CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a veterinarian.
Is becoming a veterinarian right for me?
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You can lay a solid foundation for a career in veterinary medicine in high school. Here’s how…
Pay particular attention to the following subject areas
The veterinarian profession calls for a high level of math proficiency, which is critical to understanding research studies, physiology, and medication doses. Completing high school classes like algebra, trigonometry, statistics, integrated math, and calculus will prepare you for college mathematics courses.
Life, Chemical, and Physical Sciences
Consider taking honors or advancement placement courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. If offered at your school, enroll in classes directly related to animal behavior and habitats, such as oceanology, zoology, and animal science.
The most competitive applicants to veterinary schools are well-rounded and articulate. They have already begun preparation for a career which demands that they listen to pet owners and sometimes deliver negative prognoses. Classes in English, speech, psychology, social studies, and humanities are as important as those in science and math.
Real-world experience can help you determine if life as a vet is for you. Look for volunteer or paid positions at a veterinary clinic, zoo, animal shelter, or farm. Join organizations like 4-H clubs that will teach you about animal care and feeding.
Prospective veterinarians should earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in pre-veterinary science or a related discipline, such as general science, animal science, zoology, or biology.
Many veterinary schools require that applicants have some experience working with animals. Therefore, while earning their Bachelor’s, it is quite common for undergraduates to pursue college internships that fulfill this prerequisite. These opportunities may exist with zoos, animal farms, research facilities, and veterinary hospitals and clinics.
The following links will help you plan your undergraduate and graduate studies:
Veterinary colleges accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
An April, 2018 update of The Top Veterinary Schools in the U.S., as ranked by U.S. News and World Report
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) Degree
The first two years of a four-year veterinary medicine program follow a classroom/laboratory format, with emphasis on anatomy, neurobiology, epidemiology, virology, and pharmacology. Increasingly, general business courses are becoming part of the DVM curriculum to prepare students to manage a private practice.
The second half of the program transitions students to clinical rotations; allowing them to provide hands-on animal care, make diagnoses, and recommend treatments under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. The fourth and final year is usually spent in a practicum or externship at a veterinary hospital, clinic, or similar facility. It is generally during this applied experience that future vets choose a specialty. For further information concerning specialties, please see Step 5, below.
DVM program graduates must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) before they are permitted to practise. The exam, administered by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (NBVME), consists of sixty pre-test questions and three hundred scored questions that test diagnostic skills, knowledge of animal species, and treatment procedures.
Some states also require veterinarians to pass a state exam to demonstrate knowledge of specific jurisdictional regulations and laws. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics advises that few states have reciprocity agreements, which means veterinarians licensed in one state who move to another must normally pass any required state exams in the new location before being allowed to practise there.
In addition to fulfilling licensing requirements, veterinary school graduates must take the veterinarian’s oath:
*Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.*
After graduating and becoming licensed, veterinarians can obtain board certification in one or more of the veterinary specialties. According to the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), they can do so via one of two paths:
Residency applicants must:
Complete a rotating internship or a minimum of one year in practice
Complete a two- or three-year, ABVP-approved residency training program
Submit two case reports from the preceding five years, or one case report and one publication, for review along with other specialized documentation
For details, click on this link https://abvp.com/residents-students/
Practitioner applicants must:
Have five years clinical experience as a veterinarian
Submit two case reports from the preceding five years, or one case report and one publication, along with other specialized documentation
For details, click on this link https://abvp.com/veterinary-certification/recognized-veterinary-specialties/
Membership in national and state associations provides vets with access to continuing education resources and networking opportunities. Among the most prominent national organizations in the field are:
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP)
Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC)
Veterinarians who choose to focus on research or teach at Doctoral Veterinary Medicine programs will pursue their Ph.D. Some universities offer combined DVM/Ph.D. programs.
How to become a Veterinarian
While a few veterinary schools accept students who have not earned a Bachelor’s Degree, this is not the norm. There are just thirty accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States. Applicants with a Bachelor’s are naturally better prepared to compete for admission.
A major in pre-veterinary science is available at some, but not all schools. It is therefore quite common for aspiring veterinarians to earn their undergraduate degree in a broader subject, such as general science or biology, while ensuring that their curriculum comprises courses required for acceptance to veterinarian school. Typically, pre-vet studies focus on anatomy, physiology, physics, and math. Coursework generally includes animal science, microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, and organic and inorganic chemistry.
All prospective veterinarians must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Veterinary school curricula are concentrated on the biological systems of various animals, preventative care, and diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries. DVM programs include classes in animal behavior, animal nutrition, radiology, pharmacology, ophthalmology, parasitology, toxicology, and small and large animal surgery; as well as clinical and communications training. Learning takes place in classrooms, labs, and via clinical rotations.
After successfully completing veterinary school, graduates are eligible to take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, as well as any required state licensing exam.
Doctors of veterinary medicine may choose to pursue further optional training to become an advanced-practice specialist in one or more of forty veterinary sub-disciplines, such as animal internal medicine or oncology.