Veterinary Medicine - A Guide

How to Become
a Veterinarian

What Education
Will I Need?


Editor's Note

Citlali Tolia photo

Dear Reader,

The challenges of becoming a veterinarian are very real, but the rewards of the profession cannot be denied. Currently, the field of veterinary medicine is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. If you have decided to pursue your goal of becoming a veterinarian, you couldn't have picked a better time.

Recognizing that there is a lot to learn on the subject of veterinary medicine, we at have gathered pertinent facts and data and developed this INSIDE Veterinary Medicine guide. We want to assist you in deciding if this career choice is suitable for you. You're invited to visit our site and review the many veterinary-related articles you'll discover there.

We hope these pages help you find your path.

Happy reading,
Citlali Tolia signature
Citlali Tolia
Lead Editor, INSIDE Guides

Giving You Unbiased Information Ad

Quick Facts

  • Only 28 colleges and universities in the United States offer accredited veterinary medicine programs that meet the stringent standards of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
  • Veterinary schools have strict admission requirements. In 2007, just one out of three students was accepted.
  • The vast majority of veterinarians have private practices.
  • About 77% of all veterinarians treat family pets.
  • Non-clinical veterinarians work in research and public health and spend a considerable amount of their time amongst people.
  • Long hours are par for the course, and many veterinarians are on-call nights and weekends.
Veterinary Medicine

Should You Become a Veterinarian?

Veterinary medicine is a noble profession, but it's not for everyone. Do you have the necessary qualities? If you check more than 12 items, you probably do!

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Job Options in Veterinary Medicine

Equine Medicine

Large animal veterinary medicine encompasses the care of horses, which is referred to as equine medicine. Horses require special care due to their size, temperament and their anatomical differences from smaller animals. As a doctor of horses, you'll prescribe medications and administer first aid and vaccinations, but you'll also ensure that they are parasite and disease-free, and that their legs and feet are healthy. Horses' hooves must be cleaned on a regular basis to guard against infections and degeneration. Such conditions could eventually prove fatal. A bachelor's degree and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree with a specialization in the equine track will be required.


The broader field of veterinary medicine involves the medical health and well-being of animals of all kinds, regardless of size or breed. Mixed-animal veterinarians work with pets such as rabbits, birds and ferrets, and they also provide healthcare for farm animals and the more exotic species found in zoos and aquariums. Your primary duties as a veterinarian will be diagnosing, treating and medicating animals who have contracted diseases, or vaccinating them to prevent illnesses. You may educate animal owners as to breeding and feeding practices, and perform surgeries. At minimum, you must complete a 4-year veterinary medicine program and become licensed in order to practice.

Veterinary Medicine

Veterinary Clinical Services

The majority of all veterinarians offer clinical services. A clinical veterinarian is dedicated to providing direct medical care for his or her animal patients, whereas a non-clinical veterinarian opts for roles in public health or applied research in an attempt to find ways of preventing diseases in humans and animals. Clinical services veterinarians must obtain D.V.M. degrees. These doctors usually specialize in the care of companion animals or livestock such as cattle, swine and sheep. When you become a clinical services veterinarian, you'll work in private practices, veterinary clinics or hospitals.

Small Animal Medicine

Veterinarians who specialize in small animal medicine are responsible for the health and welfare of companion animals such as dogs, cats and hamsters. In this role as in all others, you'll use ethical measures to alleviate the suffering of animals who are sick or injured. You'll perform diagnostic, laboratory and radiological examinations and prescribe antibiotics as needed, as well as give vaccinations to prevent diseases such as rabies and distemper. Sometimes, for humane reasons, it will be necessary to euthanize gravely ill animals. Along with an undergraduate degree that includes multiple mathematics and science classes, you must obtain a D.V.M. degree to work in small animal medicine.

Puppy being examined by a veterinarian

Where Do Veterinarians Work?

Job Title and Industry 2010 Employment
Veterinarians in State Government 530
Veterinarians in Colleges & Universities 610
Veterinarians in Federal Government 1,350
Veterinarians in other Professional, Technical & Scientific Services 49,960
Social Advocacy Organizations 530
Medical clippers
Veterinary Medicine

Starting Salaries By Type of Practice

What Can a Veterinarian Earn?

Job Title Job Industry 2010 Salaries
Veterinarians Social Advocacy Organizations $84,290
Veterinarians Federal Government $88,340
Veterinarians Other Professional, Technical & Scientific Services $92,520

Veterinary Medicine Specializations

Veterinary Cardiology

Veterinarians who choose to specialize in the advanced clinical discipline of cardiology are required to complete a veterinary cardiology residency program, which can last two to three years. Residents are trained to diagnose heart ailments and congenital heart defects using thoracic radiographs, electrocardiograms and echocardiography and, ultimately, to treat cardiovascular disease in animals. Most of your training will take place within a university teaching hospital, but you'll also do coursework, make rounds and perform investigative research. You must have acquired a D.V.M. degree and completed an internship prior to beginning a master's-level veterinary cardiology residency program.

