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How to Become a Veterinarian


Veterinarians are doctors who provide health care to animals, including pets, zoo animals, livestock, and other working animals. They may see their patients in offices or animal hospitals or travel to farms and other locations to see them.

Veterinarians examine and observe animals, take medical histories, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medicine, and perform surgeries and other medical procedures. With the right education and training, veterinarians may also work in research, food safety, wildlife conservation, or genetic engineering.

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What kind of training is required to become a veterinarian?

Veterinarians must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Preparation for veterinary school starts in high school when students are choosing colleges. There are only 30 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States and admission to these schools is very competitive. Prospective veterinarians can gain an edge by putting together an impressive undergraduate record at a prestigious college, including high grades in science courses. Veterinary schools also consider Graduate Record Exam or Medical College Admissions Test scores plus experience working or volunteering with animals.

DVM students spend the first half of their program completing coursework in topics like anatomy and physiology, human-animal relationships, feeding, reproduction, immunology, pathology, parasitology, toxicology, and pharmacology. Students also learn about the history and practice of veterinary medicine, including ethics, examining patients, diagnostic imaging, and performing surgery. Many DVM programs also emphasize research, and students in these programs learn how to interpret and conduct veterinary research.

The final part of a DVM program involves completing several clinical rotations. Students must complete a set number of required rotations that may include small and large animal medicine and surgery, radiology and imaging, anesthesiology, dermatology, emergency care, wildlife medicine, and cardiology. Students are also expected to complete elective rotations and may choose a path like small animal, equine, exotic, or zoo and wildlife care.

After graduation, many veterinarians complete internships or residencies to gain additional training before starting their careers. The American Association of Veterinary Clinicians sponsors a resident matching program (the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program) that allows veterinarians to browse residency and internship opportunities and possibly be matched with one that fits their interests and needs.

Are there any certification or licensure requirements?

Veterinarians must be licensed to practice in their state. Most states require veterinarians to complete an accredited DVM program and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.

How long does it take to become a veterinarian?

It can take eight years to graduate from veterinary school, including four years of undergraduate study and four years of graduate study. It may take additional time for veterinarians to begin working if they take additional time to earn their state license or complete a residency or internship after graduation.

What does a veterinarian earn?

The median yearly pay for veterinarians in the United States was $84,460 in 2012. The top ten percent of earners in this field made more than $144,100 and the lowest ten percent earned less than $51,530 that year.

What are the job prospects?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of veterinarians in the United States will increase by 12 percent between 2012 and 2020, about as fast as the growth for all other occupations.

The BLS warns that competition for veterinary jobs is high due to the large number of veterinary graduates on the market. Veterinarians who work with farm animals or in nontraditional areas like public health and disease control may have better prospects than those going into companion animal care.

What are the long term career prospects for veterinarians?

Most veterinarians work in private practice companion animal care. Veterinarians who succeed at a private practice and have good business and management skills may eventually own their own successful practice.

Veterinarians may also advance their careers by focusing on a specialty. The American Board of Veterinary Specialties recognizes 41 veterinary specialties and 22 veterinary specialty organizations. These organizations grant certifications to veterinarians who complete additional training and gain the experience necessary to be recognized as a specialist in that area. Veterinarians may specialize in treating a certain type of animal or in a medical specialty like anesthesiology, dermatology, or emergency care.

Some veterinarians may also go into higher education and train future veterinarians.

How can I find a job as a veterinarian?

Veterinarians can look for jobs with private practices or with state and federal governments. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers advice to those who are seeking jobs with the federal government and suggests looking for open positions related to wildlife and conservation, general health and veterinary medical science, physical science, and inspection, investigation, enforcement, and compliance.

As with any job search, networking is very important. Veterinarians should make many professional contacts through their clinical rotations, and those contacts may be helpful for finding and securing open positions.

How can I learn more about becoming a veterinarian?

Professional associations like the American Veterinary Medical Association and the numerous veterinary specialty organizations it recognizes offer information about the practice of veterinary medicine, becoming a veterinarian, and running a veterinary practice.

You may also be able to meet and speak with a veterinarian in your area who can tell you about his or her career path and work life.

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