The path to becoming a veterinarian is a long one, generally consisting of four years of undergraduate work and four years of graduate work in addition to a possible internship and residency period. Ultimately though, it can lead to an extremely rewarding career.
How to Become a Veterinarian: Overview
Veterinarians are healthcare workers specializing in veterinary medicine, which includes care for pets, competition animals, laboratory animals and livestock. Prospective professionals in this field must complete an undergraduate program focusing on biology or pre-veterinary study followed by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. Some new graduates complete a supervised internship with an established veterinary practice. Others become proficient in a specialty area through a residency period of several years. All states require that veterinarians be licensed, which involves obtaining a veterinarian degree and passing a national examination.
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
To become a veterinarian, a candidate must earn a DVM from an accredited college or university. Many veterinary school graduates go on to complete 1-year, unpaid internships under supervision. As post-graduate students, veterinarians can also complete 3-4 year residencies if they wish to become board certified in a specialty area of veterinary medicine.
Admission to veterinary schools can be very competitive, with far more applicants than the number of spots available. As of 2019, the United States had only 30 accredited schools of veterinary medicine. Thus, it is beneficial to know veterinarian requirements and prerequisites and to begin preparing early for applying.
DVM program applicants must submit GRE scores, letters of recommendation, essays and academic transcripts. A bachelor's degree isn't necessarily required in order to enter a veterinary program, but applicants must have a designated number of undergraduate credit hours completed. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most applicants hold a bachelor's degree. Many veterinary schools also look for candidates who have experience working or volunteering in veterinary clinics or similar settings; some schools even require a certain number of hours in this type of work.
The curriculum for veterinary medicine students includes classroom-based lectures, seminars and lab work. Coursework focuses on animal health, animal behavior, anesthesiology and veterinary ethics. To gain hands-on experience, candidates participate in clinical rotations during the third and fourth years of the DVM program. Clinicals allow students to explore various areas of veterinary medicine, like small animal surgery, emergency care for animals, and dermatology.
Licensing is required in all states before veterinarians can practice. To obtain licensure, an individual must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). This computer-based test is offered during two separate periods each year at Prometric testing sites. Students have 6.5 hours to complete the 360 multiple-choice questions of the NAVLE. In addition, aspiring veterinarians may be required to take state-administered exams.
Veterinarian Job Overview
|Required Education||Doctor of Veterinary Medicine|
|Licensing||All states require licensing|
|Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)*||19%|
|Median Salary (2018)*||$93,830|
Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Veterinarian employment is expected to grow 19% from 2016-2026, according to the BLS. The limited number of new veterinarians and the fact that most choose to work with companion animals contribute to employment growth within the field, especially in large animal care and government positions.
Most veterinarians work in professional, scientific and technical services, in addition to social advocacy organizations, universities and government agencies. As of May 2018, veterinarians earned a median annual wage of $93,830, according to the BLS.
With only 30 schools in the U.S. with accredited DVM programs, competition for acceptance can be intense. Licensure requirements vary by state, but in order to practice in any state, DVMs must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. The American Veterinary Medicine Association currently offers certifications in 40 specialties, which require additional amounts of experience and residency periods.