Georgia Caudle is an undergraduate student at the University of Tennessee aspiring to be either an orthopedic or opthamologist veterinarian. She spends most of her free time traveling and horseback riding with friends, family, and her dog Ringo.
What is large animal veterinary medicine? There are many ‘large animals’ that come to mind, but in veterinary medicine, this term refers to livestock: horses, cows, goats, sheep, and pigs. There are two main career paths in the field to consider. Large animal veterinarians must cater to livestock that is in the high-volume production industry and/or privately-owned. Some professionals offer exclusive services for equines, bovines, porcine, etc. In the veterinary profession, this requires a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), but farriers, nutritionists, and management services are also a common career path. To be a competitive candidate to get into vet school, you can get large animal experience to make your application pop! There are a few ways of finding experience opportunities.
Professionals in the Large Animal Veterinary field require handling knowledge to gain adequate confidence and body language awareness, so students can benefit greatly by becoming acquainted with one or more of these hoofed animals. It can be difficult to get large animal experience for the first time in a clinical setting; most veterinarians prefer applicants with experience prior to intern/ job positions. When I was trying to get horse experience, I asked locals who owned horses if I could volunteer my time helping with daily tasks to learn the basics in horse behavior, care, and training. From there, I started volunteering in more professional settings such as sanctuaries, rescues, or stables. It can be frustrating starting at a very basic position, but working your way up to handling animals one-on-one is very rewarding.
Large Animal Professionals value honesty and confidence in this field, so when applying to these positions, it can be beneficial to express confidence, the ability to learn from your mistakes, and your passion towards large animals. As you add hours to your experience, be adamant about recording: who you are working for, what you’re doing, when/how long it is done, and where it is done. Recording this down continuously in the same place will help prevent it from being lost. Remembering these basic tools can help acquire a volunteering or job position at every level of experience.
After you get large animal experience, the individuals who want to pursue a veterinary profession must obtain a DVM. This requires an accredited veterinary school. When choosing a veterinary school, keep your specialty goals in mind, because some schools have higher reputations in certain areas of veterinary medicine. This may mean there are more opportunities regarding that area of expertise, so be sure to contact vet schools to inquire about unique programs they offer within your professional goals. Between semesters, reach out and apply for intern/externships. This is where a lot of real life, hands-on experience is, and it can provide you with future employment or reference opportunities after graduation.
There are many resources to turn to when seeking out these opportunities. Veterinary clubs are a great source of information about local internships or to hear about other possibilities that members have previously been involved in. After hearing about specific programs, inquire about reviews for testification, and if it seems like a valuable opportunity, you can send in an updated resume, cover letter, and follow-up phone call. These types of experiences make you a much more competitive applicant for future opportunities.
Large animal veterinarians typically make up the smallest percentage of veterinary school graduates. After graduating with your DVM, it is highly recommended, but not legally required in some circumstances, to take and pass board certification. On average, large animal veterinarians have a $88,000 salary median, but it can vary depending on many factors. Typically, board-certified veterinarians make more, while non-board certified veterinarians make less.
This career can be very physical and time-demanding. Being capable of restraining large animals in a nonclinical setting can lead to serious injury, especially if the patient is in pain or does not have proper handling history. Because some large animal veterinarians do house calls, a lot of time is spent traveling to and from farms/clients. In addition to the daily demands, owning a large animal clinic can be expensive regarding the facility and equipment required for clinical procedures. This can cause financial strain, but with proper management and clientele, it is very manageable. By working for the federal government or military, there are opportunities for financial relief depending on the area of expertise and years served. Researching financial possibilities prior to action will help reduce future strain.
To be a large animal vet requires dedication, knowledge, and experience. To get into vet school, it is helpful to get large animal experience, seek out useful tools and acquire references. If done right, large animal veterinary medicine is very rewarding with many career options that keep professionals on the move with physically demanding and potentially challenging cases. From small to large animals, veterinarians care for those who can’t care for themselves.
"This was a great learning experience! We were able to spend a lot of time with the vets and they were constantly answering questions and sharing their knowledge. Strongly recommend this trip!"
Andrea G., Thailand College Veterinary Service 2016
Wright State University, Dayton, OH