How Long Does It Take To Become A Veterinarian?

June 11, 2024
2 min read


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 4/25/24

How long do you have to go to school to be a vet? The answer varies, but we’ll break it down for you in this handy guide. 

Becoming a veterinarian can be a fulfilling career if you want to merge your love of animals and science. However, your four-legged patients can’t talk, so you’ll need an excellent understanding of animal symptoms, disorders, and diseases. 

But how long does it take to become a vet? We’ll outline how long you can expect to be in school, whether or not vet school is worth it, and more. 

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How Long Does It Take To Become A Veterinarian? 

Typically, it takes eight years to become a veterinarian. Students must complete four years of undergraduate studies and four years of veterinarian school

However, how long it takes to be a veterinarian can vary. Sometimes people can finish their undergraduate degrees earlier or take an extra year. DVM programs are typically four years long. However, some programs can take three years to complete, such as at the University of Arizona

Some students may complete a year-long internship to gain additional training and clinical skills before practicing independently. If you want to work in a specialty area of veterinary medicine, you’ll likely need to continue studying for at least three years through a residency. 

There are 41 distinct specialties in veterinary medicine, such as: 

  • Behavior
  • Dentistry
  • Pathology
  • Toxicology
  • Poultry
  • Zoo animals
  • Reptiles or amphibians

Dr. Jim Carlson, a veterinarian outside Chicago, said:

"You get to learn about the large and small animals. That's unique to our profession, because we come out (of vet school) having a basic knowledge of all animals, from ants to elephants.” 

Becoming a veterinarian can take around seven to nine years or longer if you want to pursue a specialty. For example, if you specialize in reptiles and amphibians, you’ll need to complete another six years of schooling before earning certification. 

Is Vet School Worth It? Benefits and Considerations

Becoming a veterinarian can be rewarding, but deciding if vet school is right for you or not is challenging. It's helpful to weigh vet school’s benefits and considerations. 

Benefits of Vet School 

Along with interacting with many types of critters daily, there are many benefits to pursuing vet school. 

You’ll Learn About Many Aspects of Animal Healthcare

One of the best parts about vet school is you’ll learn about all types of animals. When you become a veterinarian, you’re sure to never have an identical workday. 

Dr. Robin Solomon, a licensed veterinarian in New York, said the vet school curriculum is diverse, balancing science courses with clinical training. 

Solomon said:

“classes include the anatomy and physiology of many species (cats, dogs, horses, cows, and exotic species), nutrition, microbiology, infectious diseases, internal medicine, and surgery. Elective courses are also offered in areas of aquatic and zoo animal medicine, conservation of endangered species, rehabilitation medicine and Eastern medicine such as acupuncture.” 

Vet school allows you to absorb tremendous amounts of varied material. After you become a veterinarian, you’ll still enjoy a level of variety. 

Dr. Tony DeMarco, a veterinarian who owns the Lee's Summit, Missouri, said, “I might see a cute new family puppy first thing in the morning and then evaluate a sick cat for surgery.” If you crave new and exciting prospects in your career, you’re sure to have it as a veterinarian. 

You’ll also get to work with animals as part of your career; if that’s your main goal, attending vet school is worth it. 

You’ll Have Numerous Career Paths 

Unlike med school, there’s no pressure to choose a specialization; many veterinarians never do. Dr. Lori Pasternak, the co-founder of Helping Hands Affordable Veterinary Surgery & Dental Care, said:

“Every day we get to be dermatologists, cardiologists, surgeons, internists, neurologists, ophthalmologists, and more.” 

Even if you don’t want to choose a specialization, there are many job types within the field. Veterinarians aren’t limited to just working at a private practice. They can work in research, public health, the military, and regulatory medicine, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Source: CDC

DeMarco said, “There are many potential career paths, from small animal doctor to state health inspector, and from researcher to relief vet."

You’ll See the Results of Your Work 

As a veterinarian, your job is to speak for those without a voice and to determine their needs. Veterinarians must have excellent communication skills and collaborate with animal owners to determine a pet’s issue. 

Beginning a treatment or identifying what’s wrong with an animal helps them and the sometimes distraught owners. You get to know your community and see the animals you work with return to their former health. 

The Demand for Veterinarians Is Expected to Grow

Job security is an excellent benefit of going to vet school. The U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the employment of veterinarians will grow 20% between 2022 and 2032, a much faster rate than other occupations. 

The BLS projects approximately 5000 openings for veterinarians per year for the next decade, primarily to replenish the labor force as other vets retire. 

Vet School Considerations 

While there are many rewarding elements to look forward to as a vet, there are also some factors you should consider. 

Pursuing a DVM Can Be Expensive and Time-Consuming

Getting your DVM takes about four years with an often demanding schedule. While how many years it takes to become a vet varies, you must factor in your education’s price. Tuition can be hefty depending on which school you choose. 

Your Salary Will Likely Be Lower Than a Physician’s

De Marco said that the salary-to-debt ratio is poor for veterinarians, but people usually don’t choose the job because they expect it to be lucrative.

“Money can be a touchy subject, especially since we work in a caring profession and generally prefer to tackle medical rather than financial challenges,” he said. 

The BLS states veterinarians’ median pay was $103,260 per year. In comparison, physicians’ median pay was equal to or greater than $208,000 per year. 

You Must Prepare for Sad Situations

In theory, becoming a veterinarian sounds like a happy job. Unfortunately, that’s always the reality. Animal lovers will need to learn how to deal with sad scenarios in their time as veterinarians; just like human medicine, sometimes there’s not much left you can do. 

Getting Into Vet School Can Be Challenging

Getting accepted at a vet school takes time and effort to ensure your application is polished and ready for submission. There are only 32 of them in the U.S., making getting into vet school competitive. 

However, a perfect application is crucial to boost your acceptance chances. You should never let admissions statistics scare you away from attending the school of your dreams, but it’s important to be mindful of the competition. 

FAQs: How Long Does It Take to Become a Vet

Still have questions about how much schooling you need to be a vet? Read on to have your questions answered. 

1. How Many Years Until You Become a Vet?

After high school, you can expect to be in school for seven to nine more years to become a vet. If you choose to pursue a specialty, this timeline is extended. 

2. What Is the Shortest Time to Become a Vet?

The shortest possible time is six years: however, you’re more likely to complete your veterinary education in seven to nine years. To become a vet in six short years, you’d need to finish your undergraduate degree in three years (through summer sessions or AP/IB courses in high school) and complete a three-year DVM program. 

3. How Long Does It Take to Get a DVM?

Obtaining a DVM typically takes four years. 

Becoming a Vet: What to Expect

How long it takes to become a vet varies, especially if you’re hoping to specialize through a residency. If you’re not looking to become a specialist, you can expect to spend seven to nine years completing your post-secondary education. 

While attending vet school can be challenging, you can reap the rewards after graduation. Becoming a veterinarian is a rewarding career: you help lifeforms who otherwise can’t communicate. Becoming a vet takes many steps, but you can surely reach your goal with patience and hard work. 

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