What Majors Are Recommended for Aspiring Veterinarians?

Those who wish to work with animals for a living may want to become veterinarians. Typically, pre-vet students take undergraduate coursework in the sciences and apply to an accredited, 4-year school that offers a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM).

Essential Information

Aspiring veterinarians typically examine the prerequisites of their chosen vet school and tailor their undergraduate education accordingly. However, 4-year schools do offer undergraduate students a curriculum with a pre-vet track. Once a bachelor's program is completed, students can often choose to earn only a DVM or combine it with a master's degree of their choice. After graduating and becoming licensed, vets can pursue research, obtain board certification in one or more of 40 veterinary specialties or seek another career related to veterinary studies.

  • Program Levels: Bachelor's with Pre-Veterinary Options, doctorate in veterinary science and combined master's and doctorate in veterinary medicine.
  • Prerequisites: Joint degree programs require a bachelor's degree; DVM programs require biology, chemistry, physics, math and English but may not require a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor's Degree Programs with Pre-Veterinary Options

A major in pre-veterinary studies is available through some, but not all, schools. Alternatively, students can earn a bachelor's degree in a broader subject, such as general science or biology, while being certain to include the courses required by vet school. Graduates will be eligible to apply to an accredited veterinary school that offers the DVM degree.

In pre-veterinary studies, students commonly focus on subjects like biology, physiology and anatomy, math, physics and chemistry. Additional coursework could include:

  • Animal science
  • Microbiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Genetics
  • Molecular biology
  • Organic and inorganic chemistry

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

All prospective veterinarians must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and licensure in order to diagnose and treat animals. According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), there are only 28 accredited veterinary schools in the United States (www.aavmc.org). Due to the relatively small number of accredited vet schools, admission can be extremely competitive.

Coursework in veterinary schools is typically concentrated in the biological sciences. In addition to learning medical skills, students must also understand how to treat disease, illness or injury, as well as the biological systems of various animals and proper nutrition. Students learn procedures and foundational science concepts in classrooms, labs and clinical rotations. Courses in a DVM program may include:

  • Clinical and communication skills
  • Radiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Toxicology
  • Animal nutrition
  • Small and large animal surgery

Combined Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master's Degree Program

Some veterinary schools offer dual degree programs in which students can earn their DVM and a separate master's degree. The master's degree may be in a variety of fields, including public health and biomedical sciences.

Students may complete coursework that complements their DVM degree program. In most cases, coursework will vary in these programs based on the selected master's degree. Some programs offer research projects or capstone classes. Students may take courses such as:

  • Epidemiology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Biostatistics
  • Specialized research
  • Public health

Popular Career Options

Typically, individuals who complete a bachelor's degree program that includes a pre-veterinary track have plans to continue to veterinary school. However, they could also pursue career options such as:

  • Animal technician
  • Environmental technologist
  • Veterinary technician

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of veterinarians from 2012 to 2022 is expected to increase by 12% (www.bls.gov). This growth may be attributed to greater veterinary options through advances in technology, as well as a greater national emphasis on pet care. In 2014, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for veterinarians was $87,590.

Continuing Education Information

Some veterinary doctors also pursue PhD degrees if they desire to work in research or education. Some universities also offer dual DVM and PhD degree programs. Typically, these programs include thesis projects and extensive research requirements.

All veterinarians must complete the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination in order to be qualified to work. There may also be specific licensing requirements by states.

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