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Veterinarian

Pūkenga Hauora Kararehe

Alternative titles for this job

Veterinarians treat sick and injured animals, provide general animal care, and advise about health care and disease prevention for pets and farm (production) animals.

Pay

New veterinarians usually earn

$58K-$76K per year

Experienced veterinarians usually earn

$76K-$130K per year

Source: New Zealand Veterinary Association, 2017.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a veterinarian are good due to a shortage of people in the role, particularly in rural areas.

Pay

Pay for veterinarians varies depending on experience, responsibilities and location.

  • New graduates with one to three years' experience earn an average of $58,000 a year. 
  • Veterinarians with three to five years' experience earn an average of $76,000. 
  • Senior veterinarians with six to 10 years' experience earn an average of $86,000. 
  • Experienced veterinarians running a business, or working as a business partner, can earn from $100,000 to $130,000. 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Veterinarians may do some or all of the following:

  • work with clients to prevent and treat animal problems and diseases
  • advise on preventative health care, nutrition and the care and welfare of animals
  • examine dead animals to find out the cause of death
  • work with herd and flock owners to help them meet breeding and production goals
  • negotiate with other countries to set health standards for animal or animal product imports and exports
  • write and develop statutes, codes, regulations and policies that protect animal welfare
  • develop specialist skills to assist with surgery, medicine, epidemiology and pharmacology for animals
  • be involved with disease investigation and research and co-ordinate national disease control programmes
  • help pharmaceutical companies develop and market products used on animals.

Skills and knowledge

Veterinarians need to have:

  • knowledge of animals and animal diseases
  • animal-handling skills
  • knowledge of animal anatomy, physiology and biology
  • knowledge of biochemistry, microbiology and parasitology
  • skill in treating animals with medicines and performing surgery
  • knowledge of radiography, dentistry and lab methods
  • up to date knowledge of developments in veterinary science.

Business management knowledge may also be useful.

Working conditions

Veterinarians:

  • work long and irregular hours, are often on call, and may also work evenings and weekends
  • may work at clinics, hospitals, farms, zoos, catteries, dog kennels, meat processing plants, laboratories, teaching institutes, and government regulation agencies such as biosecurity and Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) 
  • often have to travel locally to visit and treat animals.

What's the job really like?

Amber Bone

Amber Bone

Veterinarian

Emotionally draining work

"Being a vet is not all fairytales and playing with puppies and kittens and amazing surgery and saving lives. It's sometimes mundane tasks and animals dying on you.

"I don’t think I realised just how much it can take out of you, dealing with people every day. You have to be able to deal with the animal's owner, and if a pet has to be put down, you have to deal with their grief as well."

Wonder dog moments make it all worthwhile

"Vaccinations are what you spend 50% of your time doing. There are days when you think, 'If I have to vaccinate another cow, seriously… I want to go and stack supermarket shelves.' Then something amazing will walk through the door and you'll save a life, which makes it worthwhile.

"One dog came in nearly dead after eating eight live chickens. When we operated, her bowel was twisted and purple and she was very close to dead. Next morning she was right as rain. She was a wonder dog."

Veterinarian video

Kam finds out what it's like to work as a veterinarian – 8.34 mins. (Video courtesy of Dave Mason Productions)

Kam Chatterton: Hi I’m Kam, I go to Te Awamutu College, I’m Year 12 and I think a career with animals would be the best. Today I’m going to see what it's like to be a veterinarian.

Clinton: Kam is at VetEnt in Te Awamutu, VetEnt is one of New Zealand’s largest veterinary businesses and has the capability to treat animals large and small. Kam meets Vet Krispin Kannan, and here comes the first patient of the day.

Krispin: So Kam this is Chip, he’s in for the day and what he’s going to get is castration today.

Clinton: After explaining the risks to Chip’s family he is anaesthetised, and Kam scrubs up, puts on a brave face and gets ready for Chip’s castration.

Kam: I’m pretty nervous because I don’t want to do anything wrong.

Krispin: There will be a bit of blood when we start incising, so this is a swab, if you hold onto that…

Krispin: …We’re just going to make this incision big enough, so I’ll just get you to dab there.

Krispin: Brilliant. So there we go…

Kam: Geez.

Krispin: Just very quickly, testicle there, OK? That’s where the sperm is formed, it comes around into the epididymis, so that’s where the sperm matures. As you can see there’s a huge blood supply, so it’s very important to get this just ligated and closed off before we go any further.

