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Essential skills profile

This profile contains a list of example tasks that illustrate how each of the 9 essential skills is generally performed by most workers in this occupation. The levels of complexity estimated for each task are ranked between 1 (basic) and 5 (advanced).

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Veterinarians (3114)

Veterinarians prevent, diagnose and treat diseases and disorders in animals and advise clients on the feeding, hygiene, housing and general care of animals. Veterinarians work in private practice or may be employed by animal clinics and laboratories, government or industry.

Reading Help - Reading
  • Locate specific information about clinical uses, potential risks and side effects on the labels of medications and package inserts prior to administering them to animals. (1)
  • Read notes and comments in medical files to review observations, diagnoses and recommendations for treatment. Some files contain descriptive paragraphs to explain unusual health problems, give care instructions or express medical opinions. (2)
  • Read referral letters which summarize case details and medical opinions of the referring veterinarians. (2)
  • May review marketing material such as brochures, pamphlets and new product circulars to learn about new animal health products and paramedical supplies. (2)
  • Review legislation, regulations and notices published by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for information about the latest regulations for animal health, disease control and food safety. (3)
  • Read medical reference texts for information needed to diagnose uncommon diseases and identify recommended treatments. (4)
  • Read professional journals such as The Canadian Veterinary Journal and the Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research to stay informed about new research, treatments and health management procedures. They determine the usefulness of all new information and its applicability to their clinical practices and research initiatives. They often have immediate application for what they read. (4)
Document use Help - Document use
  • Scan labels on medication for dosages, expiry dates and other data. (1)
  • Enter medications, animal and client names, quantities, dosages, instructions and other information on prescription labels or forms. (1)
  • Enter animal identifiers, dates and times, medications drawn, and quantities administered or dispensed into pharmaceutical and anaesthetic logs. These logs must be precisely completed to comply with requirements for tracking narcotic and controlled drug dispositions. (2)
  • Complete lab requisition forms. They may check off tests they wish to order from sixty or more different testing procedures and animal-specific tests on larger requisitions. (2)
  • Read and interpret laboratory reports for blood, urine, feces, semen and tissue tests. Some laboratory reports such as tests for hemoglobin illustrate results using graphs, while others present data in list format. (2)
  • Fill out medical and regulatory forms such as health certificates, research forms, examination records, anaesthesia records, pathology reports, vaccination records, behaviour case reports, urinalysis reports, culture submissions dental charts. On these forms, they record animal identifiers, health statistics, observations, diagnoses, and recommended treatments. Health certificates for import or export of animals require legal authorization. Some forms contain sketches of animals on which veterinarians can mark affected areas. Veterinarians may also attach a digital photograph to identify animals by their markings or draw the markings on sketched outlines of frontal and side views. (3)
  • Interpret x-ray images to identify internal abnormalities such as blockages, inflammations, tumours and bone fractures. Some veterinarians, particularly specialists, may also use ultrasound, computer tomography and magnetic resonance images to identify medical conditions such as cancers, brain hemorrhages and strokes. (3)
  • May refer to assembly drawings when disassembling or cleaning equipment such as the VetTest Chemistry Analyzer. (3)
  • Refer to pictures, diagrams and anatomical scale drawings of animals in medical reference materials. For example, they compare observations of tissue or blood samples under microscopes to pictures in medical texts to identify abnormalities. (4)
Writing Help - Writing
  • Write notes and comments in medical files to record observations, diagnoses, treatments and animals' medical histories. They usually write short, point-form sentences but sometimes include descriptive paragraphs to explain unusual health problems, give care instructions or express medical opinions. (2)
