Becoming a Fish Doctor

By Eric Hammer

Becoming a fish doctor, or as they are officially known, an aquaculture veterinarian, will require quite a bit of effort on your part. Like an ordinary veterinarian, a fish doctor must also go through veterinary school in order to achieve his or her license.

However, relatively few schools actually offer a specialty in aquaculture (literally, it means fish farming, though all veterinarians who work with fish, both pets and farmed fish are called aquaculture veterinarians. Those who work with wild fish however are generally marine biologists rather than veterinarians).

If the school you plan on attending does not offer a specialty in aquaculture veterinary medicine, your options are to instead go to a regular university and study marine biology or to take additional coursework to learn what you'll need to know in order to be a fish doctor.

How Much Can You Make?

According to Job Monkey, initial salaries for aquaculture veterinarians start between $50,000 and $90,000 per year. However, this number is a little bit difficult to rely on only because of the fact that the entire discipline is a fairly new one.

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Remember that working as a fish doctor, you will be in largely uncharted territory. Traditionally, fish were cared for by fish farmers or pet store attendants who would add various medications to the water in order to take care of the fish when they got sick.

However, given the increasing prevalence of fish farming, many fish farmers are now hiring professional veterinarians who both have more training in working with fish and who are legally able to prescribe certain drugs to the fish which they themselves cannot prescribe.

Another area where you may want to consider working is with high end pet fish. Average consumers simply buy whatever the pet store attendant recommends when the goldfish is looking sick (and if it dies, the fish is simply flushed down the toilet and replaced with a new one). High end fish owners by comparison will actually pay for professionals to come in and care for their fish. In this case, you could conceivably work with both groups of people by running your own independent practice rather than working for someone.

Qualifications / Requirements

You will need at least a degree from a veterinary school with a specialty in aquaculture. However, advanced degrees are generally not required unless you plan to go into research in which case, masters degrees and a PhD are highly recommended (though in that case, you move into being a marine biologist rather than a fish doctor).

First Steps

Start by looking for a veterinary school that offers a specialty in aquaculture medicine. While it is certainly possible to attend an ordinary school and then take the required courses for being a fish doctor on the side from the school's other divisions or from a different school, it's best to get it all in one unified program if you can.

Resources

Check out these helpful resources to find out more about becoming a fish doctor (aka aquaculture veterinarian):

Job Monkey: Aquaculture Veterinarians - This is another profile of the job with some good additional information.

Aquaculture for Veterinarians, by L. Brown Butterworth-Heinemmann - While it is a little old, this book includes a lot of good information on being a fish doctor.


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