While there are many careers for people who love and want to work with animals, veterinarian is often the first one that comes to mind. And it’s true — animal lovers often find these jobs very rewarding. At the same time, being and becoming a vet is not without its challenges, both on the job and before. For one, it takes a long time and an enormous amount of work, and with just a small number of veterinary medical schools in the United States, the competition is fierce.
Interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine? Here are the steps to take.
Before entering a veterinary program, you’ll need to earn your bachelor’s degree. You don’t need to major in any specific subject, but there are some courses you’ll need to take, including biology and several other sciences, as well as math courses. The requirements for entry to veterinary school vary from program to program, so it’s a good idea to review what’s needed for admission to different schools while you’re an undergraduate and discuss your plans with your advisor, who can help ensure that you're on track.
During your undergraduate education, demonstrate your passion for working with animals by doing just that. For example, you might volunteer at an animal shelter or intern at a veterinary clinic in your area. If there are any relevant organizations at your school, such as groups for volunteering at rescue facilities or pre-vet organizations, join them. Other forms of volunteering and helping others will give your resume a boost, too.
A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree is required to practice (this is called a Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris [VMD] at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine). There are only 30 veterinary schools accredited by the Association of American Veterinary Colleges (AAVC), so admission is very competitive. These schools include:
Generally speaking, you’ll need to take the MCAT or GRE to apply. You'll also need to have a stellar transcript, recommendations and other materials (review the instructions at the school in question for specifics).
Once you earn your doctorate, you’ll need to become licensed to practice. In addition to the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, you may be required to pass a state exam. You must take the exam with 10 months of graduating, although this varies according to the state (in some, it’s eight months).
In 1969, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) began requiring that DVMs take the Veterinarian’s Oath to practice. This was amended twice and now goes as follows:
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, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of livestock 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 getting licensed, it’s important to gain experience in the field and learn about the procedures and practices. Many newly-licensed professionals intern for one or more years to augment their training. You may also choose to complete a residency in your chosen specialty.
Many veterinarians choose to specialize in niches. Some specialties include:
Certain specialties may require additional certifications, internships, residencies and/or clinical experience.
Including your undergraduate education, it typically takes between seven to nine years to become a vet, not counting residencies. This amount of time varies according to how long it takes you to complete your bachelor’s degree; veterinary school is generally four years.
The cost of your education to become a veterinarian can vary widely based on the school you attend, whether you’re a U.S. resident, scholarships and institutional aid you’re awarded and other factors. Of course, you should also factor in the cost of your undergraduate education when accounting for the total cost of becoming a vet.
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges offers a cost-comparison tool to estimate the cost of different schools and the amounts of aid awarded and debt accrued for the previous graduating class. For the class of 2019, it sets the total cost of veterinary school for four years at between $168,087 and $283,308 for U.S. residents.
This is a hefty price, so it’s important to consider how you’ll pay for your education. Many students use a combination of loans and scholarships to help. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay back loans within a certain period of time after graduating, while you don’t need to pay back scholarships.