  • Write letters to a variety of clients, suppliers, and colleagues. For example, they write letters to refer clients to other animal health specialists. In these letters, they include a summary of animals' medical histories, presenting health issues, recommendations for treatment and reasons for referral. (2)May write short inspection, disease investigation and case reports for government regulators. The reports use medical terminology to precisely describe problems and recommendations for disease control. (3)Write information sheets and brochures to inform clients about animal health conditions and treatments, instructions for care, philosophies of practice and fee structures. For example, veterinarians may write information handouts to describe how clients should care for pets after surgery. (3)May write articles about veterinary medicine and animal health for newspapers, newsletters, pet care magazines and other publications. When writing for a general audience, they strive to explain medical procedures or concepts in laypersons' terms. For example, they may write articles for community newsletters on the importance of proper oral hygiene for pets. (4)May publish research results in peer-reviewed journals such as the Canadian Veterinary Journal and Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research. They write articles which summarize the research intent, methodology, results and implications for animal health and veterinary medicine for a professional audience. For example, a veterinarian may write a journal article giving early clinical research results for a study into new sedation techniques for use with small mammals. (5)May write animal health research proposals and final reports of up to fifty pages in length. These research reports include summaries, literature reviews, research objectives, methodologies, results and discussions. They are usually written at the same standards for peer-reviewed scientific journals. (5)
Numeracy Help - Numeracy Money Math
  • May prepare invoices for veterinary services rendered and collect payments from clients. They calculate service amounts based on established fees for veterinary services. They add amounts for laboratory test fees, supply costs, pet food and medications. (2)
Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math
  • Establish treatment schedules for dispensing drugs and dietary supplements to sick animals based on recommended dosages and associated risks. (2)
  • Schedule routine inspections and patient appointments, allocating realistic amounts of time for physical examinations, inspections and surgical procedures. Veterinarians often reschedule appointments and adjust work schedules to accommodate health emergencies or cancellations. (2)
  • Develop annual budgets. They allocate money to capital costs, operating expenses, leasing costs, insurance and paramedical supplies. Those working in private practice must also establish wage scales for staff members. They may complete financial reporting for research projects. (3)
Measurement and Calculation Math
  • Use calibrated syringes to measure specified volumes of medications or anaesthetics. For example, they may measure specified amounts of avian tuberculin and bovine tuberculin to inject for tuberculosis skin tests. (2)
  • Weigh animals using various sized scales. If a handler has to hold the animal, the handlers' weight must be subtracted from the total weight to find the weight of the animal. (2)
  • Measure animals' vital health functions during physical examinations and surgeries using medical diagnostic equipment such as stethoscopes, rectal thermometers, blood pressure monitors, pulse oximeters, thermometers, electrocardiograms and respiratory monitors. (3)
  • Calculate dosages of medications to administer during specific time periods using a rate based on an animal's weight. For example, a veterinarian calculates how much medication to give an animal every six hours based on a prescription of three cubic centimetres per kilogram per day. (3)
Data Analysis Math
  • Compare lab test results to values considered normal in order to diagnose and monitor medical conditions. For example, a high white blood cell count may indicate infection. (2)
  • Analyze nutritional intake and changes in body weight over time to determine if they should change animals' diets. (3)
  • Analyze vital signs such as heart and blood pressure rates during surgery and post-treatment to monitor animals' health. They compare vital sign readings to one another and watch for values that move outside normal ranges, indicating possible distress or infection. (3)
  • May collect and analyze quantitative data for animal health research and food production management. They may generate statistics for variables such as milk production, animal weights, growth rates, food consumption, animal longevity, medical conditions and drug costs in order to draw conclusions. Veterinarians compare current statistics to historical data in order to track changes over time. (4)
Numerical Estimation
  • May estimate the weights of large animals such as horses, cattle and elephants using veterinary methods and experience. (1)
  • Estimate costs for diagnoses and treatments of animals based on their understanding of the animals' presenting problems, and associated fees for veterinary services, laboratory tests and clinical supplies. Veterinarians rely on previous experience with similar cases to estimate costs. Estimates need to be relatively accurate so that clients can make decisions about affordable treatment options. (2)
  • Estimate gestational progress based on manual examinations of animals' uterus sizes and knowledge of their fertility cycles. (2)
  • Estimate recovery times for animals according to species, age, medical histories, vital signs, and initial responses to treatments. (2)
Oral communication Help - Oral communication
