Become an Animal Specialist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an animal specialist. Research the education requirements, licensure information and experience required for starting a career in veterinary animal health. View article »

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  • 0:05 Should I Be an Animal…
  • 1:09 Choose a Specialty
  • 1:35 Take Animal Science Courses
  • 2:42 Obtain a Professional Degree
  • 3:30 Get Licensed & Find a Position
  • 4:08 Consider Earning Certification

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Video Transcript

Should I Be an Animal Specialist?

While animal specialists can choose between several different career paths, many choose to become veterinarians. Most veterinarians specialize in a certain class of animals, such as companions, livestock, or zoo animals. They generally treat animal wounds, vaccinate against disease, and perform other preventative measures.

Many veterinarians work in animal clinics, but some travel to see animals, especially larger ones. Veterinarians need to have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and also must be licensed. This is often a well-paying career. In addition to having strong decision-making and problem-solving skills, veterinarians should have compassion for their animal patients and knowledge of various diagnostics and surgical tools and procedures.

As of May 2015, the median salary per year for veterinarians was $88,490, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, treating ill, mistreated, or dying animals can also be emotionally stressful, and veterinarians run the risk of being bitten or scratched by animals that are scared or injured.

Choose a Specialty

Veterinarians typically choose an area of specialty when it comes to their career pathway. Many focus on disease prevention, animal maintenance, or animal research. Work environments vary based on specialization. For instance, veterinarians who specialize in large animals tend to travel directly to their patients. Comparatively, those who work with small animals usually run clinics to which owners bring their companion animals for services.

Take Animal Science Courses

Before going to veterinary school, most programs require applicants to have taken prerequisite undergraduate courses. While this does not always involve getting a bachelor's degree, most veterinary schools prefer applicants who have a bachelor's degree to those who do not. Individuals who choose to earn a bachelor's degree may want to consider majoring in animal science, biology, or wildlife science.

Some colleges have pre-veterinary course guides, but these do not always result in a bachelor's degree. Each veterinary school has different course prerequisites, and not all pre-veterinary programs meet these requirements. Commonly required coursework includes multiple classes in biology, chemistry, and physics. Many universities recommend additional courses, such as anatomy, animal nutrition, biochemistry, genetics, and statistics.

To help with finding future employment, students should consider finding an entry-level job in a veterinary setting while in school. Many prospective veterinarians choose to begin working in a veterinary setting while they are still enrolled in their degree programs. This facilitates experience and can help craft a solid understanding of the field.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Animal Health Sciences
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  • Dairy Science
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  • Livestock Management
  • Poultry Science

Obtain a Professional Degree

A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree program usually takes four years to complete. Admission to these programs is highly competitive, so having prior experience working with animals in a veterinary-type setting can help. The first two to three years are spent in the classroom with courses such as anatomy, pharmacology, toxicology, and general pathology.

During the last one to two years of the program, most students participate in clinical experiences, which involve treating real patients while under close supervision. Some schools offer the option of a combined degree program, such as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree paired with a master's degree in business administration. Applicants in a DVM program must typically submit passing test scores from the medical college admission test or the veterinary college admission test.

Get Licensed & Find a Position

Each state requires that practicing veterinarians be licensed. Although licensure requirements vary by state, almost all states require applicants to possess a DVM degree, or equivalent, and to have passed the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. Additionally, some states require that veterinarians participate in continuing education courses in order to renew their licenses. Other requirements vary state to state.

After completing their education requirements and obtaining licensure, veterinarians can begin practicing. Many seek employment with established animal clinics and hospitals, while others open their own veterinary practices.

Consider Earning Certification

While certification is not mandatory for veterinarians, it may demonstrate expertise and play a role in creating advancement opportunities. The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners offers a certification program that involves completing continuing education and an exam in specialized areas of veterinary expertise.

Remember that many animal specialists go on to become veterinarians who typically need to choose a specialty, earn a DVM, and get licensed to begin caring for animals.

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