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Veterinary Pathologist

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Female doctor looking through microscope
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Veterinary pathologists are responsible for studying and diagnosing animal diseases through examination of body tissues and fluids.

Duties

Veterinary pathologists are veterinarians (DVMs) that specialize in the diagnosis of animal diseases. Primary responsibilities include examining animal tissues and fluids, performing biopsies or necropsies, determining the cause of disease through observation and laboratory analysis, utilizing microscopes and other specialized pieces of laboratory equipment, and advising veterinarians in the field about the diseases they detect in sample tissues or fluids.

Veterinary pathologists may also contribute to the development of drugs and other animal health products, conduct scientific research studies, and advise government agencies as to the spread and progression of various animal diseases that may affect herd health.

Career Options

Veterinary pathologists usually specialize by working in either the area of anatomical veterinary pathology or clinical veterinary pathology. Anatomical veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases based on examination of organs, tissues, and bodies. Clinical veterinary pathologists diagnose diseases based on laboratory analysis of bodily fluids (such as urine or blood).

Further specialization is possible for those who pursue doctorate degrees in molecular biology, toxicology, and other pathology related fields. Additionally, some pathologists choose to specialize in working with just one particular species (for example, there is an American Association of Avian Pathologists).

Veterinary pathologists may find employment with many organizations including veterinary hospitals, colleges and universities, government agencies, research laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, and diagnostic laboratories.

According to the American College of Veterinary Pathology, 44 percent of veterinary pathology diplomates work in private industry, 33 percent work in academia, and the remaining 33 percent work with government agencies or other private employers. Of those working in private industry, nearly 60 percent are employed by pharmaceutical companies.

Education & Training

Veterinary pathologists must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree before pursuing a multi-year residency which provides additional specialty training. Three years of additional training (post DVM) can qualify a vet for board certification, while those seeking a PhD in the field complete even more training. Candidates for board certification must pass a rigorous exam before being granted diplomate status. Continuing education credits must be completed to maintain certification status each year.

The American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) administers the certifying exam for anatomical and clinical veterinary pathology in the United States. The ACVP currently has 1,550 diplomates residing in 17 countries. The European College of Veterinary Pathologists (ECVP) administers the certifying exam for anatomical and clinical veterinary pathology in Europe. The ECVP has over 250 diplomates listed on its membership site.

The ACVP also provides scholarship opportunities and maintains a listing of externships that are designed to help aspiring veterinary pathologists gain the necessary experience to enter the field. United States-based externships are available at many top facilities including Johns Hopkins, MIT, Purdue University, Texas A&M, Emory University, Wake Forest, the National Institute of Health, the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab, SeaWorld, the Smithsonian National Zoo, and many more.

Salary

Veterinary pathologists working in industrial fields (especially in pharmaceutical drug development) tend to earn top dollar. A 2006 salary survey by the ACVP found that in the Northeast region of the U.S., a veterinary pathologist working in industry could expect to earn a median of $130,000 to $140,000 per year immediately after completing their training. In the same region, a newly trained veterinary pathologist working in academia could only expect to earn a median of $70,000 to $80,000 per year.

With more than five years of experience post-training, veterinary pathologists in the Northeast U.S. working in industrial fields could expect to earn a median salary in the range of $170,000 to $180,000 or more. An academic pathologist with the same level of experience could expect to earn a median salary in the range of $130,000 to $140,000 per year.

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not separate the specialty of veterinary pathology from data for all veterinary careers, but it does project a positive outlook for those pursuing a career in any veterinary related career. The veterinary profession is expected to grow much faster than the average rate for all professions from 2010 to 2020, increasing at a very strong rate of 36 percent. There should be excellent job prospects for those able to gain entrance to a veterinary school and graduate successfully from the program.

The limited number of veterinary pathology residences combined with the rigorous nature of pathology training programs and board certification exams should translate to continued demand for qualified professionals in this specialty animal health career.

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