The Track to Become a Veterinarian

Veterinarians work in a variety of settings, including clinics, farms and labs.

Veterinarians work in a variety of settings, including clinics, farms and labs.

Whether you knew that you wanted to become a veterinarian ever since you played doctor with your stuffed animals, or if it took you a bit longer to decide on this career path, you’re likely to find working as a veterinarian a challenging and satisfying way to help both animals and their human caretakers. While the biggest hurdle to becoming a vet is typically the completion of a doctoral program in veterinary medicine, you’ll still need to take a few more steps once you receive your degree. However, you can start working toward you dream of becoming a veterinarian while still in high school by gaining leadership experience through extracurricular activities – which will score you some points on your college applications.

Undergraduate Degree

To be a competitive applicant to a veterinary program, you’ll need a four-year bachelor’s degree. Undergrad coursework for veterinary school applicants typically includes classes in anatomy, zoology, chemistry and microbiology, but specific prerequisites will vary depending on the veterinary school. If you know that you want to go on to veterinary school while you’re still in high school, you can apply to colleges that offer a pre-vet programs to ensure your meet all the requirements. You should also gain formal work experience with animals while an undergrad, as veterinary schools place a lot of importance on internships and other real-world work opportunities when choosing applicants.

Veterinary School

A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, or DVM, usually takes four years to complete and involves a combination of lab work, clinical work and classroom time. You also might take courses in management and business to help prepare you for running your own practice. Although the doctorate program involves hard work, the toughest part is often just gaining acceptance. At the time of publication, there are only 28 accredited veterinary schools in the United States – and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges reports receiving 27,704 applications to member schools in 2013, representing over four times as many applications as available spaces.

Internships and Residency

While it’s possible to get your veterinary license right out of veterinary school, often vets take on another year or two of internship work. This is a way to gain more experience and to ensure that you’re a strong candidate for competitive or high-paying jobs. Some graduates also enroll in a residency program, which provides advanced training and preparation for certification in a given specialty.

Licensing and Certification

Most states have their own licensing exams in addition to the national exam required of all veterinarians. You’ll also need three to four years’ experience before you can take a certification exam in your specialty. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers 40 separate certification specialties such as orthopedics or cardiology.

About the Author

Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.

Photo Credits

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