  • Respond to questions from the general public about veterinary medicine and animal health. For example, veterinarians may answer questions about rabies either by telephone or in person. (1)
  • Provide direction to technologists, technicians and other staff under their supervision. They answer questions, resolve conflicts and delegate responsibilities for animal care. (2)
  • Lead weekly or monthly staff meetings. They review the health status of animals in their care, discuss administration, interpret policies and introduce new operating practices and procedures. (2)
  • Question clients about their animals' medical histories, observable symptoms and behaviours to gather information needed to diagnose illnesses. They advise clients on feeding, housing, grooming and cleaning pets. They tell clients how to implement animal treatment plans, modify problematic behaviours and administer medications in a clear, structured and comprehensive way. (2)
  • Ask pharmaceutical, food and nutrition, and equipment suppliers about new products on the market and check on the status of orders. (2)
  • Explain diagnoses and inspection results to clients by translating medical terminology into laypersons' terms. They recommend treatment options, discuss costs, and negotiate payment plans if required. They provide emotional support to clients when their animals are terminally ill and they have to recommend euthanasia. Under these circumstances, they must be empathetic, sensitive and tactful. (3)
  • Discuss diagnoses and treatment options for complex cases with veterinary specialists and colleagues. (3)
  • May interact with other veterinarians, regulators and public health officials in emergency situations such as reporting contagious diseases or discussing plans for biological containment. (3)
  • May respond to media requests for information and comments regarding animal health topics of interest to the general public such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy. They try to present facts that make the veterinary issues and opinions clear. (3)
  • May present information about veterinary medicine to community groups, schools, agricultural organizations and professional groups. The content, style and tone of these presentations are adapted to suit the expertise and backgrounds of the audiences. (4)
  • May present information and research findings about new animal diseases, diagnostic methods, treatments, feedlot health management practices and preventative care to colleagues at professional seminars and conferences. For example, a veterinarian may present information about clinical research trials testing a new pharmaceutical drug for treating early onset of diabetes in cats. Oral communication at this level is complex, technical in nature, and uses medical terminology geared for informed audiences. (4)
  • May facilitate group discussions among animal health professionals who are pursuing a co-ordinated approach to animal health research or complex disease investigations. They may participate in discussions with other experts or lead meetings to discuss research outcomes, solutions and implementation strategies. For example, a veterinarian working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency may discuss strategies for disease containment with other veterinarians and public health experts when a case of avian flu is discovered. (4)
Thinking Help - Thinking Problem Solving
  • Face shortages in medical supplies. They ask staff members to confirm estimated arrival times from suppliers, and if the supplies are not going to be available when needed, ask that appointments requiring those supplies be rescheduled. (2)
  • Treat animals belonging to clients who cannot afford the treatments. They search for alternative treatments that may be less costly and negotiate payment plans that are financially manageable for clients. (2)
  • Discover that owners or keepers are not administering medications to their animals properly. As a result, animals are not receiving full dosages and are not improving as expected. Veterinarians talk with owners to emphasize the importance of implementing treatment plans as directed and offer retraining. (3)
  • May find that medical equipment is unavailable for performing veterinary procedures on very large animals. Veterinarians adapt common tools and existing equipment from other professions to complete their work. For example, in zoo settings, they use truck scales to weigh elephants or common hand drills to complete root canals on elephant tusks. (3)
  • Find that clients are reluctant to euthanize animals that are terminally ill or that pose health risks to other animals because of contagious diseases. They counsel the owners or keepers on the realities of the situations and persuade them to authorize euthanasia procedures. Euthanasia can be upsetting to owners and keepers so veterinarians usually approach the discussions with diplomacy and empathy. (3)
Decision Making
  • Decide which laboratory tests to administer or order based on animals' symptoms, medical histories and information from clients. (2)
  • Make decisions about modifying animals' diets and general care based on the animals' ages, weights, temperaments and overall health status. (2)
  • Decide whether to release animals from quarantine. They consider the animals' health, the risk to the general public and Canadian Food Inspection Agency guidelines. (2)
