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How to Become a Veterinarian: Career Roadmap and Education

Majors Overview January 29, 2013

Veterinarians perform the prevention and treatment of injuries and illnesses in animals. These professionals might prefer areas of concentration such as surgery, veterinary medicine, and/or animal groups, such as wildlife or equines. During the performance of their duties, veterinarians diagnose patients, prescribe medications, perform surgery, give vaccinations, and provide health care recommendations to owners of pets. Veterinarians may also conduct research projects in biomedical sciences and other specialized areas. Employers of veterinarians for entry level jobs require candidates to hold an undergraduate degree; aspiring veterinarians must earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) in a four-year veterinary medicine program thereafter, then they can be employed in a zoo, farm or small animal clinic. The following table display general skill and education requirements to become a veterinarian:

Common Requirements

Degree Level

Doctorate degree required

Area of Concentration

Veterinary medicine


Must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam to earn licensure; there may be other licensure requirements depending on the state


Depends on the field of practice and employer

Key Skills

Reading skills, critical thinking, complex problem solving, active listening, speaking, and decision making

Computer Skills

Knowledge of software used to communicate with others and record information (Microsoft Outlook, Excel, Office, and Access) and scientific software specific to the veterinary field

Technical Skills

Experience with laboratory, surgical, and x-ray equipment

Stage One: Completing an Undergraduate Degree Program

Majority of schools for veterinary medicine demand applicants to hold a bachelor degree during admission. While many undergraduate students opt for specialization in a biological science, majority veterinary schools do not insist on any specific major; their only concern is candidates should take certain science courses including math, physics, chemistry, and general biology with more advanced science courses such as animal behavior, biochemistry, or mammalogy demanded at some schools. Participating in internships or volunteer programs in the veterinary field will benefit aspiring veterinarians. Such programs at animal care facilities or veterinary clinics will provide first-hand experience as to what the job is all about. Experience working with animals is compulsory for admission to many veterinary programs, and through volunteered work it gives students a competitive edge for admission. It can help them showcase their dedication to their chosen profession while gaining professional references.

Joining a pre-veterinary club is another way aspiring veterinarians can improve their career prospects. Many schools have such clubs that focus on veterinary medicine; the members hold meetings in which resources for internships or volunteering experience, shadowing programs, and career topics form the basis for discussions. Members can also avail the opportunity to apply for scholarships. Taking the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) can also enhance an aspiring veterinarian’s career because GRE scores are commonly used by schools to measure a candidate’s readiness for studies at the graduate-level.

Stage Two: Earning a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

The curriculum in a veterinary medicine program is successfully built upon every previous year’s. The focus may be on subject areas such as virology, nutrition, physiology and animal anatomy, during the first couple of years. The basic framework that helps students understand veterinary medicine are created through these courses and related subjects. There may also be courses focus on certain animal groups. During the third year, students may get hands on experience with live animals in clinical settings. They can use such opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge garnered by them during the first two years by making diagnoses and recommending possible treatments. During the fourth year, students participate in applied experiences such as externships and practicums. Involvement in research projects will also prove immensely beneficial to students as it will help them understand some aspects of the field and also broaden their job opportunities to research settings, in addition to clinical ones.

Stage Three: Becoming Licensed

Students who graduated from accredited programs with a focus on veterinary medicine must be licensed to practice in the field. Every states demand graduates to successfully pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination; some states may require students to take additional exams.

Stage Four: Gaining Experience

A licensed veterinarian may seek further specialized and practical experience in the field by joining a one-year internship program to pursue more permanent employment. Most veterinarians perform work on small companion animals in private clinical settings. A smaller proportion of these professionals choose specialized work with larger animals such as equines, zoo animals or exotic animals.

Certification in a specialty field such as surgery or internal medicine can be accomplished by completing either additional education or a residency program. Residency programs usually involve work at a specified location for a multiple number of years where supervised training is given to a veterinarian in the specialty of his/her choosing.

Veterinarians can join state and national professional associations to gain several benefits such as resources for continued education, published literature on the latest veterinary topics, professional connections and access to newsletters.

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