Veterinary Anesthesiologist

When large and small animals must undergo potentially painful therapeutic or diagnostic procedures, they are sedated or anesthetized so there's no discomfort involved. Local anesthesia can sometimes be injected into a small area of the body. Of course, if surgery is needed, animals must be unconscious


throughout the procedure. This means that you'll administer oxygen along with a mixture of general anesthesia and other gases through endotracheal tubes. It will be your job as a veterinary anesthesiologist to oversee the condition of animals before, during and after delivering anesthesia. A 3-year anesthesiology residency program will train you to safely anesthetize and sedate animals.

Veterinary Ophthalmology

Veterinary ophthalmologists provide eye care for a wide variety of large and small animals such as exotic pets, livestock,

Veterinary Medicine

zoo species and animals found in the wild. Once you have acquired a veterinary degree and completed a 1-year clinical internship, you can enter a 3-year ophthalmology residency program where you'll learn to diagnose and treat conditions such as corneal disease, retinal disease and glaucoma. Intensive training will be given in areas such as diagnostic technology, surgical procedures and ocular pathology, but you will also be required to complete an ophthalmology research project and teach junior-level veterinary students.

Small Animal Surgery

Sometimes animals need surgery to restore their good health. A small animal

surgery residency will teach you to safely perform invasive procedures on animals and to manage their post-operative care. The program will focus on areas such as soft tissues, orthopaedics and oncologic surgery, and will impart surgical, teaching and research skills. During your residency, you'll develop the sound judgment and diagnostic abilities that are required of small animal surgery veterinarians. You'll also attend rounds and monitor surgery patients under the direction of the faculty surgeon. The residency program will last approximately four years, whereupon you'll be awarded a Certificate of Residency.

Degree Options in Veterinary Medicine

Bachelor of Science in Pre-Veterinary Science

Many veterinary colleges require students to have taken a large number of college courses, and, preferably, attained bachelor's degrees. Find a program with a curriculum that focuses heavily on mathematics and science, with classes in chemistry, animal nutrition, zoology, physics, animal biology and college algebra. Relevant courses can be found in pre-veterinary science, animal science and some biology programs. It can be difficult to gain admission to veterinary colleges because there are many well-qualified applicants. You must maintain high grades and score well on

required tests such as the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Master of Science in Veterinary Science

A number of veterinary colleges offer graduate-level programs for students who would like to prepare for a career in research and biomedical science. Master of Science in Veterinarian Science programs consist of coursework, seminars, research and teaching opportunities. You'll be trained in areas such as reproductive biology, anatomy and neurobiology, while taking classes in food sciences, breeding, microbiology,

Veterinary Medicine

immunology and epidemiology. A research thesis is a requirement of many master's degree programs. Prerequisites for entering a graduate program of this nature include having taken classes such as statistics, genetics and analytical chemistry.

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) Degree

After graduating with a bachelor's degree, you must apply to an accredited school of veterinary medicine. Upon acceptance to a 4-year professional veterinary program, you'll begin a rigorous course of study that includes physiology, microscopic anatomy, small animal medicine, pharmacology, large animal surgery and general medicine classes. Clinical science courses will enable you to study every known animal species. In addition, you'll gain clinical, managerial and problem-solving skills which will aid you in building a private veterinary practice. A well-balanced D.V.M. program will also prepare you for a veterinary career in business, academia, research or government service.

Veterinarian holding a rabbit.
Small tabby kitten

D.V.M. / Ph.D. Dual Degrees

Another educational option for aspiring veterinary clinician scientists is a combined 7-year D.V.M. / Ph.D. program, which will allow you to earn both degrees at the same time. This is ideal if you're planning to perform biomedical and translational research in the academic, government or research industries. Combined graduate programs offer study in areas such as comparative biomedical sciences, immunology and physiology. Prior experience in designing research projects or contributing to a team project may be necessary for admission. Program curricula might include veterinary nutrition, graduate elective courses, laboratory rotations and preparation of thesis and dissertation research.

