. These veterinarians diagnose and provide treatment for animal health problems, consult with owners of animals about preventative health care, and carry out medical and surgical procedures, such as vaccinations, dental work, and setting fractures.
Equine veterinarians work with horses. In 2012, about 6 percent of private practice veterinarians diagnosed and treated horses.
Food animal veterinarians work with farm animals such as pigs, cattle, and sheep. In 2012, about 8 percent of private practice veterinarians treated food animals. They spend much of their time at farms and ranches treating illnesses and injuries and testing for and vaccinating against disease. They may advise owners or managers about feeding, housing, and general health practices.
Food safety and inspection veterinarians inspect and test livestock and animal products for major animal diseases, provide vaccines to treat animals, enhance animal welfare, conduct research to improve animal health, and enforce government food safety regulations. They design and administer animal and public health programs for the prevention and control of diseases transmissible among animals and between animals and people.
Research veterinarians work in laboratories, conducting clinical research on human and animal health problems. These veterinarians may perform tests on animals to identify the effects of drug therapies, or they may test new surgical techniques. They may also research how to prevent, control, and eliminate food- and animal-borne illnesses and diseases.
Some veterinarians also become postsecondary teachers at colleges and universities.2
In the United States, approximately two-thirds of veterinarians work in private or corporate clinical practice, providing veterinary care for a wide range of species.3 Veterinarians in academia instruct veterinary students, veterinary technology students, other medical professionals, and scientists. Veterinary college faculty members conduct research, teach, provide care for animals in the veterinary teaching hospital, and develop continuing education programs to help practicing veterinarians acquire new knowledge and skills.
Regulatory and Public Health
In addition to the care of animals in its many forms, the veterinary doctor also has other extremely important roles of which many people often remain unaware. To prevent the introduction of foreign diseases into their nation of origin, veterinarians are employed by regulatory agencies at various levels (provincial, state, national) to quarantine and inspect animals brought into the country.
Departments and agencies headed and/or staffed by veterinarians supervise international and domestic shipments of animals. In many cases, this involves testing for diseases that could threaten animal and human health or the food supply, as well as managing campaigns to prevent and eradicate diseases that pose threats to animal and human health.
Veterinarians serve as and/or with epidemiologists in government agencies, investigating animal and human disease outbreaks such as food-borne illnesses, influenza and rabies. They help ensure the safety of food processing plants, restaurants, and water supplies.3
Other Professional Activities
In the uniformed services, veterinarians are responsible for food safety, veterinary care of government-owned animals, and biomedical research and development.3 Officers with special education in laboratory animal medicine, pathology, microbiology, or related disciplines conduct research in the uniformed services and other governmental positions.
Regarding the U.S. uniformed services, veterinarians play a vital role rebuilding and improving animal care systems in underdeveloped and war-damaged countries.3 Many societies are heavily dependent upon animal agriculture, and improving the health of their animals improves the quality of life for the human community.
Exactly where a veterinarian works depends largely on their
specific role, and one might be surprised by how varied the locations can be.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines
some of the common settings:
• Veterinary clinics and hospitals
• Animal shelters
• Farms and ranches
• Animal processing facilities
• Zoos and aquariums
Many individuals and group practice veterinarians, which the CDC estimates to be around 80 percent of all vets, work in clinics. Vets can work in brick-and-mortar clinics as well as in mobile facilities. The latter are often less expensive to operate and allow veterinary professionals to provide more convenient services for pet owners.4 As in the realm of human medicine, some veterinarians also work in the area of pharmaceuticals, helping to develop medications that aid in disease mitigation and prevention, and in maintaining the health of animals.
Are you a veterinarian, or do you plan to be one someday? Check out the current openings available on NexGen's Career Opportunities page. We're always looking for qualified individuals to join our rapidly-growing team!
About NexGen Pharmaceuticals
NexGen Pharmaceuticals is an industry-leading veterinary compounding pharmacy, offering sterile and non-sterile compounding services Nationwide. Unlike other veterinary compounding pharmacies, NexGen focuses on drugs that are difficult to find or are no longer available due to manufacturer discontinuance or have yet to be offered commercially for veterinary applications, but which still serve a critical need for our customers. We also specialize in wildlife pharmaceuticals, including sedatives and their antagonists, offering many unique options to serve a wide array of zoo animal and wildlife immobilization and anesthesia requirements.
Our pharmacists are also encouraged to develop strong working relationships with our veterinarians in order to better care for veterinary patients. Such relationships foster an ever-increasing knowledge base upon which pharmacists and veterinarians can draw, making both significantly more effective in their professional roles.