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Veterinarian

Overview

Veterinarians play a major role in the healthcare of pets, livestock, and zoo, sporting, and laboratory animals. Some veterinarians use their skills to protect humans against diseases carried by animals and conduct clinical research on human and animal health problems. Others work in basic research, broadening the scope of fundamental theoretical knowledge, and in applied research, developing new ways to use knowledge. 

Working Conditions

Veterinarians often work long hours, with well over one-third of full-time workers spending 50 or more hours on the job. Those in group practices may take turns being on call for evening, night, or weekend work; and solo practitioners can work extended and weekend hours, responding to emergencies or squeezing in unexpected appointments.

Academic Requirements

Prospective veterinarians must graduate from a 4-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. There are 30 colleges in 27 States that meet accreditation standards set by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). 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.

The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) provides access of applications through the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS), which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools using a single application.

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.

For a listing of U.S. veterinary medical schools and colleges, see the AAVMC website.

You can connect with other pre-veterinary medical students on AAVMC or VMCAS Facebook pages.  

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.

FRESHMAN YEAR AND SOPHOMORE YEARS

  • 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. (To find helpful research programs, see ExploreHealthCareers' Find A Health Care Career Enrichment Program database. According to the AAVMC, you can never have too much high-quality experience.

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 category below for details.

jUNIOR YEAR

  • Applications to vet schools are due each year on October 2, for entry into vet school the following fall. See the Senior Year category below for details.

 

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. See the Senior Year category for details.

sENIOR YEAR 

  • Applications to vet schools are due each year on October 2, for entry into vet school the following fall. Most schools in the U.S. (and some non-U.S. schools) participate in the online VMCAS. VMCAS applications become available in late spring and are due by October 2.  Search for DVM programs here.  
  • 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.)

GENERAL TIPS FOR SUCCESS 

  • Early in college, 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.
  • Know the specific course requirements and deadlines for each of the schools to which you're applying. If you have questions, ask them. And 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!)
  • 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 it has been received by the college is a two-step process.  You can verify completion of your application using the VMCAS system.  You confirm that it has been received by each institution by contact the college 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.
  • 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 not send it just to the "College of Veterinary Medicine."
  • 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.