How to Become an Animal Doctor in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an animal doctor. Learn about education, licensure and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Animal Doctor Do?

An animal doctor, or veterinarian, is a medical professional who diagnoses, treats and provides preventative care and medical care to animals. They may work with small companion animals or large animals, such as livestock and horses. They perform many of the same medical procedures that a human physician would, including dressing wounds, taking x-rays, ordering medical tests, administering vaccines, performing surgeries and prescribing medication. However, unique aspects of the job include having to euthanize animals if necessary. They also communicate with the animal's owner to educate them on proper care and preventative health measures. The following chart provides an overview about becoming an animal doctor.

Degree Required Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.)
Training Required 3- to 4-year residency may be required for certification
Licensure or Certification All states require veterinarians to be licensed; board certification in 40 specialties is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9% increase (for all veterinarians)*
Median Salary (2015) $88,490 (for all veterinarians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is an Animal Doctor?

An animal doctor, also known as a veterinarian, provides medical treatment for animals. They may treat large animals as well as small animals and pets. After attending veterinary school and earning your veterinary license, you may find employment in private practice or in a variety of places, including zoos, racetracks, farms, universities or the government.

Step 1: Meet Your Pre-Veterinary Requirements

Before applying to veterinary school, one admissions requirement may include having a bachelor's degree. While a specific major may not be called for, taking a specific amount of undergraduate coursework is likely. In addition to courses in math, the social sciences and humanities, pre-veterinary applicants are required to take specific science courses, such as biochemistry, zoology, physics and microbiology. If a bachelor's degree isn't required, colleges may request a certain number of undergraduate credit hours, which may range from 45 to 90.

According to 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fewer than half of veterinary school applicants are accepted (www.bls.gov). Since the majority of applicants have completed a baccalaureate program, securing admittance without a degree is very difficult. Pre-veterinary applicants must usually submit scores for the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE) prior to applying.

Step 2: Graduate from Veterinary School

To receive your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, you must attend a veterinary school that is accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). These are 4-year graduate programs that offer training through clinical studies and classroom instruction. Your coursework will consist of various medical disciplines, including anesthesiology, radiology, veterinary neurobiology, immunology, veterinary anatomy, animal behavior, clinical pharmacology and surgery.

Step 3: Participate in an Internship

While you aren't required to participate in an internship after graduation, the BLS reports that many new graduates find it advantageous to do so. This is because those who have completed an internship have a greater probability of obtaining job opportunities with higher salaries. Some organizations and universities offer pre-veterinary, summertime internships and externships lasting from a few weeks to nearly one year. They consist of hands-on clinical studies and are available through schools, hospitals and trade organizations.

Step 4: Obtain Your License

In the U.S., you're required to obtain a medical license and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam to work as a veterinarian. Some accommodations are made for graduates that studied outside the U.S., so you should refer to your state board for additional licensing information. If you work for certain federal or state government agencies, you may be exempt from the licensure requirement.

Step 5: Consider Getting Board Certified

You're not required by state authorities to obtain board certification as an animal doctor. However, many veterinarians get professionally certified for credentialing purposes and for certain job advancements. Certification through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP) requires a veterinary license, five years of clinical experience prior to applying and six years of clinical experience before taking the certification test (www.abvp.com). Additionally, if you're in a residency program, the ABVP requests a 1-year rotating or practice residency and the completion of a 1-year residency program. Your board certification allows you to formally designate a veterinary specialty in such areas as feline practice, swine health management, exotic companion mammals or equine practice.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Medical scientists, physicians and surgeons are a few similar careers that need a doctoral or professional degree. Medical scientists develop and oversee clinical trials and other research projects to improve human health. Physicians diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries in human patients. Surgeons are physicians who specialize in performing various kinds of surgeries on patients.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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