Animal Doctor: Requirements for Becoming a Veterinarian

Becoming an animal doctor, or veterinarian, requires significant formal education. Learn about the schooling, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

Veterinarians look after the health of animals by performing checkups, diagnosing illnesses and prescribing treatments. Most aspiring veterinarians complete a bachelor's degree in a science-related field prior to attending veterinary school, which rarely admits students without an undergraduate degree. After attending veterinary school and earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, veterinarians must also pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to begin practicing and complete a residency program to become board-certified.

Required EducationDoctor of Veterinary Medicine
Other RequirementsResidency and licensure; specialty certification available
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)12%*
Median Salary (2014)$87,590*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Undergraduate Degree

Most students complete a bachelor's degree prior to attending veterinary school. Individuals may be admitted without completing a bachelor's degree but this is rare. Students have options for which major to select, but it is usually common to choose one with an emphasis on science. Some schools offer pre-veterinarian or veterinary science programs. These programs offer courses in microbiology, anatomy and immunology. Students may also consider general science and animal science programs.

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

After undergraduate study, individuals must attend veterinary medical school where they can graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Veterinary medical schools must be accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). These programs typically take four years to complete.

The first three years include sequences in the anatomy, physiology and immunology of animals and medical procedures, such as surgery and pharmacology. The fourth year is devoted to clinical rotations, which include core requirements and electives that allow students to pursue personal interests. After completing their DVM degree, vets may enroll in an optional 1-year residency program before beginning their practice.

Residency and Licensing

Veterinarian must obtain licensure to practice in all states. All states require applicants to earn a DVM degree and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). The NAVLE has 360 questions that must be completed in eight hours. The test covers all areas of veterinary medicine and information on data gathering, professional behavior and case management, as well as testing an applicant's diagnostic skills.

Veterinarians may practice after earning their DVM, but if they wish to become board certified, they will need to complete a residency program. According to the BLS, residencies last three or four years, and there are 39 AVMA-approved specialties that can be pursued. Residents spend a significant time in hospitals where they may consult on patient's cases and perform research. Residents may also instruct medical and pre-professional students. During residency, a stipend is paid to the resident, which is similar to a salary.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 12% employment growth for veterinarians from 2012 through 2022. The median annual salary for these professionals in 2014 was $87,590, according to the BLS.

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