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How to Become a Veterinarian – Career Sidekick

Veterinarian 6 Steps to Career

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

To become a veterinarian, you have to attend a veterinary school, and each veterinary school has its specific requirements. First, you must complete an undergraduate degree and the prerequisite coursework.

Undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in animal science, biology, physics, and chemistry are ideal. While opting for biology-related majors is preferred, you can also opt for any other course. The most important thing is to complete the prerequisite coursework and do well. Although the specific requirements differ from one veterinary school to the other, some general coursework requirements include:

  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • General Chemistry
  • Mathematics (Statistics/Calculus)
  • Physics
  • Humanities and Behavioral Science

In addition to completing your undergraduate degree and completing the prerequisite coursework, many veterinary schools require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Alternatively, some schools accept the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) instead of the GRE. In addition, some schools require Biology GRE. This is why it is important to understand the specific requirement of the veterinary schools you want to apply to.

Step 2: Gain Practical Experience

Beyond the academic requirements, practical experience is a pivotal aspect of your journey toward becoming a successful veterinarian. Acquiring hands-on experience with animals and immersing yourself in various animal-related settings provides you with invaluable insights, skills, and a realistic understanding of the veterinary field. You can gain the needed experience through volunteering and internships related to animal care and handling.

Volunteering Opportunities for Pre-Vet School Students to Gain Experience

The quality of your volunteering experience can go a long way in convincing the admissions board of veterinary schools to admit you. So, where can you volunteer? Here are some ideas for you:

  • Veterinary Clinics/Hospitals: You can volunteer at veterinary clinics and animal hospitals. This volunteering opportunity allows you to shadow veterinarians and technicians, observe consultations, surgeries, and treatments, and gain experience in animal care and handling.
  • Animal Shelters: Volunteering at animal shelters or rescue organizations exposes you to a wide variety of animals. You might be involved in feeding, cleaning, administering basic treatments, and helping with adoption processes. This experience offers insights into animal behavior, socialization, and the challenges of shelter medicine.
  • Zoos and Aquariums: Zoos and aquariums often offer opportunities with a focus on veterinary care for exotic and captive animals. You might assist with medical procedures, wellness checks, and enrichment activities while learning about the specialized care of these animals.
  • Research Facilities: Volunteering at research institutions that focus on animal-related studies provides exposure to research and laboratory techniques. This experience can be particularly valuable if you’re interested in pursuing a career in veterinary research.
  • Farm Animal Facilities: Volunteer experience on farms or livestock facilities give you exposure to large animal medicine. You’ll learn about herd health management, reproduction, nutrition, and treatment of farm animals.
  • Equine Facilities: If you’re interested in working with horses, equine facilities offer experience in equine health and management. You might assist with routine care, observe surgeries, and learn about equine-specific medical procedures.

Step 3: Apply to Veterinary School

After completing your undergraduate coursework and gaining practical experience, the next step toward becoming a veterinarian is applying to veterinary school. This pivotal step requires careful planning, meticulous organization, and a strong application that showcases your academic achievements, practical experience, and passion for the field. Here are a few things to note:

Research the Schools

Begin by researching veterinary schools to identify those that align with your interests, goals, and values. Consider factors such as location, program structure, areas of specialization, faculty expertise, and any unique offerings.

Each veterinary school has specific admission requirements, including prerequisites, GPA thresholds, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and sometimes standardized test scores (such as the GRE). The Veterinary Medical School Admission Requirements (VMSAR) has information about the admission requirements for veterinary schools in the United States and Canada.

Prepare Your Personal Statement and Letters of Recommendation

Tailor your personal statement to the veterinary school you’re applying to. Emphasize your unique qualities and experiences and how they align with the school’s mission and values. When applying, you will also need strong letters of recommendation to bolster your application and provide a comprehensive view of your qualifications, character, and potential as a future veterinarian. These letters play a critical role in helping admissions committees assess your suitability for veterinary school.

Submit Your Application

Keep track of application deadlines, submission confirmations, and any additional information requested by the schools. Being organized demonstrates your attention to detail and professionalism. Since almost all veterinary schools in the United States utilize the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS), you can apply through this portal. VMCAS is a single, standardized application that can be sent to multiple schools at once.

Wait for Interview Invitations and the Final Decision

If you are selected for an interview, you will have the opportunity to meet with admissions representatives and answer questions about your application. This is your chance to make a good impression and show the admissions committee that you are a good fit for their school.

The admissions process can take several months. Once all of the applications have been reviewed, the admissions committee will make a decision and notify you of their decision.

Step 4: Complete Veterinary School

After securing your admission to veterinary school, you embark on a journey of rigorous education and training spanning approximately four years. The curriculum is rich and diverse, encompassing a wide range of subjects crucial to veterinary medicine. Courses delve into anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, surgery, and diagnostics, giving you a solid foundation in the field.

Hands-on learning takes center stage, where practical training and clinical experience become your guides. In labs and simulated scenarios, you apply your theoretical knowledge to real-world situations, honing your skills in animal care, handling, and medical procedures.

As you advance, clinical rotations provide invaluable exposure. Guided by seasoned veterinarians, you delve into specialized areas like internal medicine, surgery, and radiology. This immersion nurtures your ability to diagnose, treat, and care for a diverse array of animal patients.

Beyond medical expertise, you’re shaped into a professional adept at communicating with clients, adhering to ethical standards, and navigating legal aspects of practice. Case studies and problem-solving exercises refine your analytical thinking, while research opportunities and specializations deepen your understanding of specific niches within the field.

