As a young child, you may have dreamed of becoming an “animal doctor” someday. You may still hold that dream in your heart, in case you ever decide on a career change. However, becoming a veterinarian is not easy, and requires much more than a love for all creatures great and small. Before leaping into eight years of college courses and a challenging—but incredibly rewarding—career, take a look at the most frequently asked questions about becoming and being a veterinarian.
Question: What is the best way to gain experience with animals?
Answer: You may not have experienced the joy of growing up with various pets, but you can still work with animals and gain the knowledge required before you can apply to veterinary school. While personal pets and 4-H participation teach you a great deal about animal husbandry, you can also volunteer to walk dogs and play with cats at animal shelters, or create your own pet-sitting or dog-walking business. Don’t forget your parents’ support for these activities. Once you’re old enough to apply for a part-time job, search for a kennel attendant, horse groom, ranch hand, or similar position. The final years of animal caretaking before your veterinary school application are crucial if you are to receive an acceptance letter.
Q: Which high school classes will benefit a future veterinarian most?
A: If you’ve already decided on a veterinary medicine career, the best high school classes are advanced science and math. Biology, chemistry, life sciences, calculus, and algebra also will be beneficial for your career, because anatomy, physiology, and drug calculations will be crucial for your daily veterinary tasks.
Q: Is getting into veterinary school difficult?
A: No professional program demands more of its prospective students than veterinary programs—including medical school. While the undergraduate requirements include similar prerequisites (i.e., general biology, genetics, cell biology, microbiology, calculus, organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, and biochemistry), potential veterinary students have a heavier course load with extra classes that focus on animal biology, animal nutrition, food animal science, vertebrate embryology, zoology, and physiology. After all, veterinarians learn how to care for many species, while physicians worry only about a single species. In addition to an intense class schedule during undergraduate years, veterinary students must complete hundreds of direct-work hours with animals in some capacity. Medical school programs do not include a caretaking requirement.
Only about 10% to 15% of hopeful students are accepted into the 30 accredited veterinary programs in the U.S. each year. Increase your acceptance odds by choosing a potential veterinary program early on, and checking off each item on their requirement list. For more information regarding veterinary schools, and to maximize your chances for acceptance, check out the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges website.
Q: How do I legally practice as a veterinarian after graduation?
A: After surviving four years of intense coursework during veterinary school, you must undergo more testing to legally practice as a veterinarian. On graduation, you must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), which consists of 360 clinically relevant multiple-choice questions. Once you’ve passed the NAVLE, you must also take a state jurisprudence exam before you are permitted to practice veterinary medicine. After you have completed these two tests, and applied for your license, you must complete 20 hours of continuing education per year to retain your license.
Q: What is most rewarding about being a veterinarian?
A: While snuggling adorable puppies and kittens is definitely a perk, being a veterinarian involves so much more. Nothing is more rewarding than knowing you saved a pet’s life, especially if you encountered a rare or challenging case. As a veterinarian, you will work with a tight-knit team whose members all care deeply about improving animals’ lives, and experience the joy of first seeing a pet for their initial puppy or kitten vaccinations, and continuing to care for them and keep them healthy throughout their long, happy life. You form a strong bond with the pet and their owner courtesy of your devoted veterinary care, and few careers offer more joy and satisfaction than that.
Do you have more questions about becoming a veterinarian, or want to see one of our fabulous doctors in action? Contact Mill Creek Animal Hospital for more information, or to schedule a job-shadow opportunity.