  • Make decisions about purchasing expensive new diagnostic or laboratory equipment such as ultrasound electrocardiogram or VetTest machines. They consider the cost, frequency of use, benefit to clients and return on investment for all large capital purchases. (2)
  • Determine which treatments or procedures, including euthanasia, to recommend for sick or injured animals. They base their decisions on the animals' medical conditions, disease diagnoses, prognoses, risks to other animals, treatment costs and their own medical knowledge and experience. They first try altering diets or giving medications and only proceed to more interventionist approaches like surgery when absolutely necessary. However, an ineffective treatment can delay progress and bring further harm to animals. (3)
  • May determine if animals meet requirements for import and export certification based on inspections of their health and accompanying documents. Veterinarians review animals' documents to ensure they are in proper order and then inspect the animals to determine that they are in good health and fit to travel. Prior to certification, veterinarians may also inspect the herd of origin and the animals' living conditions to ensure all regulations have been followed. (3)
  • Make critical decisions in emergency situations about what tests to order, which surgical procedures to undertake, and in what sequence interventions should be introduced. When surgeries or births go badly or when contagious diseases break out, they have to make decisions quickly and prioritize tasks. The context can be chaotic and there is often no time to consult references or seek second opinions. Errors in judgment are not easily reversed and can have fatal consequences for animals. (4)
Critical Thinking
  • Assess the effectiveness of prescribed animal treatments by comparing diagnostic test results over time and cross-referencing data with similar cases. They consider observations from owners or keepers who have monitored changes in the animals' health and rely on veterinary knowledge and experience to make adjustments to treatment plans as required. (3)
  • Evaluate the health status of animals for preventative care or inspection purposes. Veterinarians assess multiple factors including animals' weights; states of alertness; diets; hygiene; and physical measurements such as temperatures, heart rates and blood pressures. Veterinarians working with large animals or zoo animals, evaluate the animals' enclosures for cleanliness, noise levels, and availability of exercise space. Veterinarians also review the animals' medical records to assess changes in health. All information is synthesized into health reports with recommendations for changes to animals' living conditions, diet and exercise regimes. (3)
  • Diagnose animal diseases and causes of death by analyzing health records, results of physical examinations, laboratory tests, and diagnostic images such as radiographs and sonographs. They inspect animals to detect obvious signs of diseases such as anatomical abnormalities, lesions or growths, and observe their movements, behaviour and responses to touch. For necropsy examinations, they analyze the health of organs and tissues based on size, shape, colour, consistency and distribution. In disease investigations, they analyze animals' living conditions, and compare test results for diseased animals to surrounding herds to assess the spread of disease. In some cases, they consult veterinary reference materials and other veterinarians before making final diagnoses. (3)
  • May analyze outcomes of animal health research trials to identify significant trends that will aid in preventative health care and treatment of animals. They analyze results from physical examinations and laboratory tests on test animals, and look for correlations in the data around factors such as animal species, sex, weight, age, diet, medical history, and response to medications and vaccinations. They compare their findings to existing veterinary research, and formulate conclusions and recommendations for disease control, animal health management and preventative care. (4)
Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Veterinarians organize their daily activities around scheduled appointments with clients and emergency calls for their services. Routine tasks such as vaccinations and surgeries are scheduled in advance by administrative staff; however, emergencies will cause changes to the schedule. They maintain close contact with co-workers to reschedule appointments and coordinate with veterinary and animal health technologists and technicians if they require assistance. Veterinarians who work with large animals travel extensively to provide services in rural areas. They must plan their site visits carefully to minimize travel time and maximize productivity. Veterinarians working in laboratories organize their work according to incoming requests for testing so their workloads are often dependent upon the incidence of diseases. (3)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Veterinarians direct the activities of veterinary and animal health technologists and technicians and administrative support staff. They create staff schedules for diagnostic procedures, surgeries, treatments, and general care of boarded animals.

