August 14, 2023

STEM Careers Blog: Veterinary Science


Those with a passion for caring for animals can find great gratification in a career in veterinary science.  It is a noble and rewarding career choice for those who have a passion for animals and a desire to provide medical care and support to our furry and feathered friends. Veterinarians learn to examine, analyze, diagnose, and treat both wild and domestic animals.  Just like with human medicine, there are extensive medicines, treatments, and procedures that are necessary to learn to treat our animals.  Becoming a veterinarian takes time, effort, and continuous training. 

Veterinary Involvement in Space

Veterinary science has had a place in space for nearly 80 years! NASA even hires veterinarians to oversee research of animals in space.  In the first attempts to send life into space, animals were the first travelers. It is extremely necessary to have veterinarians involved in spaceflight because of this close relationship with animals being used in tests for biological research.  Humans were unsure if we would be able to survive the journey outside of Earth’s atmosphere, so to test this a monkey named Albert flew inside a V2 rocket in 1949 becoming both the first mammal and primate in space. Another famous animal of early spaceflight is the Russian dog Laika which flew into orbit in 1957 on Sputnik 2. Both animals successfully proved that man would be able to survive which opened the future for human spaceflight.  

Veterinarians in these research teams would manage groups of potential animal passengers, keeping them in optimal condition for the best results during tests and flight attempts.  While one animal is chosen for the test, there are always multiple animal candidates that must be monitored and cared for in the case that there are complications with the chosen candidate. In the only case of a cat traveling to space, there were six final candidates before the mission which were cared for by a team of veterinarians. The launch of the ISS (International Space Station) in 1998 greatly expanded the capabilities for animal science in space. Instead of studying for short periods from launch to landing, research time could be extended and more data could be collected.

Animal experiments on the ISS opened the doors for veterinarians to actually go into space.  An example of this is Astronaut Richard M. Linnehan, the first veterinarian in space, who flew four missions into space in 1996, 1998, 2002, and 2008. The missions STS-78, STS-90, and STS-109 were flown on Space Shuttle Columbia and mission STS-123 was flown on Space Shuttle Endeavour. A veteran of four space flights, Dr. Linnehan has logged more than 58 days in space, including six spacewalks.  In his educational journey, Astronaut Linnehan received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Sciences with a minor in Microbiology. He then moved forward earning a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1985. For a period he practiced clinical veterinary medicine then he was accepted for an internship to learn the specializations of zoo animal care and pathology at the Baltimore Zoo and John Hopkins University. After completing his specializations Astronaut Linnehan was commissioned as a Captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps.  In this position he served as chief clinical veterinarian for the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program at the Naval Ocean Systems Center where he researched cetaceans and pinnipeds. He was initially selected as an Astronaut Candidate in 1992. In his missions he helped  implement the Life Sciences and Microgravity Spacelab, conducted life science experiments focusing on the effects of microgravity on the central and peripheral nervous systems, upgraded the Hubble Space Telescope, and delivered Japanese Experiment Logistics Module’s pressurized experiment module which was the first component of JAXA’s “KIBO'' laboratory. These services have helped further not only veterinary research but research for all fields around the world.

Veterinary Science Overview

The process to becoming a Veterinarian starts in undergraduate education.  At many universities, a Pre-Veterinary or Animal Science major is available, but typically any STEM major will cover the required courses to be accepted to veterinary school.  Required courses in undergraduate study include biology, chemistry, animal science, zoology, and other essential sciences.  It is important to think ahead and research exactly what is required at your preferred veterinary school. 

After this first educational milestone, the challenge begins to earn your DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine) certification.  This process usually takes place over four years. The first two years focus on learning the required materials to begin clinical practice. The third and fourth years will give a mix of additional education and an increasing amount of clinical and residential practice. Upon completion of the DVM certification to legally begin professional practice the student must prepare for and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). Similarly to the SAT and ACT tests, there are preparatory courses that are designed to help students review all necessary information and create optimal test-taking strategies.  Generally these are the final steps for legal practice, but some states or countries have additional requirements, so be sure to be well-informed in your preferred areas of practice.

