The field of laboratory animal medicine can allow you to help people and animals by advancing medical research and helping ensure animal welfare. Learn about the field, potential career paths, job outlook and educational opportunities.
Laboratory animal medicine is a specialty of veterinary medicine focusing on the care of animals used in biomedical research. Working in this field, you'll diagnose, treat and prevent disease in a wide variety of animal species. You might also provide research support. It's not to be confused with laboratory animal science, which typically refers to veterinary technicians or animal laboratory attendants working in research facilities.
To animal lovers, working with research subjects may seem like a bleak career choice, but note that this field may be particularly suited to those concerned with animal welfare. Working in animal laboratory medicine can allow you to oversee how lab animals are treated and take the necessary steps to minimize discomfort and prevent pain in the animals. You may also take comfort in the fact that animal research improves the lives of both humans and animals. For example, the safety and effectiveness of new surgical techniques and drug therapies is determined by animal testing.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for veterinarians was $86,640 as of May 2013 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also noted that employment of veterinarians is expected to grow by 12% between 2012 and 2022, which is about as fast as the national average for all jobs. Although fewer positions are available in laboratory animal medicine than in private veterinary practice, the ILAR Journal reported in 2007 that this field was experiencing a serious shortage of qualified veterinarians.
In order to work in this field, you must complete a veterinary program and a specialized training program in laboratory animal medicine. Although some laboratory animal vets qualify for board certification through experience or other means, formal training programs in laboratory animal medicine are available at several schools. Generally, before you can enter such a program, you must earn your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and become qualified to practice veterinary medicine. Earning a DVM typically takes four years of full-time study beyond any undergraduate course requirements. Some schools offer accelerated programs that allow you to earn your DVM and a Master of Science (M.S.) in Laboratory Animal Medicine in just four years.
A postdoctoral program in laboratory animal medicine typically takes 2-3 years to complete beyond the DVM and includes a combination of coursework and clinical rotations. Training tends to focus on laboratory management, pathology and clinical medicine, and research regulations and conduct. You might learn about working with a variety of common research animals, including rats, mice, rabbits and other rodents, as well as primates. Topics of classroom instruction can include animal anesthesia, animal husbandry, immunology, nutrition and molecular biology.
Certification isn't required for this veterinary specialty, but some employers may prefer or require it. After meeting the necessary education and experience requirements, you can apply for certification through the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM).