So, You Want to be a Vet

So, you like working with animals, and you want to become a veterinarian. That is certainly a good start, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to gaining a degree in veterinary medicine. Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) includes those that conduct research and spend time in the laboratory developing new theories and practices, while others take the clinical route and work in the field diagnosing, treating and curing animals.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were nearly 60,000 veterinarians in practice in 2008. At the same time, the American Veterinary Medical Association noted that 80 percent of the veterinarians were employed in their own practice or a group practice. Over the next 10 years, the job outlook is better than average with an expected increase of 33 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also collected data that showed the annual wages ranged anywhere from $46,610 to more than $143,660. So, the opportunities are there, but the bar is also high! DVM is a very specialized area that is not for the casual student.
As a former high school teacher and school consultant for over 35 years, over the years, I have talked with many of my students about their future and their careers. Many really have had no idea the amount of work it takes to become a professional in any field. In science, for instance, they might have a personal love for animals, but yet they have tried to avoid all of the advanced mathematics and science classes because “they were too tough,” or “I don’t want to work that hard,” or “I’ll take them when I get to college.” I found that many simply did not have the vision of all that it takes to earn that veterinary medicine degree. So, it is important to take the right courses early and to maintain a focus on the end goal.
Beyond that initial interest, it comes down to preparation. It’s more than just wanting to; it’s about performing and taking school seriously. Students need to know that veterinary medicine is a rigorous program in the sciences, so it is important that classes taken in high school include as many science and math classes including biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, trigonometry and environment/earth science. Post secondary representatives encourage students to take as many advanced core classes as possible to prepare for the rigors of veterinary medicine.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has developed a section on its website ( under its Public link that helps people research a career in veterinary medicine. First, there is a section that poses the question: “Is it right for you?” This is followed by another section “On the road to becoming a veterinarian.” 
Once high school is completed, students must complete an undergraduate degree. Although any major is acceptable, it is suggested that students take as many science courses as possible, which makes sense, since science will be the base in veterinary medicine. Students must understand that grades of at least a B are necessary to even be considered for graduate school. Competition is fierce, and undergraduates need to know that on average only one in three will be accepted into veterinary school because of limited space, so they should earn their undergraduate degree in a field that they can pursue another career.
As early as the spring of the second year of undergraduate school, highly qualified students can apply for admittance to the DVM program after the completion of their third year of college. Candidates for early admission must have grades of a B or better in all prerequisite courses. Students, who choose to wait, may apply by October 1 of their third or fourth year of college.
One of the questions often asked is whether students can begin their postsecondary education at a community college. The answer is yes, and many of the community colleges have an articulation agreement to transfer to the university in their area that has the DVM school. However, only the lower level required courses would be accepted. All upper division course work must be taken at a four-year university. Again, students should be sure to check on the articulation agreements before beginning the program.
It is at this point that we should talk about the non-traditional student. Many adults are moving back into the classroom to embark on another career. For the non-traditional student, you need to contact the veterinary medicine school of choice and verify if you have fulfilled any of the prerequisites or determine which courses you need to take. It is also suggested that you build up your experience hours in the animal field. Students must also take the graduate record examination, which evaluates students’ readiness for graduate level work. Upon registering, applicants will receive free test preparation materials, including computer-based sample tests.
Upon completing undergraduate work, the next step is gaining access in one of the 28 schools of veterinary medicine. Nationwide, approximately 2100 graduates a year with over 8500 students enrolled. All 28 schools are accredited and maintain an excellent reputation, so there is no bad choice. By going to, you can click on any of the 28 schools and bring up their website. A map of the United States is also provided to show where the schools are located.
U. S News & World Report does rank the schools. Listed below are the top 10 schools according to U. S. News & World Report:
#1            Cornell University                                 Ithaca, NY
            #2            Colorado State University                     Fort Collins, CO
            #3            University of California-Davis    Davis, CA
            #4            University of Pennsylvania                 Philadelphia, PA
            #5            North Carolina State University            Raleigh, NC
            #5            Ohio State University                                    Columbus, OH
            #5            Texas A & M University                     College Station, TX
            #5            University of Wisconsin-Madison            Madison, WI
            #9            Michigan State University                     Lansing, MI
            #10            University of Minnesota-Twin Cities            St Paul, MN
Keep in mind that entrance into a veterinary medicine degree program is very competitive. Also, most veterinary programs are located at state colleges, and they tend to give preference to residents of the state, though they also accept students from out of state. So check the veterinary programs in your own state. States that do not have schools with veterinary programs often have contracts with out-of-state colleges for a certain number of admissions from their state.
Because of the competitive nature of gaining access into the program, each university has an admissions committee or screening committee with a set criteria that selects the most qualified students from all of those that applied. Some of the criteria include college grade-point average and the quality of the academic program, graduate record examination, animal/veterinary experience and interview process.
Upon graduation, you’re not there yet! Next comes a national veterinary medical board examination – some liken it to the bar examination in law. After that, you must pass the state board examination for the state in which you wish to practice.
The bottom line is that in this process there is a need for the passion and drive to reach the top. Yes, it is hard, hard work, but if a strong work ethic is combined with the passion and aptitude, at the end of the journey, there will be a career in veterinary medicine.
Veterinary Technologists and Veterinary Technicians are two other careers in the field of veterinary medicine. Veterinary Technologists must take a four-year program, while technicians take a two-year program. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) offers a national certification examination for graduates of accredited vet tech degree programs. Again, both curriculums contain science and mathematics courses. Both the technologist and the technician conduct work under the supervision of a veterinarian, while the technologists have the option to work in more advanced research-related jobs. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2009, there were approximately 160 veterinary technology programs in 45 states that were accredited by the AVMA. All states require graduates to pass a credentialing exam.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities appear to be excellent with employment expected to grow faster than average. Over the next 10 years, employment is expected to grow 36 percent. Part of the reason for the growth is the increase in the services to animal owners, especially in the small animal areas of cats and dogs. Salary varies from slightly under $20,000 to over $41,000.