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Becoming a Veterinarian: Majors & Post-Graduate Degree Programs

Jun 15, 2021

Veterinarian Major

Wondering what major do you need to be a veterinarian? While there are no real specific veterinary majors, there are many undergraduate majors that are available for graduate school admission and also specialization as a veterinarian. It's usually a great idea to study a science field, but undergraduates actually have a range of choices when it comes to majors; they can study liberal arts or even English prior to pursuing their graduate degree.

Aspiring veterinarians typically examine the prerequisites of their chosen vet school and tailor their undergraduate education accordingly. However, some 4-year schools do offer undergraduate students a curriculum with a pre-vet track.


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 a DVM degree. 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. Students should note that DVM programs do require a background in biology, chemistry, physics, math, and English. Veterinary school preparation also involves plenty of classes in biochemistry, organic chemistry, zoology, anatomy, and physiology. If you feel that you haven't received quite enough training in biology, chemistry, or the animal sciences as an undergrad, you might choose to earn your master's degree in one of those fields before applying to vet school.

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.

At most veterinary colleges, students have the option of simultaneously earning both a DVM degree and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree. Those graduates who wish to pursue work with specific animal populations can obtain addition education in one of 20 AVMA-recognized specialities like radiology, pathology, surgery, or laboratory animal medicine. These typically can be obtained with a two-year internship. Veterinarians seeking board certification in a specialized field must also complete a three- to four-year residency program in their specific area of specialization.

In order to practice as a veterinarian, you must be licensed by your state. The majority of states also require potential veterinarians to pass a state jurisprudence examination covering state regulations and laws.

What majors then can students choose if they are tailoring their undergrad education? Let's look at the options for bachelor's degree programs with pre-veterinary options. In pre-veterinary studies, students commonly focus on subjects like biology, physiology and anatomy, math, physics, and chemistry. Additional coursework could include:

  • Animal science
  • Nutrition
  • 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 2019 to 2029 is expected to increase by 16%. This growth may be attributed to greater veterinary options through advances in technology, as well as a greater national emphasis on pet care. In 2019, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for veterinarians was $95,460.

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.

Students who want to become veterinarians should look into choosing a bachelor's degree that pairs well with veterinary school. Once students complete their DVM, they can go on to obtain licensure in the state they plan on practicing in.

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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