Careers & Education

Vet med: do you have what it takes?

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It takes intensive training to become a vet
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Vet med training is similiar to human doctors' training

Do you like pets? Are you always the one someone’s dog approaches in a park? You may have a future in vet med or “veterinary medicine.” Vet med takes a lot of work and many years of study, but it is a career that can reap many rewards for the right person. Here is what it takes to get into vet med.

High school grades count

Vet med takes a lot of mathematical and scientific knowledge. The best way to begin if you think you might enjoy this field is to begin in high school. Like doctors who tend to humans, veterinarians need to calculate formulas when they write prescriptions. That is where math, chemistry and biology come in handy. If you take these classes in high school, you will have a much easier time when you then take these classes on a college level.


A good way to find out if you have what it takes to be involved in vet med is to help at a local animal shelter, a zoo or even a local veterinarian’s office. By learning how to handle different types of animals in a professional setting, you gain valuable insight into the challenges and rewards of working in the field. You may also learn more practical skills such as picking up a scared cat who needs a flea bath or grooming a dog properly and with ease. Many veterinary schools even give points to applicants who have direct experience with animals.

Four years before your four years

Like medical doctors for human, vet med requires a four-year degree before medical school even begins. Veterinary students can choose any major they wish for their undergraduate degree, but many future veterinarians choose a science for their major such as biology or animal science. A science background can give students an advantage when they begin veterinary school.

An entrance test is required to get into the highly competitive vet med schools in North America. The admissions officers also look at high school and college grades along with the difficulty of those courses. For example, an AP (advanced placement) high school class will weigh more heavily than a basic class because of its more advanced requirements.

Veterinary School

Many veterinarians find vet med school to be highly challenging and a lot of work. There are so many things to learn about so many different types of animals that sometimes it may be daunting.

At some point, vet med students get hands on experience in vet med clinics attached to their school. This assures further training under the watchful eye of a trained professional veterinarian. In their fourth year, vet med student go on rotations with various specialty doctors such as dermatologists, surgeons and others. It gives them a view into what they may want to do with their own career. If they decide they enjoy a particular specialty, students are usually required to spend an extra year interning in this specialty.

The final step

When a vet med student has finished school, received further training in a specialty, and received their diploma, they still have to become officially licensed through the state in which they plan to work. Though licensing requirements vary from state to state, the basic requirements are a degree and a passing grade on the national board. Those who pass these criteria are then licensed and permitted to join a practice or open their own veterinarian practice.

If they would rather not work with their pet patients directly, they can help develop pet health solutions and healthy pet products for the benefit of animals in general. You do not have to use your training in direct care of animals. Indirect care may be just as good.

As you can see, it requires extensive vet med training to become a veterinarian. If you think you have what it takes, a veterinarian degree, or DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine), may be in your future. Just be prepared to spend at least eight years studying your craft before you begin. It may be the most rewarding eight years of your life.

Special thanks to What It Takes to Be a Veterinarian.

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, 11 July 2005

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