How to Become a Veterinarian

When most people think of animal doctors, they think of veterinarians. Veterinarians make the ultimate time investment when it comes to animal healthcare education. Unlike veterinary technologists, technicians and assistants, there is no limit to what procedures vets can perform, within the scope of their knowledge.

Prior to pursuing this career, it is important to understand how to become a veterinarian, as preparing for the career is rigorous academically, and involves a significant time commitment. In fact, veterinarians must learn and apply an in-depth knowledge of anatomy, physiology and surgical techniques to provide the best quality of care for animals. In a small, private practice, they often act as the key manager and often make financial and human resource decisions. Vet techs and assistants help the veterinarian with a variety of duties, preparing both humans and pets for routine check-ups, tests and surgeries, providing some basic care, and assisting during more advanced procedures. The vet’s main responsibility is to accurately diagnose and treat animals so that they can have long, happy lives.

Skills & Personality Traits of the Successful Veterinarian

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, there are 5 key personality traits that good veterinarians have. They must be compassionate in order to help animals and owners to work through sometimes-traumatic medical events. In addition, the best veterinarians have excellent people skills like open communication, honesty and integrity. Veterinarians are often leaders in their practice, and should fulfill their leadership responsibilities with care. This includes treating employees with fairness and respect as well as having high expectations for their work. Finally, good vets are able to clearly identify problems and find reasonable, and sometimes creative, solutions.

There are a number of technical and physical skills that will benefit veterinarians as well. The most successful vets are able to memorize quickly. This is very important for remembering diseases and treatments when reference material is not close by. O*Net , 2013 states that vets must learn how to operate highly advanced medical equipment such as clamps, injecting devices, animal husbandry machines and veterinary software.

Not only that, but veterinarians often manage their own practice, which means they have all the responsibilities of any small business owner. Marketing, customer service and training are all elements that must be decided at least in part by the veterinarian. Through skills of monitoring, critical thinking and complex problem solving, veterinarians attempt to keep their practice growing and animals from suffering unnecessarily.

Role Requirements of a Veterinarian

How To Become a Veterinarian – Education

Education is the foundation for any good veterinary practice. Before students even consider applying for one of the 28 U.S. veterinary schools approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), there are years of basic work that must be completed.

Most veterinarians begin by taking high school level courses in science and mathematics. Then, they complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree in a pre-medical field like biology or chemistry. Since there are only 2,400 openings and over 6,000 applications each year, it is vital that your grades remain high if you want to be a veterinarian. Many colleges are especially interested in the grades for the last 2 years of an undergraduate degree, as they are often the most rigorous.

Once you have been accepted into a vet medical school based on your transcripts, recommendations and Graduate Records Examination (GRE), the real education begins. According to Illinois University, a typical first or second-year student takes 18-22 credit hours per semester and goes to school from 8am to 5pm at night. In addition, they spend over 30 hours a week on homework and exam preparation.

After the requirements for a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVT) degree are met at an AVMA-approved college, you will be required to take a series of tests. Although each state is different, most will require the National Board Examination (NBE) or the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) provided by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (NBVME). You must also pass a Jurisprudence exam that covers specific medical and legal aspects of the state in which you plan on making your practice.

How To Become a Veterinarian – Experience

Although education is vital to success as a veterinarian, experience is even more important. It is a good idea to start volunteering in animal shelters and veterinary clinics as early as possible. This allows you get an idea of what the career is all about, and also gives you excellent experiences that may give you an edge on getting into veterinary school. The University of Washington suggests that prospective veterinary students will have the best chance for being admitted if they have professional experiences in veterinary clinics or hospitals in addition to community involvement and conducting live animal research.

Once accepted into veterinary school, all AVMA-accredited programs require at least one full year of clinical training experience in order to complete the doctoral degree. This usually happens after the first 2 years of core education regarding systems is completed. At this time, students begin to shadow veterinarians and learn with real animals. In the final years of the degree, veterinary students choose from externships at clinics, private practices and shelters in order to complete the experience portion of their degree.

Different Paths / Steps to Becoming a Veterinarian

The path to becoming a veterinarian is a long, straight one. Students who have a background in biological science and medical courses can apply for admittance into DVM programs, but the competition is so fierce that they must also have a very strong background in animal experiences to even be considered. Those who have completed certificates in veterinary assisting or Associates degrees in Animal Science or Veterinary Technology may have a better chance, as long as they fully complete the requirements of the undergraduate degree program.

Still, there are a few veterinary schools that offer combined Bachelor’s and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degrees. Tufts University allows sophomores completing the prerequisite science courses for the veterinary degree the opportunity to apply to the DVM program. Those accepted are guaranteed a spot after they complete their undergraduate degree. Fairleigh-Dickinson University offers an accelerated program that guarantees enrolled DVM and B.S. degree students to finish in 7 years rather than 8.

After completing the DVM degree, there are three main options for potential veterinarians: private or public practice, specialization rotation or a completing a Ph.D. degree. A majority of veterinarians go into private practice or take jobs working with governmental animal control agencies. Those who choose to go into a specialty must complete 1-3 years of additional training, but often make higher wages than non-specialist vets. They must pass specialty exams in addition to this extra coursework in order to be certified by one of the specialty organizations that the AVMA recognizes. Finally, those who pursue the Ph.D. track are usually focused on doing research that helps support the technological advancement of veterinary science. This additional degree takes 1-3 years to complete.

Barry Franklin (Editor)

Barry is the Managing Editor of VetTechColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Previously, Barry served as a VP at a Silicon Valley software company. In addition to running editorial operations at Sechel, Barry also serves on the Board of Trustees at a local K-8 school, and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University. He presently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his family and their black maltipoo.