Bachelor's degree programs in veterinary science are usually geared toward those who plan to pursue a graduate degree, although graduates may work as animal keepers, veterinary assistants or veterinary technologists. A master's degree program in veterinary science is available as a standalone program or as a combined program with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. A DVM program prepares students to become licensed veterinarians and includes research, laboratory work and clinical rotations. Those who want a doctoral degree and would rather work in veterinary research than medicine may pursue a doctoral degree in veterinary studies.
Bachelor's Degree in Veterinary Science
Bachelor's degree programs in veterinary studies are often designed as pre-veterinary programs that provide training to students who intend to become veterinarians. Undergraduate programs may also prepare students for graduate school or careers in the animal industry. Veterinary studies bachelor's degree programs have a strong foundation in basic sciences and provide instruction in animal health, welfare, and nutrition, including common illnesses and rare diseases. Bachelor's degree programs are often offered through the agricultural or animal science colleges or universities.
Many undergraduate veterinary studies programs do not have additional admission requirements beyond those required by the educational institution, which typically include submission of high school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores. High school coursework in biology, algebra and chemistry is often helpful to veterinary students.
Bachelor's degree programs in veterinary studies focus on science and lab work related to animal science. In addition to math, physics, biology, and chemistry, students learn about various types of animals, their anatomy and diseases that affect them. Course topics may include:
- Animal parasite biology
- Livestock and companion animal diseases
- Molecular virology
- Genetics of microorganisms
- Microbial-host interactions
Master's Degrees in Veterinary Science
Master's degree programs in veterinary science typically take two years to complete and often focus on a particular area, such as animal anatomy and physiology, pathology, microbiology, radiological health sciences, or biomedicine. Master's degree programs may also focus on nonmedical issues, such as public policy regarding animal welfare. Some master's degree programs are combined with Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) programs and offer a concentration in a particular area, such as biomedical research, neuroscience, oncology, epidemiology, bioethics, and environmental health. Combined programs may take five years or more to complete.
A bachelor's degree with coursework in organic chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics and biological sciences is typically required for admission to graduate veterinary studies programs. A minimum grade point average and letters of recommendation are usually required as well.
Master's degree coursework in veterinary studies programs often combines lecture classes, lab experience, and the completion of a research report or thesis. Students become familiar with laboratory techniques and research methods, learn to identify infectious diseases, and take advanced courses in animal physiology and anatomy. Course topics may include:
- Disease mechanisms
- Molecular biology
- Animal genetics
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree
According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), there are 28 accredited veterinary colleges in the United States. Veterinary school takes four years to complete and requires a combination of classroom instruction, laboratory work, research and clinical rotations. Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) programs train large and small animal health care providers as well as research scientists. Some schools offer concurrent master's degrees and Ph.D.s along with a DVM degree. Veterinarians can pursue careers in private practice, food safety, wildlife medicine, animal surgery, epidemiology, and disease control.
While it is not always necessary to complete a bachelor's degree for acceptance to veterinary school, most schools require the completion of undergraduate coursework in calculus, organic chemistry, genetics, physics and biochemistry. Admission to veterinary school is very competitive, requiring a high undergraduate grade point average and several letters of recommendation. Most veterinary colleges require Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores; however, a few may require Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores. Many programs also require applicants to have experience working with animals as an employee or volunteer at an animal shelter, zoo, farm, or in a vet's office.
The first three years of a 4-year veterinary doctoral program are often devoted to coursework in science, medical practice and research, including medicine for small animals, equine medicine, clinical pathology, radiobiology, diagnostic imaging, neurobiology and surgery principles. The final year provides an opportunity for hands-on clinical rotations in a variety of areas, including:
- Emergency medical care
Doctorate Degree Programs in Veterinary Studies
Doctoral programs in veterinary studies provide in-depth coursework in research disciplines related to animal science. Veterinary Ph.D. programs can be completed in about four years; however, some schools offer combined DVM and Ph.D. programs that can be completed in six years. In addition to coursework and lab experience, programs may also include a residency and dissertation requirement.
A master's degree in veterinary sciences or a related field may be required for admittance to veterinary doctorate programs. However, some institutions offer Ph.D. programs in veterinary studies concurrently with DVM and master's degree programs. Students may be admitted to these programs without a master's degree if they have completed prerequisite coursework at the undergraduate or graduate level. Required coursework typically includes biological sciences, organic chemistry, statistics, calculus and physics.
Doctoral programs may focus on a variety of areas, including biomedical sciences, reproductive biology, vaccine development, environmental medicine, public health, nutrition, or informatics. Classes could include:
- Vascular system biology
Popular Career Options
A bachelor's degree in veterinary studies can qualify graduates for some animal care and research positions, as well as entry-level management, sales and administration careers in animal-related industries. Career options may include:
- Pet pharmaceuticals sales representative
- Animal welfare organization administrator
- Pet food development
- Livestock product management
- Veterinary assistant
- Veterinary technician or technologist
Master's degree programs in veterinary studies prepare students for careers that include education, research, public health and conservation. Career options may include:
- Animal biotechnologist
- Animal product development
- Veterinary genetic research
- Cell culture specialization
Students who complete Ph.D. programs in veterinary studies often pursue research careers, in which they compete for federal funds and grants. Those who also complete DVM degrees may work as research veterinarians. Other job titles may include:
- Veterinary medicine independent investigator
- Veterinary pathologist
- Food production development specialist
- Professor of veterinary medicine
- Senior biotechnologist
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted job growth of 9% for veterinarians throughout the 2014-2024 decade. The BLS has attributed the projected growth to a greater demand for nontraditional veterinary services such as preventive medicine, transplant surgery, cancer treatment, and dental care. Most veterinarians work in private practice, while smaller numbers work for educational institutions, research labs and government agencies. The median annual salary for veterinarians in May 2015 was $88,490, the BLS stated.
Continuing Education Information
After completing a DVM degree, students often participate in internship and residency training programs, which may be offered in specific disciplines, such as small and large animal practices, equine medicine, or biomedical sciences. According to the BLS, veterinarians must obtain licensure in all states in order to practice. Licensure requirements typically include a DVM degree and a passing grade on the North American Veterinary Licensing exam.
Students looking to study veterinary science will have a plethora of subjects to consider amidst programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Degree holders tend to work in animal care, research, education and public health.