Throughout your journey, assessments keep you on track. Written exams, practical evaluations, and clinical assessments ensure your progress aligns with the rigorous standards of veterinary practice. Upon successful completion, you graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, a testament to your dedication and mastery.

How Much Does Veterinary School Cost?

You won’t get the exact cost of attending veterinary school because it varies from school to school based on several factors. For example, in-state and out-of-state students attending the same public veterinary school are not likely to incur the same cost to complete veterinary school. Nonetheless, the estimated total cost of attendance for a four-year veterinary school program ranges between  $150,000 and $420,000.

Can I Become a Veterinarian Through Online Education?

A complete Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree program cannot be offered solely online due to the essential clinical, field, and laboratory components integral to veterinary training. Veterinary education requires direct hands-on experience with live animals for clinical assessments, diagnoses, surgeries, and animal interactions. Laboratory work, diagnostic skills, and ethical considerations also demand practical engagement that virtual learning cannot replicate.

The development of clinical competence, emergency preparedness, surgical skills, and animal welfare understanding necessitates in-person exposure and real-world scenarios. While online education may complement theoretical learning, the diverse and dynamic nature of veterinary practice mandates the integration of practical experiences to ensure students are equipped with the skills and knowledge required for comprehensive veterinary care.

What are Some Web Resources to Improve My Knowledge of Veterinary Medicine?

You can access several online web resources to enhance your knowledge of veterinary medicine. Here are some reputable websites and platforms that offer valuable information and educational content in the field:

Remember that while online resources can be valuable, they should complement your formal education and clinical experiences. Always verify the credibility and source of the information you’re accessing. Additionally, stay connected with your academic institution and local veterinary associations for recommendations on trusted online resources.

Step 5: Internship and Residency (Optional)

After bagging your veterinary degree, you can engage in internship or residency programs. These programs are not mandatory and can be skipped, meaning vet internships are not required in order to practice. Those interested are to apply through the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program of the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians.

Prospective interns or residents choose programs they’re interested in and rank them. It’s a good idea to rank more than one program because competition is high. Applicants complete an Application Packet and submit it on the website. Institutions or private practices also rank applicants based on their criteria.

The VIRMP uses a computer system to match interns/residents with programs. Applicants create a list of programs they want to apply to, and institutions/private practices make a list of applicants they’d accept. Both lists are private. The computer system matches them in a way that gives each the best option from their list. Applicants are allowed to apply to both an internship and residency program simultaneously. However, such applicants will be considered in the residency match first.

Essential Veterinarian Skills to Learn

While learning the ropes as a veterinarian, you will develop a wide range of skills that are essential for providing comprehensive care to animals and ensuring their well-being. Below are some key skills you will learn as a veterinarian:

  • Medical Diagnosis and Treatment: You’ll learn how to diagnose medical conditions in animals, interpret diagnostic tests, and develop treatment plans that may include medications, surgeries, or other interventions.
  • Surgical Proficiency: Veterinarians often perform surgeries, such as spaying/neutering, tumor removal, orthopedic procedures, and more. You’ll acquire surgical skills and techniques to ensure safe and effective procedures.
  • Animal Handling and Restraint: Safely and effectively handling and restraining animals is crucial for examinations, treatments, and procedures. You’ll learn techniques to minimize stress and ensure the safety of both animals and handlers.
  • Diagnostic Imaging: Understanding and interpreting X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, and other imaging techniques allow you to diagnose internal issues and plan appropriate treatments.
  • Laboratory Techniques: Learning laboratory skills helps you analyze blood, urine, tissue samples, and other specimens to diagnose diseases and assess overall health.
  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics: You’ll develop expertise in prescribing medications, understanding drug interactions, and determining appropriate dosages for various species.
  • Anatomy and Physiology: A deep understanding of animal anatomy and physiology is essential for diagnosing and treating medical conditions effectively.
  • Communication Skills: Effectively communicating with pet owners, colleagues, and team members is crucial. You’ll learn to explain diagnoses, treatments, and preventive care in a way that is understandable and relatable. Educating pet owners about animal care, nutrition, behavior, and disease prevention empowers them to make informed decisions for their pets’ well-being.
  • Empathy and Compassion: Developing empathy for animals and their owners is fundamental. Your ability to connect with both can positively impact treatment outcomes and client satisfaction.
  • Time Management and Organization: Juggling appointments, surgeries, diagnostics, and administrative tasks requires effective time management and organizational skills.
  • Ethical and Professional Conduct: Veterinarians uphold ethical standards and professionalism in all interactions, ensuring the welfare of animals and maintaining trust with clients.

Step 6: Obtain a License

After completing your DVM/VMD program, you’ll need to pass the national veterinary licensing examination in your country. In the U.S., it’s the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). The International Council for Veterinary Assessment administers the exam.

There are two testing windows annually, so it’s important to prepare and get regular updates. You are only allowed to take the examination once per testing window and a maximum of five attempts within a five-year period.

Passing the licensing examination demonstrates your readiness to enter the veterinary profession independently. It confirms that you possess the necessary foundation of medical knowledge, diagnostic capabilities, and ethical understanding to make informed decisions in the treatment and care of animals. This examination is usually computer-based and may consist of multiple-choice questions, case scenarios, and practical application questions.

Upon successfully passing the licensing examination, you will receive your veterinary license, granting you the legal authority to diagnose, treat, and care for animals. This licensure is a significant milestone that marks your transition from a veterinary student to a licensed professional veterinarian.


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