Veterinary Medicine in Oregon

by Pat O'Connor

February 4, 2019

People who work in veterinary medicine work in a number of different occupations that help animals and people stay healthy.

The occupation of veterinarian is not a new one. The veterinarian hospital I take my family pets to is a third-generation family owned business. In the lobby is a display case full of medical equipment that a veterinarian would have been equipped with in the early 20th century. The equipment provides a great reminder of just how long humans have cared for and relied on domesticated animals. Archeologists have found evidence from cow skulls that veterinary procedures were performed as far back as the Neolithic period. The first veterinary school in the world was founded in Lyon, France in 1762; nearly a century before Oregon became a state. It would take a little longer for Oregon to have its own veterinary school.

Veterinarians Need a lot of Education

In 1975, Oregon’s legislature established the School of Veterinarian Medicine at Oregon State University. The school was a response to the need for more veterinarians in Oregon and to increase the opportunity for Oregonians to study veterinary medicine. The first class of veterinary students started at OSU in 1979 and received the DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) in 1983. Oregon State’s College of Veterinary Medicine remains the only school in Oregon where one can earn a Doctor’s degree in Veterinary Medicine. The school is one of only 28 accredited veterinary schools in the United States.

Veterinarians can also choose to get advanced training and become certified in a specialty area, similar to physicians. The specialties include internal medicine, emergency and critical care, dentistry, and surgery to name just a few. There are more than 20 specialties among veterinarians.

Veterinarians in Oregon are licensed by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Examining Board.  

Most times when people think about a career as a veterinarian, they think of a doctor examining and treating cats, dogs, and other household pets. It is true that a majority of veterinarians do work in private practice treating people’s pets. However, there are a number of other places we find veterinarians at work. Veterinarians can be found working in places as varied as zoos, farms, ranches, aquariums, laboratories, teaching at universities and veterinary schools, public health, inspecting livestock, and even working in the U.S. Army.

Of course a person does not just jump in to veterinary school. It requires education and experience before entering a veterinary school.

If young people are interested in a career in veterinary medicine, they can start preparing early. Focus on doing well in school, particularly science and math classes. Also, getting experience working with animals is important. Local 4-H clubs and FFA (Future Farmers of America) are two organizations that provide a great opportunity to gain experience working with animals. Working at a veterinary clinic or an animal shelter are two other good options.  

Following high school, students wanting to stay on the path to becoming a veterinarian will need to attend a college or university and obtain a bachelor’s degree with a focus in math and science.

If getting a bachelor’s degree and then continuing on to four years of veterinary school sounds like a little more school than a person wants to tackle, there are other occupations in veterinary medicine that don’t require as much education as a veterinarian must obtain.

Veterinary technologists and technicians work closely with veterinarians. Veterinary technicians are similar to nurses in human medicine. A veterinary technician’s job duties include restraining animals, performing procedures and tests, administering treatments, and monitoring patients. Portland Community College and Central Oregon Community College are the two community colleges in Oregon that offer an associate degree program for students to become veterinary technicians. In addition to the associate degree, students need to pass a national exam and be licensed by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Board to be a veterinary technician in Oregon. 

A third occupation within veterinary medicine is veterinary assistants and laboratory animal caretakers. A veterinary assistant’s work includes feeding, serving water, and examining animals for signs of illness, disease or injury in laboratories and animal hospitals and clinics. They may clean and disinfect cages and work areas. Veterinary assistants may provide post-operative care, administer medication, or prepare samples for a laboratory under the supervision of a veterinarian or veterinary technician. Unlike veterinarians and veterinary technicians, veterinary assistants do not require any state license to work in the occupation. That being said, Blue Mountain Community College and Linn-Benton Community College both offer a veterinary assistant program that prepares students with the skills required to work in a veterinarian’s practice.                      

Employment Growing Faster than Average

Veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and veterinary assistants are three occupations that are all expected to grow much faster than average from 2017 to 2027. Oregon’s average growth across all occupations is expected to be 12 percent from 2017 to 2027. Veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants are both projected to grow 29 percent over that time period. Veterinarians are projected to grow nearly as fast at nearly 28 percent.    

In 2017, there were more than 1,600 veterinarians working in Oregon; that is expected to grow to nearly 2,100 veterinarians by 2027. Between openings due to growth and replacement openings there are projected to be 110 annual openings for veterinarians in Oregon through 2027. 

Veterinary technicians in Oregon numbered more than 1,800 in 2017; that is expected to reach more than 2,350 veterinary technicians by 2027. Between openings due to growth and replacement openings there are projected to be 214 annual openings for veterinary technicians in Oregon through 2027. 

In 2017, there were nearly 1,600 veterinary assistants working in Oregon; that is expected to grow to more than 2,000 veterinary assistants by 2027. Between openings due to growth and replacement openings there are projected to be 319 annual openings for veterinarians in Oregon through 2027. 
Wages Increase with Education

Typically, a higher level of educational attainment in an occupation means higher wages. It is certainly true within veterinary medicine.

Veterinary assistants in Oregon had an average annual wage of just over $31,000 in 2018. Veterinary technicians, who need an associate degree and state licensing, earned just less than $36,000 on average in 2018.

Veterinarians in Oregon had an annual average wage of nearly $92,000 in 2018. However, the average wage for veterinarians varied significantly around Oregon. In the Portland Tri-County area veterinarians earned nearly $110,000 on average in 2018. That contrasts with Eastern Oregon, where veterinarians had an average annual wage just under $70,000.

Although veterinarians and physicians both go to medical school to become doctors, physicians earn significantly more than veterinarians. In 2018, the average annual wage for family and general practitioners in Oregon was just over $217,000, more than double the average wage for veterinarians.


Veterinary medicine offers a lot of different possibilities and career options. The different career paths vary in terms of the education requirements and also their responsibilities. The field of veterinary medicine provides a great career that allows one to improve the lives of animals and people.


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