Realize Your Dream to Become a Veterinarian

By a guest writer
Veterinarian doctor and spaniel puppyAs you eat your breakfast with your cat sitting on your lap, you realize that it’s your dream to become a veterinarian. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 12 percent increase in the need for veterinarians through 2022. Your timing is good as the demand for animal care practitioners grows. Once you’ve graduated, there are a number of specialties in which you can work. Here are the steps to becoming a veterinarian and how you can even begin your path from your own home:

A Competitive Field

Being a veterinarian in the U.S. requires a graduate degree and nearly as much training as a physician. There are currently 28 accredited colleges that offer the Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine (DVM) degree. Thousands of students apply each year for the limited student positions. Being prepared for and passionate about a career in animal care is necessary to make your way to the top.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is the professional organization overseeing the training of all veterinarians. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges manages the accreditation of all schools that teach veterinarian science. Not only are the graduate programs monitored by the AAVMC, but it also manages veterinarian tech programs and any appropriate distance learning.

To practice as a veterinarian in the U.S., you must also pass the North America Veterinary Licensing Exam. There are also individual state exams for veterinarians and vet techs.

Preparing for Vet School

Entrance into a veterinarian program requires a strong undergraduate foundation in the sciences. You will want to maintain a 3.5 GPA at a minimum to be considered a serious candidate for vet school, says the Penn State Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences program. Your undergraduate focus should be mathematics, chemistry, physical sciences and biology. The exact types of courses and number of credits is different for each veterinary college, so check the schools that you’re interest in attending.

Some of your undergraduate work can be done online. Using resources such as CollegeOnline, find out which prerequisites you can take online and get a head start on your class work. This is ideal if you are working full time and want to see if you can make your way through the undergraduate requirements.

Another key activity is volunteering with a licensed veterinarian. Some vet colleges require letters of recommendation from one or more vets. These recommendations and your willingness to do the volunteer work show the schools that you are committed to the veterinarian profession.

Preparing to Apply to Vet School

Most colleges require you to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and pass with certain grades. Each school will list the target scores they want you to attain.

Most of the colleges use the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS). This automated system takes your application online and submits it to the schools to which you wish to apply. It also sends your letters of recommendations and GRE scores to those schools for you.

While no veterinary schools offer a full program through online learning, students can use online classes to enhance their skills while attending college. If you don’t get into a veterinary program right away, another option is to take courses online to become a certified vet tech.

Veterinarian Technician

The vet tech role is managed by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA) through the AVMA. A number of schools throughout the U.S. offer vet tech programs as well as online education courses. This might be a stepping stone into veterinarian college, especially if your GPA or GRE scores are below the norm.

A vet tech works alongside a licensed veterinarian and is allowed to participate in diagnostic procedures, give medications and anesthesia, and provide treatment under the direction of a vet. This might be a good way to determine if the veterinarian program is the right path for you.

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Realize Your Dream to Become a Veterinarian — 17 Comments

  1. Surely a vet has to have some compassion and a love of animals as a first and basic requirement otherwise it’s just like any other money making business and decisions will be based on that and not what is best for the animal. (That rings a few bells where declawing is concerned) There’s no way in this world I would ever want to be a vet, I couldn’t take all the suffering and sadness, a bit like Dee I don’t have a problem being around deceased humans (though of course as a job it’s easier than when it happens to someone of your own) but other than our own past deceased animals I hate to be around dead animals, it took me all the strength I could muster to pick up a cat that was a road accident casualty and take him to the vet to see if he had a chip. I used to be a Saturday girl at the first vet practice that Ruth worked at [for 10\- a week :-)] and saw some sad things then, but I couldn’t do it now.

    • I am the same. I can’t look at animal suffering these days. There is a terrible clash in culture with vets. They have to make money and in truth the service should be paid for as if it was the NHS (an NHS for cats) because it is very tricky to mix money and health care for animals. It is almost bound to lead to temptations to prioritise money over health.

  2. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a vet, but the realities set in and I abandoned the idea.
    It always seemed odd to me that I never had any serious issues with human suffering and dying, but animals tear me to pieces.
    No medical profession student (vet, doc, nurse) that I know of has ever been questione about whether they really care about humans or animals.

  3. I agree with Michael that first and foremost in importance is the love of animals and compassion for them.
    I sometimes wish I’d had the opportunity to become a vet but I had to leave school and bring in some money as our family were poor.
    I became a vet nurse instead when I managed to get a job at a vet hospital, it was hard work and poorly paid and in those days we learned as we went along. Hands on, I often knew more than newly qualified vets who came to work at the practice. Book learning isn’t everything!
    I know now I was too sensitive to work with animals, I never did get hardened to the heartbreak, but there I stayed and did my best.
    I think working with animals is a sort of ‘calling’ you can’t ignore, just like some people are called to the Priesthood.
    I don’t think American vets who declaw cats have the correct attitude, to knowingly and deliberately disable a cat by such cruel surgery is very bad. They must learn a cat’s anatomy in their training surely and besides that, even people here in the UK who don’t particularly like cats, shudder with shock and horror that vets in the USA and Canada DO declaw. That some offer it as a package with neutering or at a discount is even more horrifying, there is NO WAY those vets should be in that profession!

    • I agree – I’m sorry but I have a very low opinion of the AVMA and the Canadian equivalent simply because of the declawing. That is something so hugely serious in of itself that one cannot simply look past it. The AVMA is clearly far behind other countries on a moral practical level. On avarage that is – of course certain vets within are against it but the overall picture is a bad one and will continue to be until the AVMA promotes ONLY humane practices, and not just mainly with some inhumane ones in the mix.

    • Nice point Ruth. A vet needs to love animals but also be able to deal with some pretty ghastly sights and distressing stuff.

      Also a vet needs to be an excellent communicator. Vets have emotional people to deal with. People and animal skills are required.

  4. I think this is the correct time to bring up the subject of declawing and the infamous AVMA who seem to favour non species specific diets for cats and who seem to promote the idea of declawing as a humane way of saving a cat’s life.

    Are they a bunch of f**ing morons? Honest question.

    My proposed answer from the AVMA is: “Money talks, anything else walks, next question”

    • Agreed. This guest post is what I would call “conventional”. It is mainstream and does not in any way question major underlying problems with the AVMA and North American vets. The AVMA is a front. It is a cardboard cutout of an association that appears to have no powers over its members. It is only there at the members’ discretion. If the AVMA goes against its members and actually (God forbid) bans declawing, the members would just abandon it and start another association. That is my prediction.

  5. Thanks for the post. One qualification that seems to be missing in the selection process is a person’s love of animals.

    A vet can’t be a good vet unless he or she at least likes animals a lot. I don’t think we should presume that a person applying to be a vet necessarily likes animals enough to be a good vet.

    Does anyone ask candidates if they are anxious when dealing with cats for example?

    What I am saying is do the selection panels check out the candidates’ attitudes and mentality regarding cats and other species as well as academic qualifications?

    The veterinary profession is a vocation. There needs to be a real concern for animal welfare. Academic excellence and dexterity (for surgery) is not everything.

    It is the same sort of issues that are being discussed with respect to nurses. Nurses should be compassionate. A degree in nursing is not enough.

    In fact compassion is more important than knowledge in my opinion.

    If a vet has the correct attitude towards animals he/she would not, could not declaw a kitten for the convenience of the owner. Yet this happens all the time. Do American vets have the correct attitude?

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