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:
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.
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.
About Health Care Careers
Note: The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges has reviewed this overview.
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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:
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.
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.
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Last updated: November 15, 2016
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