How Do I Become a Veterinarian?

Explore the career requirements for veterinarians. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Animal Care degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Veterinarian?

Veterinarians diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses in animals. Most veterinarians who work in private practice work with companion animals such as cats and dogs, but veterinarians may choose to specialize in a particular field such as equine medicine, food animal medicine or veterinary research. Their typical duties may include vaccinating, advising owners about general care, treating wounds, performing surgery and prescribing medication. The following chart gives you an overview about entering a career in veterinary medicine.

Degree Required Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.)
Training Required Clinical rotations
Key Responsibilities Examine animals and order or perform diagnostic testing; diagnose medical conditions and prescribe medication and treatment; test for diseases and administer vaccinations; treat animal injuries and perform surgery
Licensure and/or Certification All states require veterinarians to be licensed; board certification in 39 veterinarian specialties is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 9%*
Median Salary (2015) $88,490*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do As a Veterinarian?

Whether working in a private clinic, zoo, ranch, aquarium, laboratory or barn, veterinarians treat and work with all types of animals. As a professional in this field, you'll give shots, diagnose and treat diseases, prescribe and give medications, perform surgeries and conduct tests. You'll also play the role of educator and teach pet owners and animal handlers the proper procedures for breeding and feeding animals. In addition, when animals are living with a chronic injury or an incurable disease, you'll be responsible for conducting humane euthanasia.

As a veterinarian, you'll also be in charge of keeping people safe from sickness caused by contaminated or disease-ridden food animals. Furthermore, you'll play a role in treating and preventing human health issues by testing drugs, surgery procedures and new antibiotics.

What Educational Requirements Must I Meet?

Entrance into this field is highly competitive and will require you to be accepted into an accredited veterinary school. At the bachelor's degree level, you'll generally need to complete three years of science-related courses in physics, biology, animal nutrition, zoology, chemistry and genetics before being accepted.

Depending on the school, you'll need to submit scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT). You may need letters of recommendation as well. Successfully graduating from the school will earn you a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree.

How Do I Become Licensed?

The licensing requirements will vary from state to state, but passing the national North American Veterinary Licensing Exam is necessary for all states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) (www.bls.gov). In addition, you may have to demonstrate knowledge of the laws and regulations in the state by taking an additional exam.

You'll also have the opportunity of improving your credentials by becoming board-certified. To achieve this, you'll go through an intensive residency program, lasting three or four years. While in the program, you'll focus on one of the 39 veterinary specialties recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). These include nutrition, surgery, cardiology, pathology, dermatology and internal medicine.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those who are interested in becoming a veterinarian may also wish to research some related alternative careers. For instance, veterinary technologists and technicians work in clinics to aid veterinarians in diagnosing and treating animals. Technologists and technicians require only an associate's degree to gain entry-level employment. Zoologists and wildlife biologists require a bachelor's degree to begin working. They study the behavior and physical characteristics of animals, as well as how wildlife interacts with ecosystems, and with humans. Medical scientists require a similar level of training as a veterinarian. They work in research to improve human health through clinical and laboratory trials.

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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