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Degree in Veterinary Medicine: Program Overviews

A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program teaches the anatomy, physiology, and life processes of animals. This understanding of common animal health functions provides a foundation for learning the detection and treatment of diseases and ailments.

Essential Information

There is only one program that qualifies graduates to work as veterinarians. The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree program takes four years of full-time study to complete. It is designed to prepare participants for careers in private practice, research, or teaching. This program of study can be combined with a Ph.D. degree program in Veterinary Medicine. Although courses are generally not available online, professional development courses required for continued licensure may be available online. Students must complete clinicals, and a thesis is strongly encouraged for those who plan to pursue a master's or doctoral degree in veterinary science.

Those Doctor of Veterinary Medicine applicants with an undergraduate degree in either the biological or physical sciences will be best prepared for veterinary studies. Veterinary schools may request scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as well as letters of personal or professional recommendation. A resume listing any animal health science experience may be required.

An undergraduate degree in the sciences is required for admission into a combined Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy program. Admissions committees also seek evidence of outstanding academic achievement. Typically, only a select few candidates are admitted into DVM-Ph.D. programs. Letters of recommendation are required, as are scores from the GRE.


Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)

The first three years of study provide a foundation in animal disease prevention, diagnosis, and clinical therapy. Depending on the program, areas of specialization may also be offered. DVM programs feature clinical rotations during the final year. These allow students to gain practical experience and apply their knowledge of veterinary medicine. Some DVM programs offer a thesis option. Thesis research proposals should be submitted during the first or second year of enrollment.

Many veterinary schools do not have formal degree requirements. However, they do have course requirements in the physical sciences, biological sciences, and mathematics.

Classes almost always feature a laboratory component. Coursework may become more specialized during the third year of study. Typical subjects include:

  • Pharmacology
  • General pathology
  • Histology
  • Gross anatomy
  • Large animal surgery
  • Small animal medicine

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy in Veterinary Medicine

A combined Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Veterinary Medicine program prepares students for careers in the veterinary sciences research industry. Specialty tracks may be available and may affect whether the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine is completed before or after the Doctor of Philosophy. Most combined DVM-Ph.D. programs are structured as four years of DVM study plus three years of Ph.D. study. Program length could take longer than seven years if a student is slowly progressing with research, but a maximum limit is usually set by the school.

A DVM-Ph.D. degree in veterinary medicine combines core coursework and clinical rotations with research in biomedical sciences. Research interests vary but may include veterinary surgery, pathology, pharmacology, immunology, and anatomy. Prior to choosing an area of specialization, students complete a series of laboratory rotations that introduce the various sub-specialties of veterinary science. Schools of veterinary medicine may offer fellowships for graduates of a combined DVM-Ph.D. program so that they can continue their research upon graduation. The DVM-Ph.D. degree is the terminal degree in the field of veterinary medicine and veterinary science.

The DVM-Ph.D. curriculum combines general veterinary medicine coursework with classes that focus on aspects of veterinary science research methodology. Topics include:

  • Veterinary anatomy
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Veterinary practice
  • Immune system
  • Animal care

Popular Career Options

Many graduates of a combined degree program in veterinary medicine secure employment with universities, government agencies, and biomedical research facilities. Possible careers include professor of veterinary medicine, veterinary medicine research scientist, and biomedical research scientist.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Many graduates of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program pursue careers as veterinarians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2015, veterinarians earned a median annual salary of $88,490. From 2014-2024, this career field is expected to grow by 9%, due to increasing emphasis on pet healthcare (www.bls.gov).

Continuing Education Information

Graduates of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or Doctor of Philosophy of Veterinary Science program who are pursuing careers as veterinarians first have to pass a national board exam. The North American Veterinary Licensing Exam covers all areas of veterinary practice and consists of 360 multiple-choice questions. Those eligible to sit for the exam must complete all areas in eight hours or less.

Students interested in becoming veterinarians must pursue a Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine degree program, with the option to combine the degree with a Doctor of Philosophy in Veterinary Medicine degree program for additional career paths.

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