What Majors Are Recommended for Aspiring Veterinarians?
Learn about the education pathways recommended for becoming a veterinarian. Find out about programs, course requirements and licensing, in addition to career options, employment outlook, salary info and continuing education.
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). After graduating and becoming licensed, vets have the choice to pursue research, obtain board certification in one or more of 40 veterinary specialties or seek another career related to veterinary studies.
Bachelor's Degree Programs with Pre-Veterinary Options
Aspiring veterinarians typically examine the prerequisites of their chosen vet school and tailor their undergraduate education accordingly. 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, math, physics and chemistry. Additional coursework could include:
- Animal science
- Molecular biology
- Organic and inorganic chemistry
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
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.
All veterinary medicine programs require substantial prerequisite coursework in the sciences and liberal arts for admission, but a bachelor's degree may not strictly be required. In some cases, veterinary programs may accept students who have completed as little as three years of undergraduate study, as long as they have completed the proper prerequisite coursework. Veterinary schools vary in their requirements, but common prerequisites include biology, chemistry, physics, math and English.
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
- Animal nutrition
- Small and large animal surgery
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of veterinarians from 2008-2018 is expected to increase by 33% (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 2010, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for veterinarians was $82,040.
Continuing Education and Licensure
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.
Some veterinarians pursue board certification, which requires 3-4 years of residency in a specialized area. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there are 40 recognized specialties (www.avma.org). Almost all states require continuing education credits for licensed veterinarians.
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.
Veterinary schools vary in their requirements for admission to these programs. Some schools require students to have earned a bachelor's degree, while others only admit students who have already been accepted into their DVM degree program.
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 these courses:
- Infectious diseases
- Specialized research
- Public health
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.
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