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How to Become a Veterinarian – The 2021 Guide

More and more homes are taking to expanding their families to include more than just humans. With pet ownership on such a steady rise, it is important to consider the health care of everyone’s little friends. If you have a deep fondness of animals, enjoy taking care of them, and wish to help others to be able to take great care of their pets, you may wish to look into how to become a veterinarian.

How to Become a Veterinarian

Veterinarian is not an entry-level job. It requires several years of schooling, training, and hard work to be able to call yourself a veterinarian. There are ways of getting a head start on much of the criteria before you even graduate high school. For example, taking high school biology and chemistry courses can help make the college courses that are centered around those easier to understand. 

Generally speaking, the method of how to become a veterinarian is universal. Someone goes to college, gets an undergrad degree, graduate degree, interns, and boom – done! The particulars can vary to such an extent that no two individuals travel the exact same path. Though, each road will contain similar requirements of education, experience, and credentialing.

Education

As earlier discussed, someone can start taking relevant science courses as soon as middle school even if for no other reason than to get a practice go at similar courses that will be required in college. High school biology, chemistry, or zoology may not count towards college credit, but may make the courses much easier to understand while studying at the college level. 

Post-Secondary Education

Ideally, a college with a known veterinary program is chosen, but it isn’t always required depending on the graduate school that is lined up. A relatively-high GPA is important. While it isn’t vital to maintain a 3.5 or above to just graduate with an undergrad degree, many post-graduate programs require that applicants do carry a 3.4 or above. 

Non-Education Education

Undergraduate students are encouraged to seek out a pre-vet club or organization at school. Not only do extracurriculars look good on a transcript, but they offer valuable practical experience, networking opportunities, and can help with getting into a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) institution. 

This is also an excellent time to volunteer for local animal shelters, farms, or veterinary offices. In addition to the hands-on training that is received, there are even opportunities to speak with working professionals about how to become a veterinarian. 

Advanced Education

After obtaining an undergraduate degree, it’s time for more college. Getting into a DVM school isn’t as easy as just applying for an undergrad. In addition to the undergrad grades discussed earlier, these admissions evaluate animal and clinical experience (where those clubs and volunteer hours shine), Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) results, letters of recommendation from professors, and leadership and communication skills. That’s just the getting in.

The bulk of the first couple of years of DVM school is spent in classes and labs. Programs usually start with basic science classes, then move on towards more focused systems such as neurology. The final year of veterinary medical school is largely completing clinical rotations to offer practical, hands-on experience. 

Experience

Experience comes in several forms during training as a veterinarian. Many veterinarians begin their careers as a pet lover in childhood, gaining basic experience of dogs or cats while growing up. Sometimes, it comes from being raised on the farm. Sometimes, it’s a neighbor’s pet to expose someone to the idea of helping animals.

Other experience can be received through volunteering at local pet shelters or veterinary clinics. This can even be done prior to college, meaning that a veterinary hopeful can get started obtaining practical experience while still in middle or high school.

Once in college, volunteering is still always an option, though the school may provide alternative opportunities to get direct experience. One such example would be a pre-vet club or organization. Both undergrad and graduate training often involve the use of internships and externships in order to provide students with the opportunity to apply what was learned in the classroom on how to become a veterinarian.

The North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE)

The NAVLE is the penultimate exam taken to enter into the veterinary profession. Though the test offers a score, it is pass-fail. If you do not pass his exam, you do not get to practice as a veterinarian. Depending on the state, it may be necessary to pass this exam within eight months of graduating with a DVM. Though many will wait until the next springtime to take the exam, many will take it in the fall so that they can have the option to retake it in the spring to improve their scores.

Credentialing

While the NAVLE allows a DVM graduate to practice within the United States, each state has its own requirements on how to become a veterinarian that must be handled differently. The state regulatory board in the United States can detail the particulars for whichever state a prospective veterinarian is intending to live and practice.

Additional Training

Graduating from DVM school and passing the NAVLE only signifies that the minimum requirements have been met. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking additional classes while in college, or taking an extra summer internship even though one was completed. 

Different courses and experiences only provide for extra knowledge, and show an individual’s dedication to learning as much about the field as possible. Each course completed becomes another credential the student can list when hunting that first job.

