How to Become a Veterinary Social Worker
If you enjoy working with both animals and people, then a career that combines the two might be an ideal fit. As a veterinary social worker, you would work with animals as well as with their owners, veterinary staff or even animal control and animal humane officers.
Veterinary social workers provide valuable services to help support the relationships between people and animals. Veterinary social work is a relatively new field, but it’s a fascinating career to explore and potentially pursue.
What Does a Veterinary Social Worker Do?
A veterinary social worker is a member of the veterinary team who helps humans with their relationships with animals. Veterinary social work focuses on four main areas: grief and bereavement, compassion fatigue, the connection between human and animal violence and animal-assisted interventions. A veterinary social worker may support clients through end-of-life decisions and help staff with stress management.
Animal-Related Grief and Bereavement
A veterinary social worker may assist people as they navigate the loss of a pet. The social worker might help pet owners by talking through treatment options and discussing quality of life. They may be present with the pet owners before, during and after euthanasia of a pet and can help owners to discuss the pet’s death with children. A social worker might also help to connect pet owners with resources such as pet loss support groups.
Compassion Fatigue and Conflict Management
Veterinarians may experience high patient death rates as a result of the natural lifespans of animals. They may also witness neglect and animal abuse. These situations can create compassion fatigue, which may make it difficult for professionals to continue to emotionally invest themselves in their jobs.
Veterinary social work can help provide professionals with stress management techniques or deal with feelings of grief. When it’s difficult for an animal care professional to interact with people, a social worker might act as a mediator between the two parties.
The Link Between Human and Animal Violence
Veterinary social workers also play a key role in helping to prevent animal abuse. The FBI has recognized that serial killers often previously abuse animals. Today, there’s a broad understanding that the abuse often extends to pets in abusive households. Social workers may support animal control and welfare officers to help stop animal abuse.
Veterinary social workers may also facilitate animal-assisted therapy for human patients. Animal-assisted interventions, in which an animal participates in a therapeutic practice, can help to strengthen the bond between humans and animals.
A veterinary social worker might help facilitate interactions such as animal-assisted therapy or animal-assisted education. They may also recommend other options like emotional support animals and service animals.
How to Become a Veterinary Social Worker
Just like any other social work profession, veterinary social work jobs have some strict requirements that you’ll need to meet to become a social worker and qualify for the positions.
Earn Your BSW or Related Mental Health Degree
Before you take specialized veterinary social worker coursework, you’ll need to earn your BSW or a related mental health degree. Some programs will accept a bachelor’s in social work while others may accept a liberal arts degree program with coursework in areas like psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy or economics.
While a BSW might not be a requirement for your veterinary social worker program, it may give you an advantage. By pursuing a BSW, you’ll develop the foundational knowledge that you’ll rely on in your upper-level coursework.
Pursue Advanced Degrees
Advanced degrees, including MSW degree programs, provide more specialized knowledge than a BSW. These advanced degrees may offer concentration options such as a clinical concentration or macro concentration. If you’re interested in veterinary social work, then look for a program that offers a veterinary social work concentration or certificate.
Depending on your career goals and location, you may be required to have an MSW degree. This is particularly important if you plan or need to become a licensed social worker.
Obtain Social Work Licensure
Most positions in which you work directly with individuals will require that you have a social work license. Specific social work licensure requirements can vary by state, but you’ll need an MSW degree. Some state boards of social work have established multiple licensure levels with varying requirements for each level.
States may have different requirements for the number of fieldwork hours that social work license applicants must complete, and that can also depend on the specific type of licensure that you’re applying for. It’s best to check your preferred state for details on license requirements and the education that you’ll need to be licensed.
Consider a Postgraduate Veterinary Social Work Certificate
In addition to your degree programs, you might also want to pursue a postgraduate certificate in veterinary social work. A veterinary social work certificate or post-graduate program may be considered continuing education. Your veterinary social work program may cover fundamental topics relating to animal hospice, veterinary work and psychosocial support. Some certificates or post-graduate programs may also focus on topics like euthanasia techniques and support intervention for pet owners. This specialized education can help to further prepare you for a career as a veterinary social worker.
Veterinary Social Work Programs
|University and Program Name||Degree Type||Format||Study Length|
|International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care Social Work Certificate in Animal Hospice and Palliative Care||Certificate||Hybrid||4 to 16 months|
|University of Denver MSW Certificate in Human-Animal-Environment Interactions in Social Work||Certificate||On-Campus||N/A|
|University of Pennsylvania Doctor of Veterinary Medicine /Master of Social Work||Doctorate||On-Campus||5.5 years|
|University of Tennessee Master of Science in Social Work with Veterinary Social Work Certificate||Masters||Online||2+ years|
|University of Tennessee Postgraduate Veterinary Social Work Certificate Program||Certificate||Hybrid||1+ years|
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for social workers in May 2021 was $50,390. Social work salaries ranged from less than $36,520 to more than $82,840 as of May 2021. Salaries varied depending on the industry in which social workers worked. The median annual wage for social workers in healthcare was $60,840 in May 2021.
Keep in mind that your veterinary social work salary will partially depend on your experience, how long you’ve been in the position and your geographic location.
Like any other social workers, it’s important that veterinary social workers be empathetic and patient. Other important skills may include communication talents, especially in instances where they are serving as liaisons between animal care professionals and pet owners. Organization skills are also important, as is attention to detail. It may also be helpful if a social worker has experience working with or owning pets. This firsthand experience may help them better understand the emotions and challenges that pet owners face.
How long it takes to become a social worker, particularly a veterinary social worker, will depend on your particular graduate program. An MSW program may take between one and four years, depending on your enrollment status. If you decide to enroll in a postgraduate veterinary social work certificate program, that will extend the amount of time that you’ll need to dedicate to your education.
There’s no simple answer as to whether it’s worth pursuing a career as a veterinary social worker. That depends on your career goals and what you find most rewarding. Helping people to have better relationships with their pets can be highly satisfying, and you may find that the benefits of this career well justify the time and money you’ll need to invest in your education to pursue this field.
Last updated August 2022