CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a veterinarian.
Is becoming a veterinarian right for me?
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If you are interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, there are several high school courses that can help prepare you for the academic rigor of veterinary school. Some of the most important courses to take include:
- Biology: As the study of life and living organisms, biology is a fundamental subject for aspiring veterinarians. It provides a foundation for understanding anatomy, physiology, genetics, and other core concepts in veterinary medicine.
- Chemistry: Chemistry is important for understanding the chemical processes that occur in living organisms. This includes topics such as biochemistry, pharmacology, and toxicology, which are all essential areas of study for veterinarians.
- Physics: While physics may not seem immediately relevant to veterinary medicine, it provides a foundation for understanding concepts such as mechanics and fluid dynamics. These are important for understanding how animals move and how fluids flow through their bodies.
- Math: Strong math skills are important for understanding and interpreting scientific data, which is a critical aspect of veterinary medicine. Courses such as calculus and statistics can be particularly useful.
- English: As a veterinarian, you will need to communicate effectively with animal owners, other veterinarians, and other members of the animal health care team. English courses can help you develop the writing and speaking skills you need to succeed in this field.
By taking these courses in high school, you can build a strong foundation for pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. Additionally, participating in extracurricular activities such as animal clubs or volunteering at animal shelters can also be helpful in gaining experience and demonstrating your commitment to the field.
Formal Education Steps
Becoming a veterinarian requires a significant amount of education and training. Here are the general steps to becoming a licensed veterinarian:
- Obtain a Bachelor's Degree: Before applying to veterinary school, you must first obtain a bachelor's degree. Most veterinary schools require applicants to have completed a minimum of 60-90 credit hours of undergraduate coursework. While there is no specific major required to become a veterinarian, many students choose to major in biology, animal sciences, or a related field.
- Take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE): The GRE is a standardized test that is often required for admission to veterinary school. It measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills.
- Attend Veterinary School: Veterinary medicine school typically lasts four years and involves both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience. Students learn about animal anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and other core concepts in veterinary medicine. During their clinical rotations, they gain experience working with different types of animals and in different areas of veterinary medicine.
- Complete a Veterinary Internship or Residency: After graduating from veterinary school, many new veterinarians choose to complete an internship or residency program. These programs provide additional training and experience in a particular area of veterinary medicine, such as surgery or internal medicine.
- Obtain Licensure: To practice as a veterinarian, you must obtain a license from your state's veterinary board. This typically involves passing a national licensing exam, as well as any additional state-specific requirements.
- Continue Education: Like many healthcare professions, veterinary medicine is constantly evolving. Veterinarians are expected to participate in continuing education to stay up-to-date on the latest research and techniques in the field.
Licensure is required for all veterinarians who wish to practice in the United States. Each state has its own licensing requirements, but most states follow a similar process. Here are the general steps required to obtain licensure as a veterinarian:
- Graduate from an Accredited Veterinary School: To be eligible for licensure, you must have earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree from an accredited veterinary school. Accreditation ensures that the program meets high standards for educational quality and prepares students for a career in veterinary medicine.
- Pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE): The NAVLE is a standardized exam that tests veterinary knowledge and skills. It is administered by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (NBVME) and is required by most states for licensure.
- Pass Any State-Specific Exams: Some states require additional exams beyond the NAVLE. These exams may test state-specific laws and regulations or assess your knowledge of diseases and conditions that are prevalent in the area.
- Complete Any Required Application Materials: To apply for licensure, you will need to submit an application to the state veterinary board. This may include transcripts, exam scores, and proof of graduation from an accredited veterinary school.
- Meet Any Additional State-Specific Requirements: In addition to exams and application materials, some states may have additional requirements for licensure. For example, some states require veterinarians to complete continuing education courses or obtain liability insurance.
- Once you have met all of the requirements for licensure in your state, you will be issued a license to practice veterinary medicine. It is important to maintain your license by fulfilling any continuing education or other requirements set by your state's veterinary board.
Veterinary fellowships typically last one to two years and provide a stipend or salary to the fellow. They are highly competitive, and applicants are typically required to have completed a residency program or have several years of experience in the field. Fellowships provide veterinarians with advanced training and expertise in a specific area of veterinary medicine, which can enhance their career prospects and enable them to make significant contributions to the field. Here are some examples of veterinary fellowships:
- Laboratory Animal Medicine Fellowship: This fellowship is designed for veterinarians who are interested in working with animals used in research. It provides training in areas such as animal husbandry, anesthesia and analgesia, and experimental techniques.
- Wildlife Medicine Fellowship: This fellowship focuses on the medical and surgical treatment of wildlife species. Fellows gain experience in wildlife capture and handling, diagnostic techniques, and the treatment of wildlife diseases and injuries.
- Equine Medicine and Surgery Fellowship: This fellowship is designed for veterinarians who wish to specialize in the care of horses. Fellows gain experience in equine medical and surgical procedures, lameness evaluations, and reproductive management.
- Public Health Fellowship: This fellowship is designed for veterinarians who are interested in working in the field of public health. Fellows gain experience in areas such as epidemiology, disease surveillance, and emergency preparedness.
- One Health Fellowship: This fellowship focuses on the connections between animal, human, and environmental health. Fellows gain experience in interdisciplinary collaboration and the management of zoonotic diseases.
Continuing education is a critical component of maintaining licensure and staying up-to-date with the latest advances in veterinary medicine. Continuing education requirements vary by state, but most states require veterinarians to complete a certain number of continuing education credits every year or every few years. Here are some examples of continuing education options for veterinarians:
- Conferences: Veterinary conferences are held regularly around the world and offer a wide range of topics in all areas of veterinary medicine. Attending a conference allows veterinarians to learn from experts in the field, network with colleagues, and stay up-to-date with the latest research.
- Webinars: Webinars are online seminars that allow veterinarians to learn about a specific topic from the comfort of their own home or office. Many organizations offer webinars on a variety of topics, and they are often recorded for later viewing.
- Workshops: Workshops provide hands-on training in a specific area of veterinary medicine. For example, a workshop on dental care might include instruction on how to perform a dental exam and clean teeth, as well as tips on how to educate clients about dental health.
- Online Courses: Online courses are a flexible and convenient way to earn continuing education credits. Many organizations offer courses on a wide range of topics, and veterinarians can complete them at their own pace.
- Journal Articles: Reading journal articles is a great way to stay up-to-date with the latest research and advances in veterinary medicine. Many journals offer online access to their articles, and some even offer quizzes that can be completed for continuing education credit.