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How to Become a Veterinarian: Education and Career Roadmap

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Find out how to become a veterinarian. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in veterinary medicine.

Should I Become a Veterinarian?

Career Requirements

$87,590 (2014 BLS median for veterinarians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Veterinary Medical Association job postings (August 2012), O*Net OnLine.

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Most schools of veterinary medicine require or prefer applicants to have a bachelor's degree. While many students earn their degree in a biological science, most veterinary schools don't have a preferred major as long as certain science courses are taken. These courses typically include general biology, chemistry, physics, and math. Some schools may require some more advanced science courses, such as mammalogy, biochemistry, or animal behavior.

  • Participate in volunteer programs or internships in the veterinary field. Volunteering or interning at veterinary clinics or other animal care facilities can give students an idea of what the job of a veterinarian is really like. Many veterinary programs require some experience working with animals, and volunteering can fulfill this requirement or make a student more competitive when applying. Students can use these experiences to show their dedication to the field of animal care and gain professional references.
  • Join a pre-veterinary club. Pre-professional clubs that focus on veterinary medicine are available at many schools. These clubs may have meetings where members discuss career topics, shadowing programs, and resources for volunteer or internship experience. Some also offer the chance to apply for scholarships that are only offered to members.
  • Take the GRE. Many schools of veterinary medicine require applicants to submit

    Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. This exam measures a person's readiness for graduate-level studies.

Step 2: Earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

  • Get involved in research projects. Some programs offer students the opportunity to be involved in research while studying for their degree. This experience may be helpful in understanding certain aspects of the veterinary field and can open up opportunities to work in research rather than a clinical setting.

Step 3: Become Licensed

Graduates of accredited programs of veterinary medicine must be licensed to practice in the field. All states require that graduates successfully pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam; additional state-specific exams may also be required.

Step 4: Gain Experience

After becoming licensed, one might choose to gain further practical and specialized experience in the field by interning for a year before applying for a more permanent position. The majority of veterinarians work with small companion animals in private clinics. A smaller percentage of veterinarians choose to specialize in working with equines or other large animals, exotic animals, or zoo animals.

Step 5: Become Certified in a Specialty

To be eligible for certification in a specialty field, such as internal medicine or surgery, veterinarians must have completed either a residency or additional education. Residency programs usually involve multiple years working at a specified location where a veterinarian receives supervised training in his or her chosen specialty.

Step 6: Join a Professional Association

National and state associations exist for veterinarians. Membership benefits may include access to newsletters, professional connections, published literature on the latest veterinary topic, and resources for continuing education.

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