Veterinary Medicine Degrees: Doctorate, Master's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a veterinary medicine degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and doctoral degree and potential careers.
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Studying Veterinary Medicine: Degrees at a Glance

If you love animals, a career as a veterinarian might suit you. You could work in clinics, zoos or laboratories diagnosing and treating sick or injured animals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for these professionals were expected to increase at a rate of 36% from 2010 to 2020. However, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) is necessary for this career, and your schooling could take a total of eight years to complete. You will also need to obtain a state license.

Post-doctoral veterinary medicine master's degree programs are also available. While not required to practice, these programs are typically designed for veterinarians who want to become specialists in an area such as veterinary radiology or large animal surgery.

Doctorate Post-doctoral Master's
Who is this degree for? Individuals seeking their first professional degree Veterinarians who want to specialize in a certain area
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Veterinarian ($83,000)* - Research veterinarian ($95,000)**
- Veterinary surgeon ($46,000-$154,000 -10th-90th percentile)***
- Veterinary radiologist (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion Four years full-time beyond a bachelor's degree About two years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 110 credit hours of coursework
- 1-year clerkship
- 30-36 credit hours of coursework
- Written or oral exams
- Research project
Prerequisites - Up to 60 credit hours of undergraduate coursework in the sciences and humanities
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
- Most schools require a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
- GRE scores
- Letters of recommendation
Online Availability No No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Salary.com (July 2012 figures), ***PayScale.com (July 2012 figures).

Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine

The admissions process for veterinary medicine doctoral programs is extremely competitive. In 2010, less than 50% of applicants were accepted into a program, according to the BLS. Moreover, it will likely take you at least four years to earn one of these professional degrees.

The first three years of program curricula typically focus on coursework and lab experiences, while the last year is dedicated to completing a clerkship. These requirements can prepare you to obtain a state license after graduating, a process that usually entails earning a passing score on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. You might need to pass a state-issued exam as well.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent job growth projected for veterinarians (36% increase from 2010-2020)*
  • Can work in a wide variety of settings (farms, clinics, hospitals, labs, shelters)
  • Clerkships can expose you to various specialty areas

Cons

  • Only 28 accredited veterinary medicine programs existed as of 2012, and admission is competitive*
  • DVM programs take at least 4 years beyond the undergraduate level to complete
  • Veterinarians sometimes work long or irregular hours

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in a DVM program focuses on a wide range of medical, scientific and business topics, with students dividing their time between classroom and laboratory settings. You might also participate in clinical observations at a teaching hospital. Some of the more common courses available in a veterinary medicine doctoral program include the following:

  • Supportive care
  • Anatomy
  • Veterinary pathology
  • Parasitology
  • Emergency care
  • Veterinary nutrition
  • Ethics and law

Clerkships also make up a large part of program requirements. You'll spend your entire fourth year getting hands-on experience caring for animals. Clinical rotations during this time are designed to introduce you to a variety of specialty areas in the field.

Online Course Info

DVM programs are not available online. Some schools do offer individual veterinary medicine courses via distance education, but these are typically for licensed veterinarians who want to earn continuing education credits or brush up on their clinical skills. Topics of study can include pain management, toxicology, reproduction and oncology.

Stand Out with This Degree

The BLS reports that fewer applicants were expected to compete for openings in large animal veterinary practices and government food safety programs. To improve your job prospects, consider training for a career in one of these fields. Some DVM programs offer food animal or equine tracks that include electives and clerkships in these areas.

You might also want to consider developing your decision-making and problem-solving skills while participating in clinical experiences. These attributes are essential for making the proper diagnoses and deciding on the most appropriate treatment procedures.

Post-doctoral Master's in Veterinary Medicine

Post-doctoral veterinary medicine master's degree programs are designed for veterinarians looking to specialize in a particular area, such as large or small animal medicine, veterinary surgery and preventative medicine. In many cases, these programs are offered to students who'd like to complete coursework while concurrently enrolled in residency programs. You'll more than likely need a DVM and an excellent academic history in order to be admitted.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A variety of specializations are available (small animal internal medicine, zoological medicine, clinical pathology, large animal surgery)
  • Can prepare you for specialty certification exams
  • Veterinary specialists earn excellent salaries (median salary of $95,000 for research veterinarians)*

Cons

  • Most programs require a doctorate for entry
  • Earning one of these master's degrees could mean spending up to 10 years in school
  • Veterinarians run the risk of being bitten or scratched by frightened animals

Source: *Salary.com (July 2012 figures).

Courses and Requirements

These 2-year programs often include comprehensive exams and research projects. Additionally, you can take core courses in statistics and research methods. The remaining coursework will depend on your specialty area. Here are some topics you might study in a master's degree program:

  • Epidemiology
  • Surgical techniques
  • Veterinary anesthesia
  • Endocrinology
  • Oncology

Online Course Info

Online veterinary master's degree programs are typically not available. Most programs require hands-on research, which must be completed on campus. However, online continuing education options are offered by some schools.

Stand Out with This Degree

Besides giving you additional opportunities to specialize in large or food animal medicine, a post-doctoral master's degree can help qualify you for certifications from professional veterinary boards. These include the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and the American College of Veterinary Radiology, both of which offer certifications to applicants who've completed board-approved residency or training programs and passed exams. According to the BLS, earning one of these credentials can help you demonstrate your expertise to potential clients.

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