To pursue a veterinary career, what should be done in high school?
Take as many courses in biology, math, and other sciences (including chemistry, physics, and anatomy and physiology) as you can manage while in high school – this will help you prepare for your college courses, and also help you decide if this is the right path for you.
Ask a veterinarian if they would be able to mentor you as you choose which veterinary path you want to follow. Most veterinarians are interested in helping future veterinarians learn about the profession.
Volunteer or work for a veterinarian. You can work for a veterinarian who does what you hope to do, or with one who does something different so you can get exposed to something new.
Volunteer your services to an animal shelter organization, farm, wildlife center, aquarium, or zoo in order to gain hands-on experience with animals. Gain experiences that will give you a wide variety of exposure to different animals – it’s also a very positive addition to your college application form.
Be active in your school and your class and get involved in student government associations and other organizations that help you develop your communication skills and teach you to be a leader.
Once I’m in college, what makes someone a good candidate for veterinary school?
Each veterinary school has its own requirements for admission, including the minimum courses that must be completed before you are considered for admission. However, many of the requirements overlap. Basic required classes include biology, chemistry, physics, organic chemistry, and biochemistry. To find out more about the requirements for a specific veterinary school, call the school’s admissions office or visit their website. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) has a website with more information and links to each US veterinary school.
A common rule is that it’s better to be over-prepared rather than just fulfilling the minimum requirements. Veterinary school classes are made up of a wide range of people with widely varied backgrounds, and having as good an education as possible coming into veterinary school can help prepare you for the tough, but rewarding, road ahead.
As recommended for students in high school who are interested in veterinary medicine, college undergraduates are also encouraged to take as many science courses possible so that you can enter veterinary school fully prepared. Along with the suggested undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, math and physics, courses in communications, language skills, humanities and social sciences can also benefit you. Other courses such as microbiology, histology, anatomy and physiology, and zoology can also be of great help and give you a “leg up” on your education.
Isn’t it impossible to gain admittance to veterinary school?
Myth: “A student must have a cumulative GPA close to 4.0 on a 4.0 grading scale in order to be seriously considered for admission to the study of veterinary medicine.”
There’s no doubt that a high GPA can help you, because it indicates that you are smart and you work hard, study, and learn well. But it’s not the only thing that matters. Veterinary schools evaluate the credentials of an applicant as a “whole person” rather than only considering their level of academic achievement; this is where experience, communication and leadership skills are very helpful.
Myth: “It is harder to get into veterinary medical school than it is to get into human medical school.”
Actually this is not a myth. There are only 29 schools of veterinary medicine in North America while there are more than 160 schools for the study of human medicine. Each year there are approximately 21,000 applications for 2,500 – 2,600 slots for entering DVM students. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible; it just means that the schools are admitting the best applicants they get. By having a solid academic record, animal and veterinary experience, and leadership skills, you ARE that “best applicant.”
What should a veterinary student expect?
A student in veterinary school will have a strong medical- and science-based curriculum with all of its associated challenges. During the first two years of study students take anywhere from 17 – 22 semester hours of science course work per semester. You can expect to attend class from 8:00 a.m. in the morning to about 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. during the week, and then expect an average of 35 more hours of homework. It’s important to remember that every student who wants to become a veterinarian has to work extremely hard to reach this goal.
What about AFTER veterinary school?
After finishing the required veterinary degree, you can be a practicing veterinarian once you have passed the national exam and the exam for the state in which you’re going to practice veterinary medicine. Many students choose this path.
Other students choose to get more education and training to get more experience or specialize in a certain field. Internships are one-year programs that offer clinical experience with supervision and additional training by an experienced veterinarian or specialist. Residency programs are usually 2- or 3-year programs that provide in-depth exposure and experience in a specific field, and often include Master’s or Ph.D. coursework as well. Specialty areas include surgery, animal behavior, dentistry, cardiology, radiology, internal medicine, anesthesiology, dermatology, ophthalmology, laboratory animal medicine, toxicology, pharmacology, pathology and many others.
For those who want to work with animals, but don’t want to go through all the training required to be become a veterinarian, what are other options?
You have many options that still allow you to be a valuable member of the veterinary health care team. Other careers in the veterinary field include:
- Veterinary technicians/technologists: The veterinary technician/technologist has been educated in the care and handling of animals, the basic principles of normal and abnormal life processes, and in routine laboratory and clinical procedures. All veterinary technicians/technologists work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. While a veterinary technician/technologist can assist in performing a wide variety of tasks, they cannot diagnose, prescribe, or perform surgery. The majority of entry-level technicians hold a 2-year associate degree from an approved junior college veterinary technology program in which they took classes and gained hands-on clinical experience with live animals.There are 4-year bachelor degree programs for veterinary technologists at some universities and colleges.
- Veterinary assistants also provide animal care and support the veterinarian and veterinary technician/technologist.
- Some colleges and universities offer 2-year laboratory animal science programs for students who are interested in pursuing a laboratory research field in either biomedical or veterinary sciences.
Where can I get further information?