Veterinarians in private clinics are responsible for their own business planning. Those who work in larger organizations, such as hospitals, government, research facilities and zoos, may participate in discussions about business goals and new initiatives. (3)

Significant Use of Memory
  • Remember the names of commonly used drugs and correct dosages based on animal weights.
  • Recall fee schedules in order to give estimates to clients.
  • Memorize normal values for vital signs.
  • Recall medical procedures to follow in an emergency.
  • Remember common symptoms of illness and which treatments are most effective based on animal breed.
  • Remember steps to follow for surgical procedures and animal health inspections.
  • Commit names of animals and their owners to memory in order to build rapport and provide good customer service.
Finding Information
  • Look up information about animals' medical histories by accessing their case files through computer databases or paper filing systems. (1)
  • Seek information about animals' physical conditions and behaviours by speaking with their owners or keepers. (1)
  • Consult veterinary specialists and colleagues when seeking professional advice and textbooks and on-line resources for information about uncommon or specialty areas of veterinary medicine. (2)
  • Search veterinary medicine journals and publications to find new information about disease diagnoses, control and treatment of animals that they can apply to their own clinical or research work. (3)
  • May conduct trial research to find new treatments for animal disease or means to improve feedlot health and productivity. They draw on information from previous research and analyze test results to generate new conclusions and medical solutions that can be applied to practice. (4)
Digital technology Help - Digital technology
  • Use word processing software. For example, they use basic formatting functions, such as bullets, font styles, cut and paste, and spell check to draft home-care instructions and research reports. (2)
  • May use graphics software. For example, they may design slides for presentations to peer groups or community members. They customize slides by using different font styles and inserting headers, bullets, tables and graphs. (2)
  • Use communications software. For example, they use e-mail programs to communicate with co-workers and colleagues, and to attach digital photographs, x-rays, laboratory results and medical records. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they launch internet software and click on bookmarked sites for veterinary medicine to conduct searches of resource databases. They may enter professional chat rooms or access listservs to locate specific medical information. (2)
  • Use other computer and software applications. For example, they insert flash drives into universal serial buss ports to download digital photographs of animals and radiographs onto their computer desktops. (2)
  • May use spreadsheets. For example, they may set-up and modify budget categories or analyze research data using spreadsheet graphing tools. (3)
  • Use databases. For example, they use specialized information management software to access, record, sort and store medical information about animals under their care and to prepare invoices for billing. (3)
Additional information Help - Additional information Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Veterinarians work independently and within teams to provide veterinary services for animals. Many veterinarians operate their own private practices independently or in collaboration with other veterinarians. There is increased movement towards working in partnership or teams to be able to provide continuous care to clients and share costs of running a business. Those employed in industry or by government work independently to provide inspection and veterinary services to animals onsite at farms, feedlots, and other animal facilities but also within a larger context of staff teams. In laboratories and research facilities, veterinarians work independently to analyze test samples and data, and conduct necropsy examinations. In larger clinics, companies, hospitals, and zoos, there is increased emphasis on teamwork in order to provide a range of veterinary services and to coordinate 24-hour care.

Veterinarians are assisted by a number of support staff, including veterinary and animal health technologists and technicians, animal caretakers, zookeepers, feedlot workers and laboratory technicians. Technologists and technicians assist with medical duties, caretakers provide routine care and maintenance, and office personnel are responsible for administrative duties. As employers or supervisors, veterinarians are expected to lead others. (3)

Continuous Learning

Veterinarians need to learn continuously to keep abreast of new diseases, treatments and trends in the field of veterinary science. In Canada, licensing of veterinarians is regulated by each province. Veterinarians may be required to earn continuous learning credits to maintain their license. Veterinarians are offered opportunities for learning and professional development by provincial associations, species specific organizations, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and international organizations.

Much of veterinarians' learning comprises the self-directed reading of medical texts, professional journals and trade publications. They learn through dialogue with other veterinarians at provincial, national and international conferences and at professional seminars offered by their provincial associations. They also learn through hands-on experience with animals in their care. Some veterinarians learn by contributing to research initiatives. (4)

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