West Nile virus, swine flu, mad cow disease -- a litany of these and other diseases that spread from animals to humans make headlines. Veterinarian pathologists, or veterinary pathologists, play important roles in understanding and containing those diseases. Some veterinary pathologists play critical roles in cancer research and combating bioterrorism. Others investigate after oil spills, nuclear power accidents and homicides. One veterinary pathologist even conducted experiments on the Space Shuttle. Not exactly your everyday job description.
Overall, veterinary pathologists study disease in animals. The American College of Veterinary Pathologists notes that veterinary pathologists work in one of four broad areas. Some diagnose disease and predict its outcome in companion, zoo animals and wildlife by examining animal tissues and body fluids. In food-producing animals, veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases to keep herds healthy and determine risks to consumers. Others serve key roles in pharmaceutical research and help develop safe drugs. And some veterinary pathologists conduct pure research to learn the causes of and develop methods to prevent disease in animals and humans. Veterinary pathologist job descriptions vary widely. However good communication skills are typically a requirement. Veterinary pathologists write a lot of reports and must be able communicate good and bad news to others, the I Have a Plan Iowa website notes.
Focus and Speciality
Through their training, veterinary pathologists gain a broad understanding of animals and pathology, which opens a number of career pathways for them with varying job descriptions. A veterinary pathologist focused on pure research will design and conduct experiments, analyze the resulting data and develop statistics from it, while the I Have a Plan Iowa website notes that forensic veterinary pathologists study animal tissues to help solve crimes. Examination of an animal that died in a fire might prove if the fire was set or accidental, for example. Forensic veterinary pathologist testify in court as part of their job description. Some veterinary pathologists specialize in pathology of certain animals, such as companion animals or only frogs. Other veterinary pathologists are university professors who teach, research, publish their research results and apply for grants.
Aspiring veterinary pathologists can aspire to work for any of numerous employers -- private and state diagnostic laboratories, zoos and wildlife agencies, universities, the military and government agencies. They also can find jobs in pharmaceutical, biotechnological, chemical and agrochemical industries.
Women dominate the veterinary field overall. One explanation is that women are fleeing MBA or medical doctor programs and becoming veterinarians because the field, although it pays less than other professions, is prestigious and still offers the possibility of flexible schedules. But some veterinary pathologists might work between 60 and 80 hours a week and be under a lot of stress when they're involved in a crisis. The I Have a Plan Iowa website reports that the highest-paid veterinary pathologists work for private industry, where their starting salary ranges from $91,000 to $200,000 annually. This draws them away from jobs in universities and government, causing shortages.
Understandably, such a cool job as veterinary pathologist requires extensive education. Aspiring veterinary pathologists are good at sciences, such as chemistry and math, and complete an undergrad degree, garnering high grades. Then they complete a four-year veterinary college program, and follow that up with a residency lasting at least three years. Sometimes they do additional postgraduate work. Some veterinary pathologists become certificated by taking the American College of Veterinary Pathologists' extremely difficult board exam, which indicates they can perform high-quality work. Those who have certification spur greater interest from employers than those without it.
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