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Veterinarian

Overview

Veterinarians play a major role in the health of our society by caring for animals and by using their expertise and education to protect and improve human health as well. It’s likely that you are most familiar with veterinarians who care for our companion animals, but there is more than that one career to choose from if you decide to become a veterinarian. For example:

  • You may work to protect animal and human health by working at a government agency like the United States Department of Agriculture. Or you may want to put your expertise as a veterinarian to work with an agency like the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control to aid biosecurity, public health or disease prevention.
  • You may decide to join the U.S. Army Corps or Air Force to work on food safety or care for military working dogs. The military also provides advanced training in specialty areas for those who commit to service.
  • You can also go to work for a corporation that provides animal care or animal-related products or choose a research career.

There are many opportunities for veterinarians, and it’s worth exploring them to discover which is the best fit for you. There is a growing need for vets with post-graduate education in particular specialties, such as molecular biology, laboratory animal medicine, toxicology, immunology, diagnostic pathology or environmental medicine. The veterinary profession also is becoming more involved in aquaculture, comparative medical research, food production and international disease control.

Working Conditions

Veterinarians work in different kinds of environments. Those who care for companion animals may be in a workplace filled with activity and noise while veterinarians who care for farm animals may spend a lot of time outside. If you are a veterinarian working in research, you may spend your workdays in a lab. Veterinarians who work on policy or for a corporation may spend their workdays in an office.

If you are in a veterinary practice, you will likely put in long hours and be on call in the evenings and on weekends. 

Learn More About a Career as a Veterinarian

About Health Care Careers

Note: The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has reviewed this overview.

Academic Requirements

Prospective veterinarians must graduate from a four-year program at an accredited college of veterinary medicine with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree and obtain a license to practice. The prerequisites for admission vary by veterinary medical college. Many of these colleges do not require a bachelor's degree for entrance, but all require a significant number of credit hours—ranging from 45 to 90 semester hours—at the undergraduate level. However, most of the students admitted have completed an undergraduate program.

You can start preparing for a career as a veterinarian while you are still in high school:

  • Study hard so you can maintain a high GPA and score well on your SAT or ACT test.
  • Take as many math and science classes as you can.
  • Look for chances to participate in extracurricular activities that involve animals like 4-H and Future Farmers of America.
  • Volunteer with a local veterinarian or at an animal shelter.

When you get to college, you should continue studying hard to get good grades. It’s a good idea to major in pre-veterinary studies but it’s not necessary. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAVMC) notes in a brochure that “veterinary medical students come from all kinds of backgrounds and majors, including the arts or humanities. The important thing is to accumulate the necessary prerequisites, especially prerequisites in math and science, which vary by school. It’s best to start taking math and science early in your academic career, but you can also pick up those classes along the way.”

You will also want to join your school’s pre-vet club if there is one and continue gaining experience by volunteering with or working for a veterinarian and/or volunteering at an animal shelter.

As you prepare for veterinary school, you will also need to prepare financially. AAVMC has developed a Cost Comparison Tool to help prospective students further develop their financial plan for veterinary school. As concerns continue to grow about the increasing educational debt held by recent veterinary school graduates, it is imperative that prospective students take time to consider and plan for the costs associated with becoming a veterinarian.

Read the preparation timeline below for tips for each year of your undergraduate education.

Preparation Timeline

Applicants to veterinary medical school are not required to have a bachelor's degree, but more than 90% of all entering students do. The other 10% choose to start veterinary school after their junior year of college. AAVMC publishes a summary of course prerequisites required by veterinary schools.

Freshman and Sophomore Years

  • As soon as you can, meet with a pre-vet or pre-health advisor, who can offer guidance and help you identify the key courses you'll need to take in order to be an ideal candidate for veterinary school.
  • It's good to take a fairly heavy course load throughout your college career (i.e., 15-18 hours per semester). Admissions committees like to know that you can handle a rigorous schedule.
  • Since chemistry and biology are basic requirements for entry into all veterinary medical schools, it's a good idea to take these courses early in your college career. This will give you plenty of time to take the other courses that may be required by individual vet schools. Each vet school has a list of prerequisite courses. Work with your pre-vet or pre-health advisor in obtaining information about pre-requisite courses early in your college, so you can plan your courses appropriately.
  • It's also helpful to use these first years of college to enhance your veterinary, animal and/or research experience. Use the Enrichment Programs database to find a program.

Summer before Junior Year

  • It is possible to start veterinary school after your junior year of college. If you're interested in this option, you should start the application process during the summer after sophomore year or early in the fall of junior year. See the Senior Year information below for details.

Junior Year

  • Applications to vet schools are due each year on October 2, for entry into vet school the following fall. Search for veterinary medical schools. See the Senior Year information below for details.
  • Know the specific course requirements and deadlines for each of the schools to which you're applying. If you have questions, ask them. Don't listen to anyone but officials from that school.

Summer before Senior Year

  • Most students choose to finish their bachelor's degrees first, in which case they apply to vet school during the summer following junior year or early in the fall of senior year. Search for veterinary medical schools. See the Senior Year information below for details.
  • Know the specific course requirements and deadlines for each of the schools to which you're applying. If you have questions, ask them. Don't listen to anyone but officials from that school.

Senior Year

  • Applications to vet schools are due each year on September 15 at 12 midnight Eastern Time, for entry into vet school the following fall. Most schools in the U.S. (and some non-U.S. schools) participate in the online Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS), which allows students to apply to multiple schools using a single application. VMCAS applications become available in late spring and are due by October 2. Search for veterinary medical schools.
  • Know the specific course requirements and deadlines for each of the schools to which you're applying. If you have questions, ask them. Don't listen to anyone but officials from that school.
  • You may apply to vet school while still working to complete the required courses, as long as you complete all the prerequisites within the vet school's timeline. (Some schools require all prerequisites to be completed by the end of the spring semester prior to the fall you will enter the program -- no last-minute summer school courses.)
  • Your vet school application must include your scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Some schools also accept the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). It's a good idea to take the exam early. That way, if you're not happy with your scores, you still have time to retake the exam as often as you need to.
  • Also, be certain to verify that your entrance exam scores have been sent correctly to the school(s) of your choice. (For example, the university's main campus might have one GRE code and the veterinary school another.)
  • Remember that the burden for submitting a complete application (which includes evaluations, transcripts and fees), meeting deadlines, and making it to your interview falls on you. It is also your responsibility to ensure that your evaluators comply with the application deadlines. Veterinary schools try to communicate effectively, but ultimately it is the applicant's responsibility to be sure all is well.
  • Know what needs to be sent directly to a school and what needs to be sent to VMCAS. If you need to mail anything directly to either location, send everything in a single package. Make sure the address is correct and complete and that it includes the name of a contact person at a particular department; do use the name of the college of veterinary medicine.
  • Check your mail and email daily. Schools depend more and more on electronic communication, and they use the address you provide in your VMCAS application. If any of your contact information changes (address, email, phone numbers), immediately notify all the schools to which you've applied.
  • Verifying that you have completed your application and that the veterinary schools to which you are applying have received it is a two-step process. You can verify completion of your application using the VMCAS system. You confirm that each institution has received it by contacting each institution directly. Just because you asked your college to send transcripts does not mean that the transcripts arrived at VMCAS.
  • Know the timelines for each school's application review, interviews, etc. If you do not hear from any of the schools to which you've applied, contact the school directly.