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 pursing 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, 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Steps to becoming a Veterinarian
The road to becoming a veterinarian is paved with a love of animals, an interest in science, and a commitment to education.
Should I become a Veterinarian?
Love of animals. Compassion. Communication skills. Empathy. Observational, critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills. Manual dexterity. Physical stamina. These are the characteristics and abilities which most people would identify as describing the best veterinarians. And they would be right.
While you may possess many or all of the above traits, before you commit to becoming a veterinarian, take some time to consider these realities of the profession:
Working with people is as much a part of the job as working with animals It is the owners that need to decide what treatment they want or can afford. This limits what you can do and requires that you develop a capacity to listen and collaborate.
Putting down a pet is an inevitable part of the job Vets present owners with every diagnostic and treatment option available; but sometimes, despite the sadness involved, euthanasia is the most compassionate and dignified course of action. While you will never become numb to this part of the job, you will have to become realistic and be able to handle these situations.
Some animals will be difficult to handle It is not uncommon for animals in a new environment with new people to be terrified and act aggressively. The smaller ones will likely be manageable. Larger ones, however, may pose some challenges. You will have to find ways to minimize their fear and make them feel comfortable.
Pet owners may be offended by or won’t listen to your advice This scenario often occurs in the case of an obese animal. Owners may find it hard to see their pet’s obesity as more than a cosmetic concern and as one than puts their pet at increased risk of diabetes and painful arthritis. Being able to get owners not to equate food with love can be a frustrating and difficult exercise.
You won’t always be working with puppies and kittens While dogs and cats are their most common patients, veterinarians also see guinea pigs, ferrets, hamsters, rabbits, and occasionally birds and lizards for annual exams. Sometimes, referral to a specialist will be necessary, but most often these situations simply involve stepping out of the norm and calling upon training.
Being a pet owner will make you a better veterinarian Veterinarians’ patients can’t express what’s wrong, so living with an animal helps vets to be a bit more in tune with them and with their owners.
Not every pet owner will be able to do – or want to do – everything for their pet For some owners, their pets are their children and they would do absolutely anything for them. Other owners may love their pets equally, but resources may limit what they can spend. As a veterinarian, you will have to come to understand different personal situations and respect personal decisions.
What are Veterinarians like?
Based on our pool of users, veterinarians tend to be predominately investigative people. As with any work focused on medicine and medical diagnosis and treatment, inquiry, examination, and investigation are at the center of this profession.
Are Veterinarians happy?
Veterinarians rank among the happiest careers. Overall they rank in the 85th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
At the most basic of levels, the high happiness quotient for veterinarians may be rooted in the joy that comes with being in the company of animals, who do not judge, who simply accept.
How long does it take to become a Veterinarian?
In the U.S., the vast majority of veterinarians spend eight years studying to enter the field.
Bachelor’s Degree – four years Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree – four years
Optional specialization – which requires an internship or one year of practice, plus a two- or three-year residency – will add a minimum of another three years to the educational track.
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.