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Maybe you’ve just graduated to become a veterinarian. Or, perhaps you’re an industry veteran looking to bring some much-needed change to your career. This begs the question: what’s the next step? For many, working in an urgent care or ER setting provides a rewarding career full of opportunities to think outside the box while learning new skills.

Both urgent care and emergency veterinarians help sick or injured pets and must use skillful thinking while executing treatment with close attention to detail. However, the type of cases that an emergency vet sees may vary considerably from an urgent care vet. In this article, we’ll break down those differences to help you better understand which fits best with your career goals.

What is the difference between urgent care and emergency vets?

Before diving in, it’s important to understand what makes emergency and urgent care vets unique.

  • Urgent care vets tend to deal with less ill patients and minor accidents that don’t require hospitalization.
  • Emergency vets deal with more complex and, at times, life-threatening cases that sometimes require hospitalization.
Clinician with many patients for a photo.

What is veterinary urgent care?

Let us begin by taking a high-level look at veterinary urgent care and what clinicians in this field do. Much like urgent care for humans, urgent care vets deal with accidents and illnesses that need more treatment than can be done at home.

Pet owners tend to bring sick or injured pets to urgent care when their regular vet is unavailable, but quick attention is needed. This provides a wonderful learning environment with meaningful work.

What do urgent care vets do?

Similar to human urgent care, urgent care vets treat everything from coughs and sneezes to infections and minor bite wounds, providing plenty of variety during the workday.

Clinician caring for a small dog.

How do I know if working in pet urgent care is right for me?

Treating such a wide variety of ailments makes working in urgent care the perfect place for veterinarians looking for a career change. Working as an urgent care vet is especially helpful for broadening your skills and finding your areas of interest.

Urgent care settings are often fast paced, as the stakes tend to be lower and the procedures are less intensive than an ER. However, this type of exposure can also give you many of the basic skills needed as a foundation to build upon if your goal is to work in an emergency or specialty environment.

How do I become an urgent care vet?

To become an urgent care veterinarian, you must first a degree from an accredited four-year veterinary medical college. The first half of this degree path will focus heavily on subjects like:

  • Animal anatomy
  • Nutrition
  • Physiology
  • Virology

During the third and fourth years of the program, degree-seekers can expect to focus on clinical studies and educational training at an accredited school of veterinary medicine.

At the end of their program, all students must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam and any state-specific exams for their intended state of practice.

After working in general practice, joining a veterinary urgent care program is one option to get a foot in the door and start learning. It can also be a great place to start if you want to branch out into a career as an emergency vet later on. During training, it is common to work on virtual models, shadow ongoing care, and get hands-on training.

What do emergency veterinarians do? 

The role of an emergency vet is to provide care for acute and serious injuries or illnesses that require immediate, life-saving care. Emergency vets must work with a high level of empathy when communicating with pet owners while making quick decisions for the patient’s care.  

Time is of the essence and emergency vets must work against the clock to treat these conditions and ensure the health of their patients. They are often responsible for providing care and communicating with veterinary specialists until the pet is referred back to its primary vet. 

How do I know if working as an emergency vet is right for me?

Working as an emergency vet means reacting to whatever comes through your doors. Therefore, anyone working as an emergency vet should thrive in high-stress situations and be able to think on their feet. Emergency veterinary clinics offer extended hours and often provide care around the clock. Most ER vets are required to work some nights and weekends.

Clinician caring for a large dog at a BluePearl Pet Hospital.

Because the stakes are so high, some newly graduated DVMs may prefer working in urgent care before diving into this fast-paced career track. Going into emergency vet care after becoming comfortable and gaining experience as an urgent care vet allows you to build on the skills you’ve learned.

Many experienced vets also thrive in an ER setting, as it provides a lot of variety during the workday and gives a break from the primary care setting. In an ER, there are truly no two days that are the same.

How do I become an emergency vet?

Just like urgent care vets, the first step in becoming an emergency veterinarian is to complete your four-year degree from an accredited college of veterinary medicine and pass your state and national exams. While not required, many hospitals prefer ER doctors with additional training such as a rotating internship or an ER mentorship program.

Whether early in your career or looking to make a change, a specialized emergency training program is a reliable place to start if you wish to become an ER vet. The emERge program, which is unique to BluePearl, helps veterinarians like you further your skills and prepare you for a new career in emergency medicine. With this program, you can skip the usual internship and receive ER mentorship under the supervision of a senior ER vet.

Creating your future.

Working in a pet ER or urgent care setting can be a great way to bring much-needed change into your life or kick your career off in the right direction. Taking the first step can feel like the most challenging part, but at BluePearl, we’re here to help pave the way for you. We support our veterinarians with world-class training resources and hands-on experience while providing a healthy work-life balance.

Learn more about our world-class training programs.

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