Individuals interested in working in veterinary medicine may complete undergraduate degree programs that lead to careers as veterinary technicians or technologists. Doctoral programs provide preparation for veterinarian careers. Program lengths vary from two to four years, with admission requirements ranging from a high school diploma or its equivalent to extensive math and science prerequisites for entry into a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. Hands-on training and clinical experiences are included in all programs, with graduates being prepared for certification and/or licensure in their respective professions. Online coursework is available in some programs.
Associate's Degree in Veterinary Technology
An associate's program in veterinary technology usually takes two years to complete and prepares individuals for work as veterinary technicians. The degree granted may be an Associate of Science or an Associate of Applied Science, depending on the school's preference. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) accredits veterinarian-related programs. Students gain skills in animal care and laboratory procedures. They're trained to assume job duties that include taking blood samples, performing X-rays, assisting with surgery and providing care to sick or injured animals. Most programs prepare students to work with pets, but they might provide some training in farm animal care.
To be admitted into an associate's program in veterinary technology, students typically must meet minimum age requirements and have a high school diploma or GED. Some schools may prefer students who have a strong background in English, biology, and mathematics. Topics covered in a program include:
- Veterinary hospital functions
- Veterinary terminology
- Anesthesia procedures
- Animal parasitology
- Canine medical topics
- Feline medical topics
Bachelor's Degree in Veterinary Technology
Schools might grant Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Applied Science degrees. Completing a 4-year program better qualifies individuals for a research job, per the BLS. These programs might also serve as graduate school preparation for aspiring veterinarians. Students are instructed in biological science and veterinary practice, and they learn how to work with companion and research animals. They can study new procedures in animal disease prevention, biomedical treatment, and nursing. Programs may provide students with the option to focus on research, clinical practice, or hospital management.
Due to the extensive laboratory and clinical work done in a bachelor's program, admission typically requires having medical insurance and providing proof of up-to-date immunizations. Some schools may have further requirements, including the ability to lift 50 pounds, proven skills working with animals and no limitations on sight, hearing or movement that will interfere with regular program activities. While there will be some traditional courses in the classroom, many classes are held in a laboratory or clinical setting to provide students with hands-on experience. The curriculum commonly covers subjects like:
- Veterinary pharmacology
- Veterinary radiology
- Farm animal medical care
- Veterinary hematology
- Animal behavior
- Animal nutrition
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) is required for any individual who wants to work as a veterinarian. In a DVM program, students explore veterinary medicine and animal science topics to gain a thorough understanding of animal biological systems, veterinary medicine procedures, and technology. Students in a DVM program train to diagnose and treat the diseases and injuries of large and small animals. They also learn to perform surgery on animals, set fractures, and treat wounds. Most DVM programs can be completed within four years.
Applicants to most DVM programs must meet certain course prerequisites, which typically include chemistry, physics, statistics, biology and biochemistry. Some schools require scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT).
The first part of a DVM program is usually focused on classroom and laboratory work. After taking basic animal care courses, students might enroll in classes that emphasize particular animals, such as pet birds, wild safari animals, horses, sheep or ornamental fish. The second part of a program is typically spent in a veterinary facility, working alongside veterinarians. Some common topics covered in a program include:
- Veterinary virology
- Large animal medicine
- Small animal medicine
- Animal surgery methods
- Canine specialty medicine
Popular Career Options
Graduates of a bachelor's program can pursue a veterinary technologist career. They may work in a veterinary hospital, rescue shelter, or zoo. Graduates of a DVM program typically seek veterinarian positions, often being employed as veterinarians in animal hospitals and clinics. They might also find work in research labs, studying contemporary animal and human health issues and disease prevention. Some other possible employers include:
- Veterinary technology research labs
- Veterinary pharmaceutical companies
- Boarding kennels
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median earned salary for veterinary technicians and technologists was $31,800. The BLS also notes that the median annual salary for a veterinarian was $88,490 in 2015. Salaries vary depending on the type of animals treated and the size and location of the animal care facility.
According to the BLS, employment of veterinary technicians is expected to rise 19% between 2014 and 2024, while veterinarian employment opportunities are expected to increase 9% during the same time.
Continuing Education Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most states require veterinary technicians to complete an AMVA-approved program and become registered, certified or licensed (www.bls.gov). Credentialing is typically granted after the passing of an exam that tests skills and knowledge. Most testing is done through a state's veterinary examiners board or similar agency. Certification requirements for veterinary technologists are very similar to those of technicians. The BLS also stated that employers in research facilities usually require applicants to hold certification from the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science.
Veterinarians may wish to specialize in a particular type of animal care, such as exotic animal medicine, cardiology, nutrition or critical care, requiring additional training. Vets can complete a residency program of their choice and then become board certified in their specialty, according to the BLS.
Veterinarians must be state-licensed in order to practice. Though licensure requirements vary somewhat by state, all states require candidates to hold a DVM and pass the 8-hour North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Other requirements may include passing a clinical test and an exam on state-specific veterinary regulations and laws. After obtaining their licenses, practicing veterinarians are usually required to participate in continuing education through seminars and other means to stay on top of current issues and advances in the field of veterinary medicine.
Those pursuing associate's or bachelor's degrees in veterinary sciences can seek careers as veterinary technicians and technologists, while aspiring veterinarians need to attain a doctoral degree as well as state licensure to practice.