Specializing

Just as with the practice of human medicine, veterinarians can specialize. This may involve working with a DVM to determine if a student’s interest is in general practice or specific to an industry. While this may not mean that a veterinarian is a cardiovascular specialist who better understands the heart of every animal, it can include a veterinarian specializing in livestock, exotic animals, or even a specific animal (i.e. specializing in cats).

The Career Launch

While a DVM graduate may not be free to immediately practice medicine on anything, that doesn’t mean the graduate is not available to be hired. Many students miss out on great opportunities simply because they sat to the side too long. 

Many businesses will bend the minimum requirements of a job for the right applicant. Law firms frequently hire associate attorneys who have finished law school but have not taken the Bar Exam under the idea that the Bar will soon be passed. DVM seniors are encouraged to begin looking for prospective employers well before their senior year is completed.

Depending on the area, there may be facilities that target hiring fresh out of DVM school because they seek employees with recent knowledge but no previous-workplace habits formed. Some employers may be willing to shave off some of the years of experience they were seeking in exchange for the right internship having been completed. A soon-to-be graduate should be more willing to let the employer decide against it than for the graduate to decide that and miss a great opportunity in the process.

Early Career Boosters

While excellent grades, schooling, and internships open countless doors, those are not the only keys. There are additional avenues for launching a career in this helpful industry.

Professional Associations

In addition to local, regional, state, and federal veterinarian associations, local chambers of commerce and other city-wide business associations are excellent ways to network. By making friends with businesses who have an established customer base and may be willing to recommend you, you become much more valuable.

Many veterinary associations offer student memberships. It is never too soon to begin networking. Attending members-only events can allow students to rub elbows with the very people who may be interviewing them for positions in the future. 

Community Service

Unlike “exposure dollars”, community service actually does reap rewards. By sponsoring a youth league, your practice gets advertising to a connected community that is likely to have pets and disposable income. By offering the occasional discounted spay/neuter day, it is possible to attract customers to return for additional services who now are familiar with your services. 

Not only does volunteering offer a student practical experience, but it gives the opportunity for that student to showcase their skills in the presence of practicing veterinarians. Even if these active professionals of the community aren’t hiring at their own practices, a reference letter from a well-respected veterinarian can be as good as a direct-hire. 

Educational Involvement

Students interested in flexing extracurriculars aren’t limited to clubs that focus on animal healthcare. Many school programs offer student positions on their department’s advisory board. A student representative position can be considered more impressive than a regular position of an organization within which the student doesn’t actively participate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What courses should a middle and high school student take to help prepare for a career as a veterinarian?

Depending on what schools offer, the classes that would help by providing direct experience, or by helping prepare for related college courses, include: Biology, chemistry, English, and speech. 

How soon should I begin trying to obtain practical experience?

It is never too soon to volunteer for experience, In fact, volunteering at an animal shelter may help expose those who may be too sensitive to work as a veterinarian to this before getting too far down the road.

What are the best undergraduate degrees for becoming a veterinarian?

There is no guaranteed undergraduate degree to make you more likely to get into a DVM program. Since it is not easy to get into graduate school, it is often encouraged that students choose an undergrad in an area of interest that will allow for pursuing that interest.

A Career as a Veterinarian

Once school is done and work has begun, there are many directions someone can take a career. Veterinarians are not limited to working in a clinic or hospital environment. Other options include:

Consulting

A specialist with the most recent formal training may be of use to a general practitioner who hasn’t read about that specific issue in over a decade. Many general practitioner veterinarians have to speak with someone when a client comes in with a unique pet or situation. Specializing in exotic pets can create a niche for that skillset.

Zoology

Speaking of specializing, zoos have very particular needs when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their animal residents. Zoos directly employ full-time veterinarians to tend to the variety of unique animals from exotic locations that are all brought together in this one venue.

Military/Emergency Service

The armed forces, police, fire departments, and many other public service agencies hire/recruit full-time veterinarians for everything from caring for animals to training the humans who work with the animals.

Education

All of those classes that are taken on the way to becoming a veterinarian must be taught by someone with experience in the subject matter.

While there is no one right path on how to become a veterinarian, there are a lot of branching paths that connect the long road. But, the major milestones are still the same – education, undergraduate degree and DVM; internship and experience; national testing; and local/state affiliation must all be done. However, everyone can have their own unique experience hitting those moments. 

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