“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” said Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. “Lions and tigers and bears, oh yes!” says anyone working in the diverse, occasionally disgusting and usually rewarding world of animal careers.
Students with a passion for animals can find work in an overwhelming number of fields such as veterinary medicine, research, training, farming and nutrition, to name a few.
The first step in many students’ journeys is to get into veterinary school. According to payscale.com, veterinarians typically earn $59,000 to $87,000. Veterinarians must receive both a bachelor’s and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Vets can specialize in pets, exotic animals, marine animals and farm animals, or work in research.
Jenna Winer, first-year veterinary student at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, said before students commit to becoming vets, they should get as much hands-on experience as possible working with animals. Many internships are listed on Aggie Job Link. Students can also call or e-mail any veterinary hospital, laboratory, zoo or any other organization that works with animals to ask if they need any volunteers or would be willing to let students shadow a vet.
Vet schools require applicants to have sometimes thousands of hours of experience in the field in order to apply. Winer recommended completing hours during the summer.
“It’s good for you personally because it shows you that, ‘yes, this is a career I want to pursue,’ but it’s also good for you to get into the school itself because you need it to get accepted. So it serves a dual purpose,” Winer said.
Winer, who plans on becoming a zoo or wildlife veterinarian, worked at a mixed animal veterinary clinic, the St. Louis Zoo hospital and in Alaska with baby moose before graduating from Washington University in St. Louis. She credits being persistent, willing to perform any task and asking every organization she could think of for a job for getting her experience in the field.
As an undergraduate, pre-vet students must complete prerequisite courses before graduating, though there is no required major. Students should check potential vet school’s web sites for their requirements.
Senior wildlife, fish and conservation biology major and Vet Aide Club member Mark Cayabyab recommended students also take Communication 3 to improve their interpersonal skills. And don’t forget to take advantage of the UC Davis’ veterinary school for extra experience and contacts within the field. Cayabyab said students can e-mail or call staff and ask to shadow them.
“The faculty members are so nice. I mostly got my large animal experience because I had a relationship with one of the chief surgeons at the equine division. He said,’ hey, you can just come to my surgeries,'” Cayabyab said.
The Internship and Career Center has advisors trained to help students find internships, write resumes and cover letters, and practice for the interview portion of the vet school application. Winer said that in her interview, three veterinarians asked her questions ranging from why she wanted to be a vet to why she got a D+ in one of her classes. She also recommended students visit studentdoctor.net to see past interview questions.
Winer’s biggest advice is to do background research on the profession and get as much hands-on experience as possible before applying.
“The vet profession is really glamorized in other people’s minds, like playing with puppies and kittens all day. It’s a difficult profession and not always glamorous. They specifically look in your application for an understanding of the profession,” Winer said.
Not every animal-related career requires a veterinary degree. The Vet Aide Club hosted a Careers With Animals panel discussion on Nov. 17, featuring UC Davis alumni now working in the animal-related careers.
Panelist Patrick Abtey graduated in 2003 with a degree in animal science. He is now a senior elephant trainer at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo. Daily tasks include feeding and exercising the park’s five elephants, giving them medical checkups and facilitating park guests’ visits with the elephants.
Abtey said his career began when he started volunteering at the Santa Barbara Zoo when he was 12 years old. He recommends students get any experience they can so they can decide what they enjoy doing the most.
“All you need is a passion and the drive. I started at the bottom scooping poo for the first year,” Abtey said. “If you can go through that to get to where you want to be, then do all you can to get into it.”
Garrett Field, director of animal care and use at Genentech, Inc., said a veterinary degree was necessary in his field, though his work deals not only with taking care of laboratory animals but also with occupational safety and facility management.
Field graduated from UC Davis with a degree in biology. Before landing a job at Genentech, he worked for a family business, contract research organizations and in academia.
“Excitement of scientific discovery is a powerful drive. I can really make a difference because everything I do contributes to the improvement of the public and the animals, too,” Field said. “I recommend trusting your instincts and having the passion. You don’t have to rush. I slowly worked through, so you don’t have to lock in to one way.”
Winer is willing to answer any questions students have about veterinary school. Students can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at email@example.com.