Clinton: Kam holds Chip's testicle while Krispin clamps and stitches Chip’s tubes shut.

Krispin: Are you feeling alright?

Kam: Yeah yeah, I’m feeling fine. It’s kind of weird being in this situation. It’s not really what I expected! It’s a bit more full on but it’s good. I’m learning a lot.

Krispin: So Kam now we’ll cut it between the two clamps.

Kam: I see.

Krispin: Brilliant, so you can just take that one away.

Kam: Yep.

Krispin: Now there’s one down. We’ll do exactly the same of this side.

Kam: OK.

Kam: It was a pretty crazy experience but it was good.

Krispin: Hi guys, how’re ya going?

Krispin: Here’s Chip. He’s all awake and chipper as you’d say.

Clinton: Chip’s operation went well and it’s time for Kam to try his steady hand with large animal vet, Emma Boyd.

Emma: Go in and grab her tongue, grab her tongue. It’s quite grippy, and yank it out. Yank it out.

Clinton: This cow has a lump on its face and Emma needs to check that it’s not an abscess from an infected tooth.

Emma: You’re doing really well for your first time taking a tongue!

Emma: Perfect! So now we can have a really good look in her mouth.

Kam: Is there anything there?

Emma: No, not that I can see, everything looks fine. So what we’ve got here is a lot of bone forming over the old infection which is normal and she’ll probably be fine.

Clinton: Being a vet means knowing animals back to front, so Kam does an ultrasound pregnancy test on a couple of cows.

Emma: And then we want to direct that into the rectum. Perfect! That was perfect!

Kam: Cool!

Emma: See that bright thing just on the screen? That’s its head. That's the calf’s head and its nose just popping out there.

Kam: Oh wow!

Emma: OK, there it is again.

Emma: That’s pretty cool eh?

Kam: Far out.

Emma: And they move. See how I’m staying still and that calf is moving so it's dancing in and out of our screen, so it’s having a wee party in there!

Clinton: This cow is only one in a herd of 200 and today’s vets analyse data like pregnancy and milk yield to keep the herd in top production and health.

Emma: The first major point is this major spike here, is where we came in and intervened and you actually had a really good conception rate.

Clinton: And because they can see what’s happened in the past farmers can plan for the future.

Farmer: Vets are very important – you can’t live without them. The work that they do is brilliant, the data they collect and the advice that they give to the farmer, I rate it 10 out of 10.

Emma: For me personally the biggest rewards being a vet is seeing a difference to a herd and you get to see the farmer benefit from it. That is the most wonderful experience.

Clinton: Vets enjoy working with a variety of animals. Kam meets a baby alpaca born this morning and gets stuck into in some preventative work for an alpaca herd.

Emma: For anyone that’s wanting to become a vet, the first thing is that you don’t have to be really smart, but you do have to have a work ethic. A career as a vet will take you wherever you want to go. You can obviously work as a clinical vet, you can work within industries such as Dairy NZ, you can go and work for drug companies, you can do research, you can do management and that’s what’s so wonderful about the degree – you’re not limited to doing one thing.

Krispin: The vet school at Massey is absolutely brilliant – probably the best time of my life, because you have about 100 like-minded people in your class that you just have five years of great fun with.

Emma: It is a wonderful job. You couldn’t go wrong with the career choice. I am excited to go to work every single day and I’ve been excited now for three and a half years so you can’t go wrong with choosing a vet degree.

Clinton: Kam’s about to learn that vets are trained for anything…

Emma: We’ve got a couple of cows that have got some inflammation in their nose – the only way they know how to itch is to try and put sticks up there which just means that they get stuck up there.

Emma: So I just want you to get your fingers, put it up her nose and just feel them on the tip of your finger…

Kam: Yep.

Emma: …And the other side as well.

Kam: Oh yeah yeah.

Emma: See how you feel the tip of a stick?

Kam: Yep.

Kam: It feels good to get it out. Cool!

Emma: And she’s going to feel so much better after that.

Kam: Ugh!

Clinton: Now this cow needs medication to fight infection.

Emma: Perfect! Now you can attach the syringe, now you can push the antibiotic in.

Emma: Kam was awesome, he got stuck in and I was really impressed.

Kam: It went great. I got put in different situations which made me feel kind of afraid and nervous but excited at the same time and I would definitely love to be a veterinarian.

