How to Become a Veterinarian (DVM)

Becoming a veterinarian takes time and dedication, but if you have the right stuff, you will eventually obtain your license and become a healer of fellow creatures. And whether you choose to join a practice, start your own, do government work or veterinary research, you will be well on your way towards a fulfilling and hopefully lucrative career.  Many people ask how they can go about becoming a veterinarian. The process is surprisingly straightforward.

1. High School

Future Veterinarian
Future Veterinarian Studying Chemistry

While you are in high school, take as many classes in chemistry, math, physics, biology, and other sciences as you can. This will ensure that you can be more than qualified to apply for an undergraduate degree in a field that will prepare you for a career in veterinary medicine.  However, communication skills, both written and oral, are also important, so do not neglect English.

2. Undergraduate Degree

After you graduate high school, you should enroll in an accredited college or university.  Many choose majors in animal science or biology, but non traditional majors may make your application more unique.. You may want to create a solid foundation for what is to come, namely veterinary school, so consider your undergraduate degree carefully. Again, it’s also important to note that veterinary schools will accept a variety of degrees, even those outside of the sciences. 

Think you’ll only have to deal with cuddly, furry animals and not their sometimes, more challenging human guardians?  Think again says Dr. Paul Sedlacek, a voice of veterinary experience and the owner of Animal Clinic of Morris Plains, NJ.  “Unfortunately, the animals don’t come in by themselves.  Therefore vets also have to be people persons in order to gain the trust of their owners and to effectively communicate with them.”

While you are in school, make sure you work hard to maintain a grade point average of around 3.5 or higher, in order to have a shot at a place in vet school. Undergraduate degrees typically take an average of three to four years to complete. Most people will need to follow this course, though there are some exceptions. For example, Dr. Sedlacek was accepted into vet school after only two years of undergraduate study and was later given a bachelor’s degree retroactively.  Before applying to vet school, however, Dr. Sedlacek also had to have 240 hours of exposure to veterinary medicine.

3. Veterinary School

Veterinary Students
Veterinary Students

Veterinary school is harder to get into than medical school, due to the fact that there are only 20+ veterinary schools that are approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, whereas there are hundreds of medical schools. There are also thousands  more applicants than actual openings, making it a very competitive field. Determining which veterinary schools you wish to apply to while still an undergraduate, will allow you to target specific scholastic and extra-curricular requirements, thereby increasing your chances of acceptance. 

Gaining experience through volunteer work will further increase your odds of getting into the vet school of your choice. Dr. Sedlacek’s daughter, Leandra, who is also a veterinarian, gained extensive veterinary experience by working within a small animal clinic, riding with a mobile ultrasound doctor, assisting with research on cows, and volunteering with a wildlife rehabilitator.  So the paths to becoming a veterinarian are wide and varied.

4. Entering the Field

After graduating from veterinary school, you will still need to obtain your license to practice in your state or residence. Every state has its own requirements, which includes passing a qualifying exam.

Despite the steep and thorny path to veterinary school, there is still a substantial over-supply of qualified individuals in the field, who are looking for work. Remarkably, only 22% of current vets say that they are doing well, so finding the right position can be a challenge. Notwithstanding these issues, a veterinarian will always be a unique and rewarding field for anyone who loves animals.  If you are truly driven to meet your goals, you can accomplish great things.


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