So, You Want to be a Veterinarian
Veterinarians are highly trained medical professionals who provide for the health and quality of life of all kinds of animals. They use problem-solving skills and in-depth knowledge of biological, physical and social science to diagnose, treat and prevent animal diseases and help to maintain the quality of our environment. Veterinarians collaborate with physicians and public health agencies to prevent and control diseases transmitted from animals to people. Additionally, they advance medical technology through education and research.
The profession becomes more complex as trade barriers fall, new zoonotic diseases emerge, human travel increases, and production and distribution of food products take place in more concentrated, large-scale operations.
Many veterinarians in the United States work in private practice, but others work in a wide range of fields. They also specialize in a particular breed of animal, like equine medicine or exotics or in a medical specialty, like ophthalmology, oncology, pathology or dermatology.
Provide primary health care to livestock and companion animals on a case-by-case, fee-for-service basis. More than 70 percent of practices deal with small companion animals. Practitioners may specialize in one medical area, such as surgery or dermatology. Others emphasize a group or species, such as food animals, exotics, birds or horses. Whatever their interests, all DVM students learn to provide basic care to the general animal population and prevent disease and other health problems.
Veterinarians may work for federal or regional agencies that watch over the health and welfare of domesticated animals or monitor populations of free-ranging wildlife. These experts diagnose diseases, inspect meat and poultry, oversee communicable disease programs (West Nile virus, rabies, BSE, avian flu, etc.) and conduct research. Specialists also handle fish, wildlife, laboratory animals and other animals regulated by federal law. Such careers can include working with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, Army or Air Force Veterinary Corps, and others.
Research veterinarians investigate scientific problems and develop strategies and new technologies. They develop new diagnostic tests, vaccines and products that prevent human and animal disease and enhance food quality. For instance, veterinary pathologists and toxicologists working in public institutions or private companies test the safety and efficacy of new treatments, monitor environmental conditions and evaluate the effects of environmental pollutants.
Veterinarians have excellent opportunities to teach at veterinary schools or colleges. Instructors teach courses that encourage professional-level students to develop the problem-solving skills and strategies that promote animal health. Faculty members also conduct basic and clinical research and provide various services to the public.
Preparing For a Career in Veterinary Medicine
Beyond the love for animals a veterinarian must possess:
- An inquiring mind as well as a strong aptitude and interest in the biological sciences.
- Good communication skills, including the ability to work well with a variety of people, particularly when dealing with an owner’s grief and loss of their pet.
- Excellent leadership and management skills for clinical practice and other structured work environments.
Start Early in High School
Because there are more qualified applicants than there are places in veterinary schools, entrance to veterinary school is highly competitive. Here’s how you can get an early start:
- Study hard - lay the foundation in high school for academic success in college and veterinary school. Excellent grades and high SAT scores will ensure entrance into a good undergraduate institution which will prepare you for admittance to veterinary school.
- Challenge yourself - take biology and other science courses, math and English, and other college prep classes.
- Get involved in farm and science clubs as well as other leadership activities. Take opportunities to increase your appreciation for veterinary medicine.
- Volunteer at a kennel, animal shelter, farm or other setting where you can learn animal-handling skills. Begin to keep a record of your animal-related experience.
- Ask your high school counselor about applying to colleges that will best meet your goals.
Make College Count
- Attend a college where you will excel. You may attend a community college and transfer to a four-year college or university.
- Meet with your college advisor early to talk about your professional plans and veterinary school prerequisites.
- Turn to our website for specific courses that fulfill veterinary school requirements and for any updates in the admissions requirements.
- Earn good grades in the sciences and overall. Most students enter our program will have a cumulative college grade point average of 3.5 or higher.
- Choose any major that best fits your interest - as long as you fulfill the veterinary school prerequisites. Animal health or biological sciences is the most common undergraduate major among veterinary students.
- Gain substantial experience with veterinarians. Keep a record of your veterinary work or volunteer experience. Try to diversify your experience and expose yourself to more than one species or other animal/research related activities so that it broadens your understanding of the veterinary profession.
What Happens After You Finish Veterinary School
After completing four years of the veterinary program you receive the degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Just like human medicine, students must pass a board certification exam to allow them to practice veterinary medicine. Some specialize in a particular field or you may decide to obtain a PhD to further your breadth of knowledge and skill set. You may also serve an internship or residency to acquire training to become board certified in your specialty.