Occupations Most in Demand
When most people think of veterinarians, they tend to think of the animal doctor who works in private practice taking care of dogs and cats. Today's veterinarians work in a wide array of professional fields. The opportunities are plentiful in traditional small animal private practice and at animal hospitals. Other growth areas include working in labs for the government helping with the safety of food processing plants or water supplies, working on farms to prevent disease in livestock, and teaching others to become veterinarians. Veterinary specialties that expect growth spurts in the future include surgery, ophthalmology, dentistry, and dermatology.
A veterinarian, veterinary technician, or assistant can easily find employment almost everywhere in the country. However, there is a greater need for all animal healthcare workers on farms and in rural areas.
Currently there is a scarcity of veterinary professionals in rural areas. The low numbers of animal husbandry workers in rural areas leads to a higher demand and often to a longer workday. When Dr. Kimberly May worked as a board-certified equine/large animal surgeon, she worked long days and night shifts. While she loved being around horses, the long hours got to her. So she switched careers and is now employed as the assistant director of the Communications Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “I wanted to work to live, not live to work,” she says. Her job allows her to spend time with her family and friends. “This worked out perfectly for me,” she says. “I get to write and inform the public about animals, animal welfare issues, animal care, and careers working with animals.”
Shortages of veterinarians at universities, in public health, and other areas of the profession where hands-on doctor-patient practice doesn't occur is a major concern. To reverse this trend, universities such as Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences are trying to fill the gap by offering alternative career options to fourth-year veterinary students by designing nonclinical programs.
Burnout is a factor that many animal care workers face. A high incidence is found among animal caretakers who work in shelters. Most of these jobs require little training and only a high school diploma. The jobs entail a lot of grunt work such as cleaning cages and making sure shelter animals are fed and exercised. These jobs attract part-time workers and a lot of students who want experience working with animals. Some shelters euthanize stray dogs and cats. This grunt work can take a toll on the workers, causing depression and burnout. Burnout results in a high turnover of jobs, making opportunities constantly available.
On the positive side, shelters are becoming more humane. Many residents take an active role in their local animal shelter by hosting fundraisers and by volunteering to walk dogs and play with the sheltered dogs and cats. The potential to earn a good living by working at a shelter is tough. Shelter workers often earn minimum wage. Most people are students who want experience working with animals, or neighborhood volunteers who want the companionship of dogs and cats without a lot of the responsibilities. If you are interested in a career with animals, it is a good idea to take a part-time job or volunteer at a local shelter. Shelters are a good starting place for people who want to work with animals. Many veterinarians, scientists, and educators got their first experience working with animals at shelters as volunteers or interns while attending high school or college.
The Kahun Papyrus, an ancient medical text dating back 4,000 years, is one of the earliest records that discuss animal diseases and treatments. It was discovered in 1889 by Flinders Petrie, an English Egyptologist. Today fragments of the Kahun Papyrus are kept at University College, London.
Running a shelter is a different story. Shelters are nonprofit businesses. It is possible to earn a decent living, but it will not make you rich. People don't work at a shelter to make a lot of money. They do it to be around animals, and to help raise awareness about the importance of animal welfare.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, another key reason behind the steady growth in the need for animal care workers and for the ongoing improvements at animal shelters is the connection between animal abuse and abuse toward humans. “There have been several studies showing us that there is a direct link between the two,” says Dr. May. “There are those of us who grew up with a pet. We have a close regard for animals. Even those who never had a pet in their lives get shocked when they hear about animal abuse. The bottom line is that animal abuse is wrong, and thankfully, even people who don't have pets care enough to feel sad and outraged when they hear about animals being harmed.”
When the media focuses attention on animal abuse, the heightened awareness of the plight of animals causes individuals to donate private funds to animal shelters. Private donations enables shelter owners to make often much needed improvements. Shelter owners and workers expect that improved conditions will make working at shelters a less stressful environment for all.
Another growth field is obedience dog training. The trainers often are self-employed entrepreneurs. Jim Burwell, a Houston-based owner of Petiquette, a dog-training franchise, believes that dog training is the fastest-growing segment of the pet industry. “Services in the pet industry are expected to grow more than 6 percent over the next five years,” he says. “Being a dog trainer is a field with multiple opportunities and plenty of growth.”
Other jobs are more limited in scope. It may sound cool being a zoo director or an animal trainer on a movie set. However, those jobs are few and far between. That is not to say that it is impossible to get a job in these fields. Depending on the position and the amount of schooling involved, you may have to start in an entry-level position and work your way up.