The world of veterinary science has expansive specializations, just like in the human medical field. While a DVM and passing NAVLE score are the keys to practicing animal care, further study can take a veterinary medicine student to another level in their career.  Additional internships and residencies are available where mentors and focused clinical practice can help a veterinarian to earn board certification in a specialization.

Veterinary Science Career Applications

After earning licenses, a veterinarian has many roads to choose from in their career.  Animals are an essential part of our planet and can be protected through use of veterinary talents in a range of industries. Outside of standard practice veterinarians work as professors, researchers, public health professionals, business consultants, and military carers. 

Standard Clinical Veterinary Practice

Standard clinical veterinary practice encompasses the roles filled through private or group practice. This can take place in many different settings such as community, pet, livestock and farm, zoo, or laboratory care. Veterinarians provide care to the best of their abilities in these scenarios by keeping animals in good health, treating injuries, performing surgeries, and helping animals through all stages of life. The DVM and NAVLE (or equivalent accreditation) are the minimum requirements for this practice. Additional study will allow for practice under a specific specialization.

Veterinary Instructors/Professors

As with any practice, training others is necessary to keep the profession thriving.  Professors at a veterinary school must have their doctorate in veterinary medicine to be considered qualified to teach.  It is imperative that a professor have good writing and communication skills, so it is recommended to take courses with this in mind.  In these positions it is also typical that professors undertake research projects through the school. 

Veterinary Researchers

Veterinary science is an ever-growing field with new breakthroughs and projects all the time! Working in this sect of veterinary science can involve developing animal health programs, developing  new medicines and usage guidelines, working on research projects either as an individual or in teams, serving as a reviewer for other research projects and regulation implementation, and more. As with other veterinary-based positions, a DVM license and passing NAVLE (or equivalent accreditation) must be earned before professional practice can begin.  

Veterinary Public Health Professional

Public health relies on safe practices regarding livestock and disease control.  There are many diseases that animals may carry that can be dangerous if spread to the human population. Veterinary public health professionals help ensure that proper practices are being used regarding livestock to keep animals healthy and viable for products. They also get involved in the health of the general animal populace ensuring that diseases do not spread and general ecosystems are kept sustainable. These positions are typically offered from state or government agencies to those with DVM and NAVLE licensing. 

Veterinary Business Consultant

Research and development is a necessity for any business.  With the business world booming with new product ideas every day, the market for animal products such as food, treats, hygienics, and more has grown larger and larger.  Because these products deal with and will potentially be consumed by living creatures, there are stricter regulations than most products and large amounts of research must be done to ensure product safety and correct information upon release. Veterinarians can be hired as consultants to determine nutritional information and benefits, product safety, and overall design quality and usefulness. These positions are typically offered directly from the developing company. Requirements are that candidates earn DVM and NAVLE licensing. 

Veterinary Military Care

For those interested in both veterinary care and military service, there are options for veterinary services to be provided in active duty.  Animals need to be trained for tactical situations and receive necessary healthcare to perform their duties at top condition.  It is also necessary that these hardworking animals receive good care in the event of being injured in the field.  To qualify for this position, it is necessary to have a combination of DVM and NAVLE licensing and military experience. This can be earned in separate steps, earning DVM and NAVLE licensing and then enlisting for military experience, or in a continuous process, simultaneously serving in the military and earning certification through military health education programs. 

Becoming a veterinarian is a multi-faceted journey that demands dedication, hard work, and a deep passion for animals. Whether you're interested in providing care to beloved pets, contributing to research, or ensuring public health, the qualifications and opportunities in this field are diverse and rewarding. The limitations of veterinary medicine are not limited to clinical care and, as you have read, can span all the way to the stars! By pursuing a DVM degree and choosing a path that aligns with your interests, you can embark on a fulfilling career dedicated to improving the lives of animals and humans alike.

About the author

Jodie is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. She has always been fascinated by space and STEM, and has been fuelled by the strong aerospace community at Embry-Riddle. This interest in STEM and a love for writing have pushed Jodie to apply these passions as a Communications Intern at Higher Orbits in 2023.

Jodie Cory

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