How to Become a Veterinarian
Becoming a veterinarian is a common dream — veterinary work is one of those “childhood fantasy jobs” that consume people. That’s why if you want to become a veterinarian, you’ve probably always wanted to be one. It means you have a passion for animals and understand the kind of hard work it takes to have a successful career in veterinary medicine. It also means you probably have some interest in the medical field.
Becoming a veterinarian takes determination and the proper education. The world of animal medicine is just as competitive as the world of traditional medical doctors — what will set you apart from the crowd of people looking to perform veterinary care?
What kind of education should a veterinarian have?
Starting at the high school level, there are steps you can take to prepare yourself for a life’s work as a vet.
Even though high school is a time for studying the basics and preparing for college, you can use your high school days as a springboard for a career as a vet. Entrance requirements for veterinary school are every bit as strict as medical school — even if the vet school you want to attend has lower standards, a record of high performance going back to high school will be a boon throughout your career.
Classes like biology and chemistry are vital to your future in veterinary medicine, especially because the amount you learn about math and science in high school will affect your abilities at the college level. Any extra math and science classes you can take, such as AP Chemistry or advanced science correspondence courses at the local community college, will be an added bonus to your vet school application.
The most important features of your high school career for vet school are your final GPA and your SAT or ACT scores. High numbers in these departments virtually guarantees your admission at the best veterinary schools in the country. Participation in animal oriented activities like 4H is also a bonus, though not required.
At the college level, you need to consider the quality of your undergraduate education. A four year degree is a four year degree, no matter where you earn it, but the skills and knowledge you acquire at a top notch four year school can go a long way to improving your skills at veterinary school.
Almost all veterinary schools require a four year undergraduate degree before they’ll accept your application. There are some vet schools that will consider your application after just three years of college, especially if you’ve completed all of your degree’s prerequisites. Degrees in the life sciences (or chemistry or mathematics) are best for potential veterinary school applicants, though it is not unusual to see people with a background in business apply for (and get accepted to) veterinary training programs.
Check with the veterinary school you’re applying to in order to work out their requirements for entry — usually, this will be a minimum GPA and completion of either the VCAT (the veterinary version of the medical school entrance examination) or a GRE exam.
What kind of work experience should I have to enter veterinary school?
Veterinary school applications that include some semblance of experience in the field are the most likely to be accepted. This means any volunteer or part time work you can perform at an animal hospital or in another animal-related job will boost your chances of getting in to your first choice training program.
Work at a veterinarian’s office – The size of the practice you work with doesn’t matter at all — what does matter is the scope of your on the job experience. If you want to be a veterinarian for exotic animals or large animals, your experience should be in that field. Veterinary offices at zoos often look for volunteer or part time help, and are just as viable as traditional veterinary practices.
Work at a zoo, farm, pet store, or state park – Working at a veterinary office is not the only route to experience in the animal field. Any job that puts you in contact with an animal population looks good on your veterinary school application.
Work in a science or medical field – Working at a science laboratory or in any other scientific or medical setting is a good way to demonstrate your interest in science and research.
What are the Pros and Cons of working as a veterinarian?
Veterinarians, like any medical professional, have the potential to earn a ton of money. Though a veterinarian’s income depends on the amount and type of business they get, average starting salaries are quoted at PayScale.com between $58,000 and $100,000 a year. That means the financial reward of becoming a veterinarian is a big Pro.
But most people who want to be veterinarians don’t do it for the money. The work is hard and you can spend long hours getting your own veterinary practice off the ground, so you have to be in it for the emotional satisfaction. It is hard to quantify the daily rewards of veterinary work — people who care about animals can tell you the joy you get from being around them.
Veterinarians who are just starting out (but don’t have their own veterinary practice) find that the work hours are pretty flexible, especially in training. Veterinary medicine is good work for people just starting families or with child care responsibilities.
Veterinary school is a tough road to travel, both to get in and to complete your schooling at a satisfactory level. Training in veterinary medicine is also expensive — depending on the school you attend, you may find yourself with loads of student loan debt after you complete your education.
Even though we’ve already talked about the potentially high financial rewards of work as a vet, compared to other medical professions it can offer a very limited income level. Where surgeons and other medical specialists can pretty much bank on owning a massive house and retiring early, veterinarians often have to juggle loan debt from school with the hot and cold veterinary business.
If you really want to become a veterinarian, you should start contacting veterinary schools you’re interested in — remember that schools from your state or a neighboring state are your best bets, as veterinary programs prefer to choose students from their own region. Gather the minimum requirements for interest, and set your sights on beating those goals. If you secure work in the animal industry along the way, and bone up on your math and science skills,a career as a veterinarian can be yours in no time.