Veterinarians provide medical care to animals, particularly pets, zoo animals, livestock and laboratory animals. Along with diagnosing and treating illnesses, veterinarians may work as researchers or help control the spread of disease to humans through food. Becoming a veterinarian generally requires four years of undergraduate school, four years of veterinary school and state licensure. Specialists require additional residency training and board certification.
The first step to becoming a veterinarian in the U.S. is attending undergraduate school. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS for short, some veterinary colleges require applicants to hold only 45 to 90 undergraduate hours. However, most students enter veterinary school with a bachelor's degree. Whichever undergraduate major students pursue, coursework should focus heavily on the biological and physical sciences, such as chemistry, genetics, microbiology and physiology. Studies in communication, social science, humanities and mathematics may also be beneficial for the transition into veterinary school.
Gaining admittance to veterinary school can be difficult. In the U.S., there are only 30 veterinary schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association's Council on Education as of 2015. The BLS notes that less than 50% of all applicants to veterinary schools were granted admission in 2014.
While specific admissions requirements vary by school, all applicants must take a college admissions test, such as the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE. Most schools require applicants to use the Veterinary Medical College Application Service to apply to school.
After gaining admittance, students complete four years of veterinary school to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, or D.V.M.. The first two years of veterinary school typically focus on basic science education in the classroom and laboratory. The final two years consist of clinical instruction, allowing students to gain hands-on experience diagnosing and treating animal diseases under the supervision of licensed veterinarians. Fourth-year veterinary students generally focus solely on clinical rotations in animal hospitals and private practices.
All veterinarians in the U.S., except for some state and federal government employees, are required to obtain licensure from their state licensing board. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all boards require applicants to hold a D.V.M. and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. The exam, which takes eight hours to complete, is comprised of 360 multiple-choice questions. Most states also require licensure applications to pass an examination covering veterinary laws and regulations.
Veterinarians who choose to concentrate in a specialty of veterinary medicine must earn certification through the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties. The AVMA recognizes forty specialties, including internal medicine, surgery, dentistry and pathology. Veterinarians must complete 3 to 4 years of specialty training in an approved residency program to be eligible for certification.
Career and Salary Information
The BLS predicted that veterinarian jobs would increase by 9% from 2014 to 2024, which is faster than average. Veterinarians earn an average yearly salary of $99,000 as of May 2015. The top-paid ten percent of professionals took in $158,260 or more per year, while the bottom-paid ten percent of earners made $53,210 or less annually.