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How to Become a Veterinarian

April 7, 2022
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IntroductionWhat to Expect from a Veterinary CareerHow to Become a Vet: the Step-by-Step GuideHow Much Does It Cost to Become a Veterinarian?How Much Do Veterinarians Make?Other Considerations for Future VetsFAQs: How to Become a Veterinarian

Are you considering becoming a veterinarian, but aren’t sure how to get started? Here we cover how to become a vet, daily responsibilities, and more!

Are you considering a career working with animals? You may be interested in becoming a veterinarian. Vets have the opportunity to work with and treat animals every day to keep them happy and healthy.

If you’re passionate about animal wellness, you’ve come to the right place. Here is everything you need to know about how to become a vet, from the veterinary school timeline to future considerations for vets. Let’s get started!

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What to Expect from a Veterinary Career

Veterinarians are the doctors of the animal world. They prevent, diagnose, and treat animals while advising their clients on proper care rituals for their pets. With veterinary training, you can work in a variety of settings such as animal clinics, farms, laboratories, government, or industry.

The daily duties of a veterinarian generally consist of:

Photo of Vet examining of a small brown dog

As a potential veterinarian, you should know there are many exciting yet disheartening aspects of your future career. While veterinarians experience many positive sides of animal care, there are plenty of challenging aspects involved in dealing with animals in stressful situations. 

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How to Become a Veterinarian: The Step-by-Step Guide

Still curious about how to become a veterinarian? Now that we’ve covered a veterinarian’s general responsibilities, let’s go over the steps to become a vet.  

Step 1: Decide if Vet School is Right for You

Before making any educational decisions, you should make sure that becoming a veterinarian is the right path for you. Although a strong passion for animals is required, you should also be able to make difficult decisions that are in the animal’s best interest. For example, if the idea of euthanizing an animal is too hard for you to imagine doing, becoming a veterinarian may be mentally draining for you. 

Working in pet care is a great way to know if veterinary school is a good option for you. Anyone can apply to work at an animal shelter or a private pet care company. There, you can learn how to take proper care of different types of animals and even administer medication. 

Step 2: Complete an Undergraduate Degree (with Prerequisite Courses)

Most veterinary schools expect applicants to have completed a bachelor’s degree before applying to vet school. Even if this is not listed as a requirement, it will give you a competitive edge and an opportunity to complete necessary prerequisite courses. The prerequisites for vet school vary but generally are:

Some schools require comprehension in additional courses, such as genetics, microbiology, and anatomy. The prerequisite courses for each school vary, so be sure to check the prerequisite requirements for each of your target schools before applying. To ensure you’re taking the necessary prerequisite courses, see if your school offers a pre-veterinary medicine educational track. This program lays out all of your courses to ensure you’ll be prepared for vet school regardless of your major. 

Step 3: Gain Experience 

Before applying for veterinary school, work on building up your resume with relevant volunteering and job experience. There are many different ways to gain experience for vet school, including joining a pre-vet club, volunteering at shelters, working in pet care, shadowing vets, and more. 

This is an essential step in the vet school application process. According to the American Association of Veterinary Medicine Colleges (AAVMC)  2019–2020 data report, most applicants logged hundreds of hours working with animals before applying to vet school.

Step 4: Apply to Veterinary Schools

During the application process for vet school, make sure to check each of your target school’s admission requirements. Most schools require the following documents:

To ensure you’ve ticked all the right boxes, consider seeking the guidance of a professional admissions consultant for veterinary school.

Note: Each veterinary school has a unique list of requirements, make sure to check your target school’s admission requirements thoroughly before submitting your application.

Step 5: Complete a DVM Degree

Once you’ve been accepted into a veterinary school, it’s time to complete your four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. The first two years focus mainly on science courses with labs, while the third year has more of a focus on clinical experience. The fourth and final year often includes clinical rotations to give students hands-on experience. 

Step 6: Take the NAVLE

The North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) is a multiple-choice examination that is required for US and Canadian veterinary licensure. Once you’ve successfully passed the NAVEL exam after obtaining your DVM degree, you can begin practicing veterinary medicine. You should give yourself ample time to study for the exam, as it is the most important test you’ll take during your veterinary education.

Step 7: Complete Any Additional Steps 

Some states have additional requirements to obtain veterinary licensure beyond successfully completing the NAVLE exam. To ensure you’ve completed all the necessary steps, check your state veterinary requirements before applying for positions in your area.

Step 8: Complete a Residency Program (Optional)

If you want to specialize in a specific area of veterinary medicine, you can attend a residency program after you’ve completed vet school. Residency is not necessary to begin practicing as a vet in the US, but it can help you obtain positions with higher pay that are more tailored to your interests. 

The AVMA currently recognizes 22 veterinary specialty organizations. Between these organizations, there are 46 distinct AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialties. The veterinary specialty organizations recognized by the AVMA are:

Each AVMA-recognized specialty organization contains a directory with excellent specialty programs to which you can apply. When applying for a specialty program, it’s critical to ensure you meet all of the eligibility requirements. For more information on veterinary specialties, take a look at the AVMA’s specialty information page.

Step 9: Begin your veterinary career!

Once you’ve completed all of the above steps, you’re ready to begin applying for veterinary positions. Make sure to consistently update your CV throughout your educational path so it’s ready to be distributed to employers when the time comes. Keeping an eye on your veterinary CV throughout your schooling also ensures that you don’t leave out any important experience accidentally. 

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Veterinarian?

The cost of becoming a veterinarian varies greatly depending on a number of factors. For example, vet school tuition in the US can cost anywhere from ~$19,500 to ~$65,000 a year depending on the school, your state of residence, and what year you’re in. Many schools cost less in the first year and gradually raise tuition throughout your degree. 

Aside from tuition, there are other costs to consider when creating your budget for vet school, including: 

Remember to consider all of these additional costs when determining the final cost of your vet school experience. In four years, most veterinary students spend over $200,000 for a DVM on average.

It should be noted that most students do not pay for their entire degree out of pocket. Financial aid is available through the government and through individual schools. There are also plenty of scholarship opportunities for future vet students available on the AAVMC website.

Now that we’ve covered how much it costs to become a veterinarian, let’s talk about how much you can make in your future career as a vet.

How Much Do Veterinarians Make?

According to US News, the median salary of Veterinarians was $99,250 in 2020. The highest-earning veterinarians in the country made around $126,260 the same year, while vets in the lowest 25 percent of earners made $79,430. 

How much you earn annually as a veterinarian can vary based on a number of factors, including: 

The best-paid states for veterinarian salaries are currently New Jersey, Maryland, District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and Oregan - all of which pay a mean annual salary of over $122,000. 

Veterinary specialties with the highest salaries are of the surgical variety, with the highest-paid position being a board-certified veterinary surgery specialist. According to Indeed, board-certified veterinary surgery specialists have a national average salary of $125,199 per year. As they are more complex, the highest-paid veterinary positions often require special training of three years post veterinary school.

Other Considerations for Future Vets

Let’s go over some further aspects of life as a veterinarian to consider before making your final decision. 

Becoming a Vet Takes Time

Without specializing, it typically takes eight years of post-secondary education to become a veterinarian in the US. The first four years are spent earning a bachelor’s degree and completing all of the necessary prerequisite materials for your vet school application, while the other four are spent completing vet school and obtaining your license.

If you choose to specialize, you may add up to three more years of education to your training time. For example, becoming a specialist in veterinary surgery may take up to eleven years total of education. If you’re hoping to shorten the time it takes to become a vet, take a look at some related positions, such as a veterinary technician

Passion and Commitment are Key

Veterinary school is competitive, and the jobs are challenging. If you want to become a veterinarian, you should understand that you’ll be up against applicants that are extremely committed to animal healthcare. After all, vets have one of the (at times) cutest positions on earth!

To show your passion and to ensure that a veterinary career is right for you, you should log plenty of volunteer hours. Shelters and foster programs are always looking for volunteer workers. If you can log over a hundred hours of volunteerism with animals, it will give your application a competitive edge.

Photo of two vets smiling while holding a small brown dog

Vet Life is Not Always Glamorous 

As you may know, working with animals is not always petting kittens and puppies. Vets have to remain professional, get their hands dirty, and deal with difficult animals all of the time. Your passion for animal care should extend far beyond the ones that are easy to handle. 

Veterinary life is challenging yet rewarding and can be emotionally draining. Volunteering and owning your own animals can give you a good idea of both the good and not-so-glamorous aspects of animal care. 

FAQs: How to Become a Veterinarian

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about becoming a veterinarian in the US.

1. What Is The Best Vet School In The US?

According to US News, the University of California Davis is currently the number one school for veterinary medicine in the country.

2. How Long Does It Take To Become A Veterinarian?

It takes eight years to become a vet. The first four years to complete a bachelor's degree, and the last four to complete veterinary school and earn your DVM.

3. Are Veterinarians Doctors?

Veterinarians practice medicine on animals. To do so, they spend many years studying veterinary medicine. Although Veterinarians are doctors of veterinary medicine, they do not attend medical school and are not qualified to treat human patients. 

4. Does Veterinary School Have Prerequisite Courses?

Yes, most veterinary schools require prerequisite courses or comprehension in certain subjects. Typical prerequisite courses for vet school are Biology/Zoology, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics/Statistics, English Composition, and Humanities/Social Sciences. 

5. When Should I Start Preparing for Veterinary School?

Assuming you have completed a bachelor’s degree or are on track to do so, you should begin preparing for vet school at least two years before you intend to apply. This will give you time to prepare your CV, take necessary prerequisite courses, acquire letters of recommendation, and complete all other application materials.

6. How Much Does It Cost to Become a Veterinarian?

In the US, veterinary school tuition typically costs between $20,000 to $50,000 per year, depending on the institution. 

Final Thoughts

When considering a career as a veterinarian, be sure to weigh all aspects equally. Your passion for animal care should be a driving force, and you should be able to handle high pressure and emotional situations. 

Keep in mind the cost and time it takes to become a vet. Make sure to budget and plan ahead so you can enjoy your time learning in school without added pressures. If you’re having trouble with the application process, consider seeking assistance from a professional admissions consultant.

We love our pets, and we love our vets! Thank you from the Inspira team to all the veterinarians who help keep our animals healthy every day.

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