How to Become a Veterinarian: Education and Career Roadmap

Oct 30, 2020

How do you become a veterinarian? Check out a job description and learn about the education, licensing, and skill requirements to become a veterinarian.

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Should I Become a Veterinarian?

Veterinarians prevent and treat illnesses and injuries in animals. They might specialize in a type of veterinary medicine, such as surgery, and/or a group of animals, such as horses, dogs, or wildlife. They often work very long hours, and many make themselves available for emergency situations. Check out the information below to help you decide whether you should become a veterinarian.

Veterinarian Job Duties

A veterinarian's duties include diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medications, performing surgery, giving vaccinations, and providing health care recommendations to pet owners. Veterinarians may also collect animal tissue samples for research purposes in areas such as biomedical sciences.

Veterinarian Career Requirements

The requirements to become a veterinarian include a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine, and you must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam to earn licensure. There may be additional licensure requirements specific to each state. Employers may have different experience requirements.

Veterinarian Skills

The keys skills you'll need in order to become a veterinarian include critical thinking, complex problem solving, decision making, speaking, and active listening. You'll also need proficiency with scientific software, and physical dexterity to use X-ray, surgical, and laboratory equipment. Veterinarians need medical knowledge of animal behavior and anatomy in order to interact with and treat their patients effectively.

A veterinarian provides care for a dog.

How to Become a Veterinarian

  1. Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program
  2. Earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
  3. Become Licensed
  4. Gain Experience
  5. Become Certified in a Specialty
  6. Join a Professional Association

Here are more details on the above steps that you can take to become a veterinarian:

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Most schools of veterinary medicine require or prefer applicants to have a bachelor's degree. While many students earn their degree in a biological science, most veterinary schools don't have a preferred major as long as certain science courses are taken. These courses typically include general biology, chemistry, physics, and math. Some schools may require some more advanced science courses, such as mammalogy, biochemistry, or animal behavior.

There are other things you can do while earning a Bachelor's Degree that can help prepare you to become a vet. Participate in volunteer programs or internships in the veterinary field. Volunteering or interning at veterinary clinics or other animal care facilities can give you an idea of what the job of a veterinarian is really like. Many veterinary programs require some experience working with animals, and volunteering can fulfill this requirement or make a student more competitive when applying. You can use these experiences to show dedication to the field of animal care and gain professional references.

Join a pre-veterinary club. Pre-professional clubs that focus on veterinary medicine are available at many schools. These clubs may have meetings where members discuss career topics, shadowing programs, and resources for volunteer or internship experience. Some also offer the chance to apply for scholarships that are only offered to members.

Take the GRE. Many schools of veterinary medicine require applicants to submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. This exam measures a person's readiness for graduate-level studies.

Step 2: Earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

Each successive year in a program of veterinary medicine builds upon the previous year's curriculum. The first year or two may focus on science subjects like animal anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and virology. These and related courses lay the basic framework for understanding veterinary medicine. Some courses might be specific to an animal group.

The third year may focus on clinical studies in which students come into contact with living animals and practice using the knowledge and skills they've gained in the previous two years to make diagnoses and recommend possible treatments. The fourth year is usually spent participating in applied experiences, such as practicums or externships.

Get involved in research projects. Some programs offer students the opportunity to be involved in research while studying for their degree. This experience may be helpful in understanding certain aspects of the veterinary field and can open up opportunities to work in research rather than a clinical setting.

Step 3: Become a Licensed Veterinarian

Graduates of accredited programs of veterinary medicine must be licensed to practice in the field. All states require that graduates successfully pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam; additional state-specific exams may also be required.

Step 4: Gain Experience

After becoming licensed, you might choose to gain further practical and specialized experience in the field by interning for a year before applying for a more permanent position. The majority of veterinarians work with small companion animals in private clinics. A smaller percentage of veterinarians choose to specialize in working with equines or other large animals, exotic animals, or zoo animals.

Step 5: Become Certified in a Specialty Area

To be eligible for certification in a specialty field, such as internal medicine or surgery, you must have completed either a residency or additional education. Residency programs involve multiple years working at a specified location where a veterinarian receives supervised training in his or her chosen specialty.

Step 6: Join a Professional Veterinarian Association

National and state associations exist for veterinarians. Membership benefits may include access to newsletters, professional connections, published literature on the latest veterinary topic, and resources for continuing education.

Veterinarian Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for veterinarians in May 2019 was $95,460. Veterinarians have a similar median salary to nurse practitioners, and becoming a veterinarian is considered a lucrative employment option in the medical field.

Veterinarian Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that veterinary jobs in the United States will increase by around 16% by 2029, with around 14,200 jobs opening up. This is a higher than average growth, indicating that veterinarians in the United States currently have a very good job outlook.

Expert Contributor: Stephanie Flansburg-Cruz Stephanie has an MA in science and MVZ in veterinary medicine. She has worked in small animal and equine medicine and veterinary surgery.

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