How to Become a Veterinarian
Veterinarians can choose specialties such as companion animals or farm animals.
Veterinarians must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary college and a state license.
Veterinarians must complete a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. There are currently 30 colleges with accredited programs in the United States. A veterinary medicine program generally takes 4 years to complete and includes classroom, laboratory, and clinical components.
Although not required, most applicants to veterinary school have a bachelor’s degree. Veterinary medical colleges typically require applicants to have taken many science classes, including biology, chemistry, anatomy, physiology, zoology, microbiology, and animal science. Most programs also require math, humanities, and social science courses.
Admission to veterinary programs is competitive, and less than half of all applicants were accepted in 2014.
In veterinary medicine programs, students take courses on animal anatomy and physiology, as well as disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Most programs include 3 years of classroom, laboratory, and clinical work. Students typically spend the final year of the 4-year program doing clinical rotations in a veterinary medical center or hospital.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Veterinarians must be licensed in order to practice in the United States. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all states require prospective veterinarians to complete an accredited veterinary program and to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. Veterinarians working for the state or federal government may not be required to have a state license, because each agency has different requirements.
Most states not only require the national exam but also have a state exam that covers state laws and regulations. Few states accept licenses from other states, so veterinarians who want to be licensed in another state usually must take that state’s exam.
The American Veterinary Medical Association offers certification in 40 specialties, such as surgery, microbiology, and internal medicine. Although certification is not required for veterinarians, it can show exceptional skill and expertise in a particular field. To sit for a specialty certification exam, veterinarians must have a certain number of years of experience in the field, complete additional education, and complete a residency program, typically lasting 3 to 4 years. Requirements vary by specialty.
Some veterinary medical colleges weigh experience heavily during the admissions process. Formal experience, such as previous work with veterinarians or scientists in clinics, agribusiness, research, or some area of health science, is particularly advantageous. Less formal experience, such as working with animals on a farm, at a stable, or in an animal shelter, can also be helpful.
Although graduates of a veterinary program can begin practicing once they receive their license, some veterinarians pursue further education and training. Some new veterinary graduates enter internship or residency programs to gain specialized experience.
Compassion. Veterinarians must be compassionate when working with animals and their owners. They must treat animals with kindness and respect, and must be sensitive when dealing with the animal owners.
Communication skills. Strong communication skills are essential for veterinarians, who must be able to discuss their recommendations and explain treatment options to animal owners and give instructions to their staff.
Decisionmaking skills. Veterinarians must decide the correct method for treating the injuries and illnesses of animals. For instance, deciding to euthanize a sick animal can be difficult.
Management skills. Management skills are important for veterinarians who manage private clinics or laboratories, or direct teams of technicians or inspectors. In these settings, they are responsible for providing direction, delegating work, and overseeing daily operations.
Manual dexterity. Manual dexterity is important for veterinarians, because they must control their hand movements and be precise when treating injuries and performing surgery.
Problem-solving skills. Veterinarians need strong problem-solving skills because they must figure out what is ailing animals. Those who test animals to determine the effects of drug therapies also need excellent diagnostic skills.