Veterinarians require a significant amount of formal education. Learn more about what veterinarians study in their degree programs, and get information about job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the career for you.
Veterinarians are trained in animal medicine, surgery, and behaviour. Graduates of veterinary programs may care for small animals, such as dogs and cats, or specialize in large animals, like horses.
Due to high growth in the pet industry, career opportunities in this field are expected to grow faster than average in the coming years.
Here Are How To Become a Veterinarian
Veterinarians are required to complete a four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program, in addition to undergraduate school. These professionals are also required to obtain licensure to practice in the profession.
Students who wish to enter into a veterinary program typically obtain bachelor’s degrees in science-related areas, like zoology, molecular biology, chemistry, animal science, and biochemistry.
In some instances, veterinary programs do not require students to hold four-year degrees. However, students may experience difficulty in gaining admittance to veterinary programs without degrees. Those who have not completed undergraduate school generally need to have completed at least 45-90 semester hours.
A bachelor’s degree in animal science can usually be completed in four years. Studies commonly include both classroom and laboratory education. Courses that prepare students for veterinary school tend to include:
- Animal management
- Anatomy and physiology
- Animal nutrition
- Equine care
DVM programs take four years to complete and are generally divided into two-year segments. The first segment typically consists of classroom instruction, while the last two years focus on more clinical practicums.
Coursework typically includes:
- Animal behaviour
- Veterinary pharmacology
- Animal nutrition
- Clinical pathology
- Large and small animal medicine
- Diagnostic imaging
- Anesthesia and surgery principles
In clinical practicums, students complete rotations and gain hands-on clinical experience. They tend to complete rotations in various veterinary specialties,
Such as dentistry, cardiology, oncology, or equine care. Students learn skills essential to veterinary medicine, such as treating wounds, prescribing medication, performing surgery, and setting fractures.
After earning a DVM, aspiring veterinarians now must become licensed. All states require veterinarians to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). A 360-question test that lasts 7.5 hours and assesses candidates’ knowledge of veterinary activities and animal species. Some states also have additional requirements, such as the passage of veterinary law and clinical skills exams.
Veterinarians work to improve household pets and animals’ health in laboratories, farms, and zoos. They’re skilled at treating and diagnosing dysfunctions and diseases in such animals, including preventative measures, surgery, and sophisticated technology. They also spend a great deal of time interacting with pet owners, offering advice on feeding, grooming, and breeding.
While veterinarians are best known for pet care, some work in private, food-animal practices and provide livestock like horses, sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs. Some vets research animals to prevent humans from contracting the diseases that animals carry. Other common veterinarian duties include using diagnostic and lab equipment, setting broken bones, euthanizing chronically ill animals, and birthing animals.
Employment settings for veterinarians include group or individual clinical practices, government agencies, research laboratories, and universities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that veterinarians’ employment is expected to increase by 18% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average among all U.S. occupations (www.bls.gov). Vets who are willing to work in rural settings where there’s less competition may find more opportunities.
According to the BLS, veterinarians earned a median annual wage of $95,460 in May 2019. The upper 10% earned $160,780 or more per year, while the lowest 10% earned $58,080 or less. The specialty hospitals were the highest paying employer of veterinarians, paying average salaries of $151,880 per year.