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How to Become a Veterinarian

By: Dr. Patricia Khuly

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If you want to be a veterinarian, chances are you've always wanted to be a veterinarian. And, if you're smart and determined, chances are, you'll achieve your goal. But, as you probably already know, getting there is the hardest part. So here's a run-down of things you'll need to know before you leap head-first into the world of animal medicine.

Your education is, of course, the most obvious of the criteria you must satisfy on your quest to become a veterinarian. Here's a list of things to consider:

High School

  • Traditionally, your high school years are an excellent time to start considering what you'll have to achieve - scholastically - to gain entrance to veterinary school.

  • Take biology and chemistry very seriously because how much you learn here impacts how well you perform in college.

  • While veterinary school admission offices don't review high school grades, high GPA and SAT scores pave the way for entrance to more prestigious schools. And most veterinary schools certainly consider the quality of your undergraduate education.

    College

  • Most veterinary schools require four years of undergraduate education before they'll accept your application. Some will consider you after three years if you've completed your prerequisites.

  • Check with each school you're considering, and make sure you know what their entrance requirements are. The most common requirements include: very specific science coursework; a minimum GPA; and either the VCAT (the veterinary version of the medical school entrance examination, the MCAT) or the GRE.

  • Good grades are essential. Excellent grades make things much easier but aren't strictly necessary.

    Your work experience is becoming more of a factor for veterinary schools each year. Usually this includes a position at an animal hospital, another animal-related job or science/medical position. Not only does this demonstrate that you have an affinity for veterinary medicine or animal life, in general, but it speaks to your level of commitment to the field. The following positions may be useful as summer jobs or year-round after-school work in either High School or college. Here are some jobs that will help you:

  • Work for a veterinarian. It hardly matters whether you work for a large animal practitioner or small animal veterinarian but it's important to be consistent. For example, if your ultimate goal is to become a large animal practitioner, then you should have experienced this work environment before you can apply to a veterinary school with the express intent of entering this field.

  • Work with animals at a zoo, farm, pet store, preserve, state park or stable. All of these increase your points in the eyes of the admissions committee (although not necessarily as much as working directly for a veterinarian).

  • Work in a science- or medicine-related field. Even cleaning glassware in a laboratory demonstrates an interest in science and research and could lead to interesting work as you're given more responsibilities.

    Your level of dedication is extremely important. More than anything else, the admissions committee wants to see that you can endure the academic rigors of the curriculum and that you'll work as a veterinarian when you graduate. The last thing they want is to select you over another qualified candidate only to lose you to the world of Wall Street when you realize that veterinarians don't make as much money as investment bankers.

    Veterinary medicine is an exciting career but it's not for everyone. Here's a list of pros and cons to consider before taking the plunge:

    Pros

  • It's an emotionally satisfying job for many. The daily rewards in terms of societal support for your endeavors and the satisfaction of helping animals can be very powerful ongoing motivators.

  • The flexibility of a professional work schedule is often cited as a major positive in favor of veterinary medicine. Many families find that it's a profession that accommodates child-rearing responsibilities generously.

  • Being a veterinarian can be moderately rewarding, financially. A comfortable lifestyle, though typically not opulent, is financially feasible for most veterinarians once student loans are paid off.

    Cons

  • It's a difficult goal to achieve. Veterinary school is notoriously difficult to enter and complete.

  • Veterinary school can be dauntingly pricey. Depending on the school, graduates may complete their four years with mountainous debt.
  • Compared to similar professions, veterinary medicine offers limited financial rewards. This can often lead to frustration and job dissatisfaction if expectations are out of line with reality.

    'To Do' List for the Future Veterinarian

    To make things easier for all you future veterinarians, here's a checklist of things you should accomplish and consider before applying to veterinary school:

  • Contact veterinary schools of interest (your state or a neighboring state is typically your best choice because schools prefer students from their home states).

  • Understand your academic requirements: grades, coursework and examinations.

  • Secure summer or after-school work in a relevant industry.

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