Clinton: To be a veterinarian in New Zealand you will first need a tertiary entrance qualification – Bursary or NCEA Level 3. Preferred subjects are English, physics, chemistry and biology. Then you will need a Bachelor of Veterinary Science which is a five-year degree only available from Massey University in Palmerston North. Veterinarians must register with the Veterinary Council of New Zealand. The New Zealand Veterinary Association represents New Zealand veterinarians and is the collective voice for its members and the profession.

Entry requirements

To become a veterinarian, you need to:

  • complete a Bachelor of Veterinary Science
  • be registered with the Veterinary Council of New Zealand
  • have an Annual Practising Certificate.

Massey University is the only place in New Zealand offering the Bachelor of Veterinary Science course. The first half of the first year is a pre-veterinary semester. Then students are considered for entry into the four-and-a-half year professional phase of the course. Each year 108 students, of whom 84 are New Zealand residents, are accepted for the professional phase.

Students applying to Massey University must have a minimum of 10 days' veterinary work experience.

Secondary education

NCEA Level 3 is required to enter tertiary training. Useful subjects include chemistry, biology, physics and mathematics. 

Personal requirements

Veterinarians should be understanding, patient and concerned for animals. They must also:

  • be mature and responsible
  • work well under pressure
  • inspire confidence in clients
  • be good communicators with excellent interpersonal skills
  • be organised
  • be decisive and good at solving problems
  • be motivated and have a desire to learn.

Useful experience

Useful experience for veterinarians includes:

  • practical experience with farm animals, such as work on a dairy, sheep or cattle farm, or work with horses
  • work as an animal technician
  • animal training
  • volunteer or paid work relating to animal care.

Physical requirements

Veterinarians need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), good hearing, and good hand-eye co-ordination. They also need to have a reasonable level of fitness as they may spend long periods on their feet and the work can be physically demanding.

Registration

Veterinarians need to be registered with the Veterinary Council of New Zealand and have a current Annual Practising Certificate.

Find out more about training

Massey University
0800 627 739 - vet@massey.ac.nz - www.massey.ac.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Veterinarian on long-term skill shortage list

The number of veterinarians has been steadily increasing, with around 3,000 currently practicing in New Zealand, but there are still not enough to meet demand. As a result, veterinarian appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled veterinarians from overseas to work in New Zealand. Dairy cattle veterinarians are in particularly high demand.

The Ministry for Primary Industries offers a bonding scheme for newly qualified veterinarians who are willing to work in areas where they are most needed. 

Shortage of veterinarians has many causes

The shortage of veterinarians is due to:

  • limits on trainee numbers – only 84 New Zealand residents and 24 international students are accepted for veterinary training each year
  • qualified veterinarians moving overseas for higher pay
  • demand for veterinarians' services from the growing dairy industry.

About 60% of graduates start work in mixed (farm animal and pet) practice, mainly in smaller towns, but rural practices still find it hard to attract veterinarians because the work often involves long hours, driving long distances, and working with large animals, which is physically demanding. 

Graduates can find roles more quickly if they are prepared to be flexible about the hours and where they work.

Types of employers varied

About 40% of veterinarians work in mixed rural practices and 40% work in urban practices, which mainly deal with pets. Practices can be small, with just one or two veterinarians, or large, with up to 20 staff.

Veterinarians may also work for:

  • companies or government agencies, doing scientific research or developing new products
  • the Ministry for Primary Industries, dealing with animal health, quality control at meat plants, and disease research
  • AgResearch, in animal production and disease research
  • universities, in research and teaching
  • wildlife services, such as zoos and sanctuaries for endangered animals.

Sources

  • Beattie, H, NZVA chief veterinary officer, New Zealand Veterinary Association, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, December 2017.
  • Immigration New Zealand, 'Long Term Skill Shortage List', 19 February 2018, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
  • Massey University website, accessed December 2017, (www.massey.ac.nz).
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Occupational Outlook 2017', accessed December 2017, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
  • Ministry for Primary Industries, 'Voluntary Bonding Scheme for Veterinarians,' accessed December 2017, (www.mpi.govt.nz).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Veterinarians may progress to set up their own vet practices, or move into non-clinical roles such as teaching and research, or management. 

Veterinarians may also specialise in: 

  • large or small animals 
  • wildlife
  • poultry
  • horses and farm animals
  • zoo animals
  • domestic pets.
A veterinarian in a consulting room with two cats

Veterinarians carry out preventative health checks and treat sick or injured animals (Photo: Central Vet Hospital)

Last updated 16 February 2019