Thursday, August 5, 2010

What Does It Take to Be a Veterinarian?

By Ruthie Bently

Have you ever looked at the framed certificates on your veterinarian’s wall? Do you know what it takes to become a vet? Anyone interested in becoming a vet should have a love of animals and be able to deal with the emotions of their owners or caretakers. You need to be good at math, psychology, English, physiology and anatomy of many species and understand numerous medications (both capabilities and side effects) and when to prescribe the right one. You need to like school, taking tests and studying a lot.

For vets in rural areas there can be emergency calls on nights, weekends and holidays. Imagine a call in the middle of a cold winter night for a farm animal with a breech birth in an unheated barn. You need to be able to perform surgery, both routine and emergency; blood and needle phobics need not apply. One vet, when queried about the hardest part of practicing veterinary medicine mentioned euthanasia; whether an animal was too ill and it was the kindest thing or because there were no loving homes for them. The same vet said the most rewarding part of their job is working with animals and seeing the happy faces of pets and owners.

High school students interested in becoming a veterinarian should concentrate on getting good grades. You need to have a great head for memorizing facts. Vet school selection committees require good grades in science, biology and math, and look at your background situation and previous experience with animals. To be considered for admission to a vet college, a student must complete pre-vet medical course work as an undergraduate. This takes three to four years of college study; courses required include physics, English composition, chemistry, math and biology. While a Bachelor’s degree may not be required, a large percentage of students entering vet school have them. Many students with an eye on vet school select an undergraduate major in agriculture, biology or animal science, as the courses overlap vet school requirements. If you’re interested in specializing in a more exotic species (e.g., lions, dolphins, elephants) you will need to take courses in marine biology or zoo medicine.

Each vet school’s admission requirements are different, and contacting the college closest to you is suggested. Before entry to vet school, each applicant is required to take the (GRE) Graduate Record Examination. Evaluation letters from people you’ve worked with help the school evaluate your work ethic and character. A vet hospital work history and letter from a veterinarian documenting this can assist you and may be required. Some vet colleges are affiliated with the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) and require this form from an applicant as well. The deadline for the VMCAS is almost a year in advance of when you start the vet program.

There are 28 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States. They receive their accreditation from the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association). These are the only schools recognized where a veterinary medical degree can be attained in the U.S. The vet schools are usually located at state colleges, and preference is given to applicants of the state, though some accept a limited number of non-resident applicants. Veterinary students take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) in their final year of school. If they pass the NAVLE, meet state license requirements and finish their veterinary degree program successfully, a student becomes a licensed vet eligible to practice veterinary medicine in the U.S.

A vet school teaches many subjects and a graduating veterinarian can go into many fields. The majority of veterinarians go into private practice, but there are also openings in teaching and research (at vet schools); regulatory medicine (the elimination or control of animal diseases that can affect humans, testing animal vaccines, as food inspectors for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service; public health (help control and prevent diseases that affect both humans and animals, FDA employees testing food additives and medicines, the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service); United States Military (biomedical research and development, care of government-owned animals, food safety and public health officers), private industry (biomedical and pharmaceutical research).

Vets never stop learning, as the needs of their patients are constantly changing. They need to keep current on new medications and drug therapies, new treatments and techniques, as well as diseases and infections that can affect our pets and possibly us. Vets take continuing education courses to keep their knowledge up to date, and some of these are required to keep their license current. Most vets read several medical magazines and books every month, not just veterinary ones. Some vets may go on to study for a specialty (behavior, orthopedics, geriatrics, cardiology, dermatology, nutrition) and there are exams to qualify for these as well. Many vets pass on their knowledge to other vets by speaking at conferences after they have been certified in their given specialty.

I have been blessed with most of the vets that have taken care of my animal companions over the years. A few had a lousy bedside manner, “dumbed down” their conversations with me, and had a “do as I say” attitude. They didn’t last long. A good vet will listen to all your concerns and discuss them with you. They will explain any procedure that needs to be performed and why. Any time you need to speak with them about an issue with your pet they will talk with you in a language you can understand. And their care and compassion for your animal will be evident.

CANIDAE “Ask a Veterinarian” Page

Do you have a question you’d like to ask a vet about your pet’s diet, nutrition or health? Visit the “Ask a Veterinarian” page on the CANIDAE website to read articles written by a specialized team of veterinary consultants. If you don’t see your question listed, you can submit it. The most popular questions and their answers will be posted.

CANIDAE 2010 Scholarship Recipients

CANIDAE has awarded their 2010 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Scholarships which supports applicants that have chosen to pursue a career path and life dedicated to the health and welfare of our pets. The program winners are Rebecca Tanaka Reader (Tufts Cummings School), Stephanie Heilman (Ohio State University), Kendra Creighton (University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) and Richard Boisvert (University of Calgary, Canada). Each winner received $2,500 from the $10,000 program.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently


  1. I live in LaSalle County, where is the nearest college? I am going into HS this fall.

  2. I am a freshman this year in high school. i would like to become a vet. is it to early to start planning what do i need to do. I've been wanting to be a vet since i was four. it has been my dram and i want to make it a reality. Thx for reading.


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