Research veterinarians provide the daily veterinary care required for all research animals. The primary roles of a research veterinarian include managing animal resources, providing adequate veterinary care, consulting with researchers on animal models, assisting in regulatory compliance, performing independent and collaborative research, teaching and training. The wide range of job functions creates diverse opportunities and challenges unique to this veterinary specialty.
Research veterinarians can perform independent research and serve as consultants and collaborators to research investigators in a variety of disciplines. Research in laboratory animal medicine (also referred to as comparative medicine) includes the study of animal diseases, animal models of human disease, computer modeling, procedural and surgical techniques and animal nutrition. Opportunities for collaboration with researchers in other disciplines also exist and can involve advising on the selection, development and refinement of animal models and animal biomethodology.
Additional duties of a research veterinarian can include planning, conducting and following up on research projects; developing, implementing and controlling procedures related to the purchasing and overall health of all research animals; and providing support to management and other divisions regarding animal-health issues.
Research veterinarians also are responsible for diagnosing, treating and controlling diseases and injuries among research animals; performing surgery on sick and injured animals; prescribing and administering drugs, medicines and vaccines as appropriate; consulting with researchers and staff regarding the type and number of research animals needed; and providing instruction and assistance in the special care and treatment of animals.
In addition to caring for research animals, research veterinarians also might be required to prepare grant applications relating to laboratory animal care. They must stay abreast of new technological advances so they can provide the best training and programs to staff and research personnel. Veterinarians in this specialty sometimes are called on to educate the community, which might be done through classroom presentations, lectures to local and national organizations and media appearances.
Laboratory Animal Veterinarians
Laboratory animal veterinarians must be prepared to care for a large variety of species, most of which are not common to traditional veterinary practice. The unique biological qualities, nutritional and environmental requirements and diseases of these animals provide interesting challenges for their cultivation and clinical management. The animals used in research investigations must be free of unwanted spontaneous disease, and the laboratory animal veterinarian is trained to manage such diseases in animal populations and advise researchers regarding implications this might have for research.
Specific to clinical veterinarians is the responsibility for implementing the clinical evaluation program. These veterinarians are required to administer such care in compliance with state and federal regulations. Clinical veterinarians can assist in providing researchers and investigators guidelines and consultation on the choice and use of certain medications and procedures and are responsible for evaluating and processing protocols submitted by investigators involving animal use in research, teaching and testing. They also can participate in developing and teaching university courses in animal resource programs.
Clinical veterinarians also must ensure the facility is in compliance with federal agency regulations including those set by the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. Clinical veterinarians are actively involved in veterinary support for research protocols, animal resource management and prestudy evaluation procedures. They write, review and update laboratory animal and veterinary care standard operating procedures (SOPs), the sets of instructions and directives covering operations.
Prospective veterinarians must graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM or VMD) degree from a four-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine and must obtain a license to practice. Before practicing, all veterinarians must have two or more years of postdoctoral training, or one year of postdoctoral training plus one year of experience in the practice of institutional animal medicine.
Twenty-eight colleges in 26 states meet accreditation standards set by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the prerequisites for admission vary. Many of the colleges 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 students admitted have completed an undergraduate program. Applicants without a bachelor’s degree will find it hard to be admitted.
Preveterinary courses emphasize the sciences. Veterinary medical colleges typically require 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, while others require only statistics, college algebra and trigonometry, or precalculus. Most veterinary medical colleges also require core courses, including coursework in English or literature, the social sciences and the humanities. Courses in practice management and career development increasingly are becoming a standard part of the curriculum to provide a foundation of general business knowledge for new graduates.
In addition to satisfying preveterinary course requirements, applicants must submit test scores from the Graduate Record Examination, the Veterinary College Admission Test or the Medical College Admission Test, depending on the preference of the college to which they are applying. Currently, 22 schools require the GRE, four require the VCAT and two accept the MCAT.
In admittance decisions, some veterinary medical colleges place heavy consideration on a candidate’s veterinary and animal experience. Formal experience, such as work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research or some area of health science, particularly is advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm or ranch or at a stable or animal shelter, also is helpful. Students must demonstrate ambition and an eagerness to work with animals.
There is keen competition for admission to veterinary school. The number of accredited veterinary colleges has remained largely the same since 1983, whereas the number of applicants has risen significantly. Only about one in three applicants were accepted in 2004. Education in AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties — such as pathology, internal medicine, dentistry, nutrition, ophthalmology, surgery, radiology, preventive medicine and laboratory animal medicine — usually is obtained through a two-year internship. Interns receive a small salary but usually find that their internship experience leads to a higher starting salary relative to the salaries of other starting veterinarians. Veterinarians who seek board certification in a specialty also must complete a three- to four-year residency program that provides intensive training in specialties such as internal medicine, oncology, radiology, surgery, dermatology, anesthesiology, neurology, cardiology, ophthalmology and exotic, small-animal medicine.
All 50 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 state governments.
The average veterinarian who does not own his or her own practice makes between $45,000 and $105,000 per year. A veterinarian who owns his or her own practice typically makes between $100,000 and $250,000 per year.