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All about veterinary practitioners

Veterinarians diagnose, treat and help prevent disease and injury in animals of all kinds, from family pets to livestock, horses and exotic animals. Veterinarians in Australia can work in diverse areas, from small solo practices to large specialist surgeries; in rural areas, or in urban communities. When people think of veterinarians they often think of your local veterinarian who treats your animals, however, veterinarians also work in a wide variety of industries such as Government, the pharmaceutical industry, the pet food industry, education, research, conservation, pathology and many more.

A career as a veterinarian demands a high level of academic achievement as well as a commitment to, and passion for, the health and wellbeing of animals. A veterinarian should have an interest and background in science, as well as the ability to communicate and interact with people well.

Some characteristics a veterinarian should possess include:

  • A high emotional intelligence in order to understand animals and communicate effectively with their owners
  • Be able to make decisions quickly, especially when confronted with emergency situations such as when an animal’s life is in danger
  • Have a passion for learning and be committed to taking the time to complete 5-7 years of university study, as well as undertaking continuing education after qualification
  • Have skills in time management, allowing them to juggle multiple appointments and commitments during an average day
  • Be comfortable handling animals of all kinds and sizes
  • Be physically fit enough to spend most of their working day on their feet and sometimes out in the field

To become a veterinarian, you must complete many years of study. Depending on the university this ranges between five and seven years of university degrees. Australia has seven universities offering undergraduate or post graduate veterinary science degrees. More information on this can be found here.

In addition to a rigorous academic program in order to qualify as a veterinarian, veterinarians need to keep their skills up-to-date with the latest clinical and scientific developments through continuing professional development.

This continuing education includes reading the latest scientific research in relevant journals, attending regular seminars and conferences, such as the annual AVA conference, and communicating with fellow veterinarians through organisations such as the Australian Veterinary Association in order to continually apply best practice and be up to date with the latest innovations and knowledge. More information on continuing education can be found here.

Once completing their degree some graduates go onto further study to achieve memberships or train as specialists.  Like human medicine, there are a vast number of areas with which veterinarians can further develop their skills. Some of these specialities include:

  • Surgery
  • Dentistry
  • Physiotherapy
  • Animal Behaviour
  • Diagnostic imagery
  • Internal medicine
  • Exotic animals
  • Emergency and critical care
  • Infectious diseases
  • Oncology
  • Neurology
  • Cardiology
  • Anaesthesia
  • Dermatology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Clinical pathology
  • Nutrition

To become a specialist, registered veterinarians must undergo extensive advanced supervised training, culminating in the passing of a rigorous set of examinations.

Veterinary science offers a fulfilling and rewarding professional life, but it can also be demanding. You may be required to work long and often irregular hours so it is important that you strike a balance with your home and social life.

The veterinary community in Australia is very supportive and many graduates are members of the AVA, the professional body that represents veterinarians. The AVA has many programs and services available to its members and offers work-related and personal support. It also lobbies government and the public sector on issues relating to animals, their care and the veterinary profession in general. More information about the AVA and the benefits it provides its members can be found here.