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What Skills Do You Need to Be a Veterinarian?

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Being an animal doctor is a challenging, demanding and ultimately rewarding job. You'll need to learn how to diagnose, treat and manage a variety of illnesses and conditions in many different species of animals. It's a path that demands a great deal of compassion for both animals and for their owners and a background in the sciences.

Whether you have always wanted to work with animals or a mid-career change has you weighing your options, before registering for school you should assess exactly what skills you need to be a veterinarian.

What Does a Veterinarian Do?

Veterinarians may work in private practices, farms, zoos, shelters and animal hospitals. They care for a wide variety of animals, diagnose illness and injuries and provide education to pet owners on proper animal care and nutrition. They may care for domestic pets, livestock and wild or exotic animals. They often perform surgeries and contribute to research that helps animals and people.

Skills Needed to Become a Veterinarian

Veterinarians need to have a variety of skills to offer the best care possible to their patients and clients, including:

  • Attention to detail: Veterinarians need to be methodical and analytical. They must be able to interpret data and think logically to diagnose illness and injury.
  • Compassion: Veterinarians deal with people who may be distraught about a beloved pet's death or illness. They must be able to empathize with an animal's suffering and show care and compassion.
  • Physical strength and stamina: Veterinarians need to lift and move animals during examinations and surgeries and stand for long hours.
  • Technical and scientific aptitude: Veterinarians use technical machinery and have to interpret information from X-rays, reports and blood tests.
  • Excellent communication skills: Veterinarians have to be able to describe sometimes complicated information to members of the public when they may be emotionally upset. They have to clearly explain home care instructions for medicine doses and follow up care in a way that pet owners will understand. They need to write detailed notes and often give their expert opinions in presentations, speeches and reports.  

Veterinarians salary

  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $164,490 ($79.08/hour)
  • Median Annual Salary: $99,250 ($47.72/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $60,690 ($29.18/hour)

How Much Does a Veterinarian Make Per Year?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2016 that veterinarians made on average $99,250 per year or $47.72 per hour. The American Veterinarian Medical Association produced a report on Veterinary Compensation in 2020, which included a survey of income earned by veterinary professionals. It showed the highest earning veterinarians with a speciality in pathology earn more than $267,000 per year, and those with a speciality in surgery, earn more than $250,061 per year.

For animal lovers looking for a well-paid job that makes a real difference in the lives of pets and people, a career as a veterinarian could be just what the (animal) doctor ordered.


Fiona Tapp is a freelance writer and educator. Her work has been featured on The Washington Post, HuffPost, The Toronto Star, The Nest, Brit+Co, and others. She writes about a variety of topics including Homes, Parenting, Education, and Travel. Fiona is a former teacher and masters degree holder.

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