In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Public health veterinarians focus on the interaction between human and animal health. Their jobs can range from inspecting livestock to influencing national policy. Public health veterinarians help protect our food supply, contribute to disaster preparedness efforts, create and enforce regulations for animal shelters, consult with emergency room physicians, and more. Many are involved in infectious disease prevention and control. Some assist with the review and approval of drugs, such as antibiotics, that are used in animals. Others work to monitor and prevent the spread of diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans (such as rabies, Lyme disease, Escherichia coli, and many others.) At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, veterinarians’ roles include making sure that meat and poultry plants are producing safe food, inspecting animals being brought into the country, investigating disease outbreaks, and seeking new ways to prevent disease in both animals and humans. Some public health veterinarians work primarily in offices or labs, while others carry out on-site inspections at farms, factories, ports, and border areas. The job usually involves regular hours; however, a public health veterinarian may need to respond to emergencies on weekends, holidays, or other off-hours.
A public health veterinarian must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and, in most cases, must have a current license to practice. Specific public health training or experience is not always required; however, jobs that involve disease surveillance, program design, policy, and other population-level efforts require a strong understanding of epidemiology and other aspects of public health. Some veterinary schools offer combined DVM/MPH programs, and there are opportunities for postgraduate training, including residency programs in veterinary public health. Public health veterinarians can seek certification from the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine (ACPVM).
- Creative thinking
- Ability to see problems from multiple angles
- Passion for preventing, not just treating, disease
- Interest in working as part of a team
- Good communication skills
- At least a basic understanding of statistics and epidemiology
- Knowledge of veterinary medicine from both individual and population perspectives
Salary surveys generally don’t separate out public health veterinarians from those who provide direct patient care. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median salary for all veterinarians as $79,000 in 2008, with most earning between $47,000 and $144,000. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in 2007 the median salary for veterinarians working for state or local government was $94,000 per year. In federal government, the median salary was $97,000 per year. For comparison, the median for vets in private practice was about $91,000 per year. Specific salaries vary by location, job responsibilities, qualifications, and seniority.
Veterinarians involved in public health activities are employed by local and state health departments and by federal agencies including the USDA, FDA, CDC, EPA, DHS, and the Department of Defense. There are also jobs in private industry that use public health skills and techniques.
Overall, it is expected that there will be more job openings for veterinarians than there are qualified people to fill them. Fewer jobs are available in public health than in clinical practice, but veterinarians who enter the field can expect continued support for disease control programs and food and animal safety efforts. Concerns about the need to maintain our food supply and minimize animal diseases in the United States and around the world may lead to additional opportunities.
RELATED WEBSITES AND ORGANIZATIONS