CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a veterinarian.
Is becoming a veterinarian right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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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, enrol 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.
Many veterinary schools require that applicants have some experience working with animals. Therefore, while earning their bachelor’s degree, 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:
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.
While the claim by some that veterinary school is harder than medical school can be debated, there are factors which justify the argument. The patients of veterinarians possess very little means of communication and in veterinary medicine there exists a wider range of species.
Yet, because less money has been spent on veterinary research, there are fewer treatment protocols from which to choose. While this fact simplifies decisions around treatment, it also limits options and potentially reduces the likelihood of cure or rehabilitation.
Whether or not vet school is more difficult than medical school is irrelevant. The truth is that, like all worthwhile careers, veterinary medicine is a challenging field which demands dedication and commitment.
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
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
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:
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.