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Resident pathologist at a zoo

Updated on August 26, 2012

If you love animals and aspire to make a career around them, being a veterinarian or vet is one option. Of course, you also need to have an interest in biology and medicine to a certain extent. Shared in this hub are some aspects of what it is to be a vet and what entails in the profession.

Baby tiger
Baby tiger | Source


Short for veterinary doctor or veterinarian, vets are doctors specialized in animal care. They practice veterinary medicine in prevention, cure and healing of animals of all kinds.

A veterinarian can loosely be classified into three types -

Small Animals vet – they usually have a practice around caring for house pets like cats and dogs

Large Animals vet- they focus their practice around farm animals like cows, horses, sheep etc

Exotic Animals vet- these vets usually work with zoos and work with a wide variety of animals and birds, including insects (ants), invertebrates (octopus, cuttle fish), amphibians ( frogs, toads, salamanders, caecilians), reptiles (snakes, crocodiles), mammals ( pandas, giraffes, elephants) and various small (sparrow) to large (vultures) species of birds

NOTE: This is a very broad classification depending in what ‘field’ one chooses to work in. Additionally, in each of these divisions, there are veterinarians specialized in medicine, surgery, radiology, anaesthesiology, pathology, dentistry etc

How does one become a vet?

Just like to be a doctor in medicine, to be a doctor for animals, you need to join a veterinary science graduate school and complete a full course of studies which is almost as exhaustive and strenuous like becoming a regular doctor.Once you get the necessary licenses, the vet can commence practicing medicine.

But for those vets who would like to gain more experience and become experts in certain specific fields such as surgery, they can focus on doing Externships, Internships or Residency.

1. Externships: may be completed while still in Vet school or afterwards. It is a non paying position.

2. Internships-are usually year long positions wherein you work under a supervisory veterinarian who is responsible for mentoring and guiding the intern. Majority of the internships are paid positions.

3. Residency- these are much longer in duration and can last up to 3 years. Doing a residency may or may not be associated with getting a higher degree (like a PhD)

Vet conducting surgery on an animal
Vet conducting surgery on an animal | Source
Residents spend a lot of time in lab work and research
Residents spend a lot of time in lab work and research | Source
Hours of studying is required as part of your residency
Hours of studying is required as part of your residency | Source

Life of a Resident at the Zoo

So what is it like to be a resident at the zoo? Well, a lot of hard work and dedication for starters!

(a) Performing necropsies on all animals that die in the zoo as well as ‘wild/ non-zoo’ animals that may have had access to the ‘zoo’ animals and birds.Being a resident at a large zoo, might involve a vet doing up to 250 (a year) animal post mortem evaluations also called necropsies. P ost necropsy, tissues collected from the animals are put through a number of procedures so they can be preserved (frozen at -80 degree F or ‘fixed’ in 10% formaldehyde) for future use. Tissue sections are also studied microscopically in order to provide more information on organ structure, potential abnormalities and disease changes etc.

(b) Work on surgical biopsy specimens-The resident vet may need to work on surgical biopsy specimens that may have been collected and submitted by clinical veterinarians. Just like necropsies, these also need to be evaluated in close mentorship with senior pathologists. Post this, one needs to write accurate reports detailing morphologic changes, diagnostic interpretations, and clinically relevant comments.

(c) And there is more..the resident vet is also called upon to work on clinical cytological specimens such as fecal cytologies, tongue scrapes and impressions that need examination. These usually require extensive and continual research and consultation of texts and journals related to anatomy, physiology, medicine and pathology.

(d) Attending various national and international conferences as well as participating in ‘continuing education’ classes to keep abreast with latest research in their field. They are also a good place for networking for the vets.

(e) Being on call over weekends – Work at the zoo never stops, as expected when dealing with a live collection of animals.

(f) There is a ‘study’ component which varies with different residency programs. The components of a residency program are dictated by the governing body, for veterinary pathology its the ACVP- American College of Veterinary Pathologist ( ACVP dictates the components of a pathology residency program; pre-requisites to be eligible to take the board exams. Majority of the residencies are in colleges and universities, and have both ‘hands on’ as well as ‘theory’ components. Additionally, each university can have their own requirements the residents need to meet, for example- publishing ‘peer reviewed’ papers in journals, presenting at a conference or compulsorily attending ‘continuing education’ classes. The theory component varies and can include taking college credits, periodic mock examinations, and taking part in ‘journal clubs and book clubs’ where published papers/ book chapters are reviewed and results and methods are discussed.

Where Do Veterinary Pathologists Work?

Source : American College of Veterinary Pathologists (

  • Diagnostic Laboratories. These include private and state diagnostic laboratories, contract laboratories, academic institutions, zoos, and wildlife agencies.
  • Academia. Institutions include veterinary or medical schools and research universities.
  • Industry. This includes pharmaceutical, biotechnological, chemical and agrochemical industries, and supporting contract research organizations.
  • Government. Examples of these agencies include the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Centers for Disease Control, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Institutes of Health.

What comes after a Residency?

Preparing for and passing board certification (a primary aim of the 3 year residency) is an intensive, long term , fulltime endeavuor requiring detailed knowledge of all current significant pathology literature, mechanisms of disease/general pathology and species specific differences and variances.

To work as a pathologist one does not have to be Board certified. However, once you do clear the boards, there are many more job options (people who want board certified pathologist) and better salaries.

Books by a veterinarian

If you prefer just reading about the life and challenges a vet faces, my personal recommendation is the author and vet James Herriot. His books give a very detailed experience of practicing veterinary science in the English countryside in the earlier part of last century. Things have dramatically changed today, but his stories and anecdotes are worth a read and include many laughs too!

His autobiographical memoirs are captured best in the three books of "All creatures great and small", "All things bright and beautiful" and "All Things wise and wonderful".

Books by James Herriot
Books by James Herriot | Source

I thank my good friend and veterinarian who provided valuable inputs for this hub.


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    • Riverfish24 profile image

      Riverfish24 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks leah! yes, it is BUSY for sure!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 5 years ago from Western New York

      Becoming a resident pathologist at a zoo would be a very interesting career field - I have a feeling it would be a very busy job as well! Interesting hub, Riverfish!