Transitioning to a Career in Industry

By Debra Nickelson, D.V.M.

Why do you want to work in veterinary industry?

You may have several reasons, such as a desire for more pay and better benefits, regular hours and perceived improved work/life balance. You may be disillusioned with clinical practice, prefer not to work with clients or want to work by yourself at home. There may be practical reasons, such as animal allergies or a need for more comprehensive insurance. Alternatively, you may see intellectual challenge, broadened skills or specialized training. You may relish the opportunity to work with cutting edge science and medicine and the ability to contribute to the future of human and animal health.

While any or all these reasons may be valid to you, it is important to emphasize the positive reasons when talking to anyone about why you want to transition to veterinary industry. Consider every encounter a potential interview because you never know who may know someone looking to hire an industry veterinarian. Also, keep in your mind the more negative reasons you want to leave practice when looking at job descriptions. Some industry jobs do involve working weekends and/or nights, visiting clinical practices, extensive travel and communicating with other veterinarian’s disgruntled clients.

Corporate and industry careers in veterinary medicine do offer fantastic and varied opportunities. A career in veterinary industry may allow you to lead and influence the entire veterinary profession. The excitement, the longer term and more encompassing goals, the servant leadership to veterinary profession, the pay and benefits allow you to experience a different type of satisfaction in your professional and personal life. And you will enjoy unlimited potential for professional growth.

Whatever your reasons for considering a career in veterinary industry, know your pros and cons while looking at specific jobs. For example, while there will not be the life and death emergencies of clinical practice, your boss may consider an opportunity to buy a product line from another company or a serious product adverse event, “an emergency” and expect all hands on-deck outside of normal hours.

Travel is another issue that means different things to different people and can be the most common objection. Travel can mean driving in the city to flying internationally. According to American Association of Industry Veterinarians 2018 Compensation Survey, about 60% of industry veterinarians reported traveling 20% to 60% or 6-18 days per month. Over 75% of industry veterinarians reported they travel less than 13 days per month and over 14% do not travel at all.

The same compensation survey with 104 respondents reported that the average 2017 annual salary was $146,140 with a range of $60,000 to $325,000. Target bonus ranged from $2,000 to $250,000 with a mean of $31,309.  In addition, American Association of Industry Veterinarians asked about job satisfaction and work life balance. Of those people who responded, almost 85% reported they were extremely, very or somewhat satisfied with their job. And over 50% reported that their work life balance was moderately to extremely easy.

How do you find a job in veterinary industry?

  • With a positive attitude, look at industry as an opportunity, not an escape from practice.
  • Try to gain some business experience according to your interests via internships, volunteerism or other programs.
  • Capitalize on speaking, writing and media projects.
  • Join American Association of Industry Veterinarians, via
  • Develop a relationship with a recruiter, such as The Vet Recruiter®.
  • Network constantly, via professional meetings, local events and LinkedIn.
  • Serve as both a mentor and a mentee.
  • Look at company career portals and other animal health websites.
  • Visit with sales representatives and exhibitors.
  • Look for the best contact and find the hiring manager to send your resume.
  • Consider every contact an interview and practice your “elevator speech.”
  • Be enthusiastic and don’t give up.

What companies hire veterinarians?

There are human pharmaceutical companies with an animal health division, along with animal health companies specializing in biologics, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, nutrition, medical supplies and equipment. Pet and livestock insurance companies hire veterinarians for their businesses. Consider pet industry companies that serve both pet retailers and consumers. Remember that practitioners do business with animal health distributors. Look at the start-up ventures, as they claim their space in the animal health market. Marketing and advertising agencies serve all these companies and sometimes need veterinary expertise.

What kinds of work are involved in veterinary industry?

  • Research – biomedical, clinical, field, environmental, genetics, pharmacological, animal care
  • Business – intercompany licensing, mergers, acquisitions, negotiations, executive leadership
  • Regulatory affairs – product registration, pharmacovigilance, compliance
  • Product support – marketing, technical services, customer service, field sales
  • Research and development – production, project management, quality assurance
  • Communications – writing, editing, blogging, social media, public relations

What can you do for a company? Basically, companies look for employees who either make money or decrease costs. Think of what you do in practice now to make money or decrease costs. 

This table lists some examples of jobs and functions, considering actual jobs are mostly cross-functional.

 Technical ServicesPharmaco-vigilanceMarketingSalesR&DRegulatoryBusiness Development
Increase revenue  XX  X
Decrease expensesXXX  X 
Increase market shareX XX  X
Bring products to market  X X X
Keep products on marketXXXXXX 
Bring new businessX XXX X
Keep customersXXXX X 

What kinds of traits and experience do employers seek? Employers looks for evidence of leadership skills and the ability to work as a team player. Since many jobs involve working with veterinary customers, they value a candidate’s experience in veterinary practice, with or without ownership. Some positions prefer board certification in a specialty or an MBA for more marketing roles. An understanding of or willingness to learn business principles is a plus, as every job in veterinary industry involves business. Excellent communication and analytical skills with problem solving abilities are highly valued. Employers are looking for people with self-confidence, a strong work ethic and a professional business image. Flexibility, a positive attitude and sense of humor serves a candidate looking for a job in industry.

You already have most of these traits and skills, just being in practice. You already provide excellent customer service, communicate with different types of people, solve problems, educate clients and handle complaints. You already explain complex concepts in an understandable way, and you sell your diagnostic and treatment recommendations besides the necessary products.

You may pursue additional education or experience with business classes, marketing projects, taking on management responsibilities and writing or blogging. Kansas State University in Olathe, KS offers the Professional Science Master in Applied Science and Technology as an industry-focused graduate program designed for students to pursue advanced training in the sciences while simultaneously developing professional skills highly valued by employers. More information can be found on

In conclusion, a veterinary degree provides many opportunities and potential for professional growth. Careers in industry are just as rewarding as practice, but often impact the entire profession. Always be positive about veterinary practice because your practitioner colleagues are the customers of the companies with whom you may work. Don’t burn any bridges because you may have to cross that bridge to work with another company. Veterinary industry is a relatively small group. You will know most people and most people will know you. Welcome aboard!

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