Licensing and Certifications

Veterinarians in all states are required to become licensed before being allowed to practice, with the exception of those working for some state and federal government agencies. States may have differing conditions for licensure, so you should check the laws for the state in which you will live and practice. Following are general requirements that U.S. veterinarians must fulfill:

  • You must have acquired a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited institution.
  • Applicants for licensure must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination, which is given by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. It takes approximately eight hours to complete the 360-question multiple choice examination. Each year, the test is offered for two weeks in April, as well as during a 4-week period in November and December.
  • In many states, you must also pass a jurisprudence examination which demonstrates your knowledge of state laws.
  • Additional clinical tests may be administered by some states.
Veterinary Medicine

The Career Wizard

  • How can I advance in the field of veterinary medicine?
  • As a recent graduate of a school of veterinary medicine, you'll likely qualify for various employee positions with the United States government. These include animal welfare worker, meat inspector, research assistant and epidemiologist. You might also serve as a commissioned public health service officer or work in the military. Or, you can become an employee in a group veterinary practice. In time, you'll gain the experience needed to become a partner or start a veterinary practice of your own.

  • What is the projected job outlook for veterinarians?
  • Job prospects for veterinarians appear to be quite favorable through 2018. The industry is expected to expand at a rate of 33%, which is much faster than normal. Such growth has been attributed to the fact that people are increasingly regarding their pets as family members, and are, therefore, willing to pay for veterinary and other pet care services. Also, as more families acquire cats, there is expected to be a growing need for feline veterinary services.

  • Will I have to travel to perform my duties?
  • This depends on your area of specialty. As a small animal veterinarian, you'll see patients in your offices, but becoming a large animal veterinarian means you'll be working with racehorses, zoo or farm and ranch animals. In this capacity, except for extreme emergencies, you'll be required travel to wherever the animals are housed to tend to their healthcare needs. Although you'll work at your office base, you'll also work outdoors a good deal of the time, sometimes in inclement weather.


Medical and technical knowledge are important aspects of any veterinary career, but the field also requires experience with animals and, if it is your goal, the skills to run a veterinary practice. Continued learning is also essential. Below is information you can utilize to ensure success in your veterinary career:

Acquire Animal Care Experience

The importance of animal care experience for veterinarians can't be emphasized enough. Of course, if you grew up on a working farm or ranch, you've already got a huge advantage. If not, volunteer work at an animal shelter, stable, zoo or clinic can make you a more appealing candidate for highly selective veterinary colleges. In fact, it can be a deciding factor when choosing between otherwise equally-qualified applicants.

Enroll in a Dual D.V.M. / M.B.A Program

Some veterinary colleges offer 5-year D.V.M. and Master of Business Administration programs, which integrate veterinary training and business skills. Many veterinarians are forming corporate franchises or branching into livestock enterprise management, which means more

intensive business education is needed. While pursuing a veterinary degree, you'll take business courses such as quality control and financial management.

Enroll in Continuing Education Courses

Although laws regarding continuing education vary from state to state, veterinarians are required to keep up with advances in veterinary medicine in order to renew their licenses. Continuing education courses must be approved by state veterinary boards. You can choose from a vast array of courses, including electrocardiography interpretation, veterinary ophthalmology and cardiology and interactive computer classes.

Puppy having it's heart rate checked.
Veterinary Medicine

Professional Organizations

Not only can you make business contacts by joining professional organizations, but you'll find that they are a great source for animal health news, career and educational information. Below, you'll find a few professional veterinary organizations:

The American Society of Animal Science strives to be the voice of animal scientists. The organization was started in 1908, and its membership includes animal breeders, teachers and nutritionists. Here, you'll have access to job resources, writing workshops, animal science publications and more.

Founded in 1863, the American Veterinary Medical Association is a not-for-profit organization comprised of more than 81,500 veterinarians who serve in the military as well as in the corporate, government, educational and private sectors. Among the benefits of AVMA membership are insurance programs, continuing education opportunities, public health information and veterinary journals.

Medical symbol with silhouettes of animals

Dedicated to animal health and welfare, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges was established in 1966. Its mission is to alleviate animal suffering and provide medical information that will help promote excellence in veterinary medicine.

Get Money for Veterinary School

Health Professions Scholarship

The U.S. Army offers the F. Edward H├ębert Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship to students in veterinary medicine programs, among others. The scholarship covers full tuition and offers a $2,000 monthly allowance. You must have a bachelor's degree, and you must serve in the U.S. Army Reserves.

AVMF Veterinary Scholarship Program

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation grants scholarships to veterinary students who have strong GPAs and are in their first, second or third years of study. A candidate with an interest in cat care will also be chosen to receive a $2,500 grant from the Winn Feline Foundation.

American Kennel Club Veterinary Student Scholarships

Students enrolled full-time at accredited veterinary medical schools in the U.S. can apply for a scholarship from the American Kennel Club. Recipients are select based on need, academic achievement and research and activities they have done with purebred dogs. Students must obtain the scholarship application through their school's financial aid office.

Dr. Isaac E. Hayes Memorial Scholarship

Veterinary students who wish to begin a mixed animal practice and who require financial assistance receive preference for this award, which was established by Dr. R.J. Gibbs and associates. Winners of this award will be asked to recite biographical information on the award founder.

Veterinary Medicine