The requirements to become a veterinarian are stringent. Not only must you love animals, but you must dedicate yourself to intensive education similar to that of a medical doctor.
Vets face rigorous coursework throughout college and beyond, so the sooner you develop good study habits, the more prepared you will be. Even if you're just in middle school or high school, start enrolling in as many science and math classes as you can. Veterinary coursework is rife with science and math, so developing a solid foundation will help you in the future.
Offer to volunteer at your local vet clinic to get an idea of whether or not this career field is a good choice. You may think working with animals sounds pretty good, but you may change your mind after you've witnessed a few traumatic illnesses or injuries. Vets have to keep their cool and handle emergencies calmly.
Some schools offer pre-veterinary programs, but if your school doesn't, you probably want to major in a science-based field like biology, chemistry or animal science. Do your research on veterinary schools and find out what coursework your preferred schools require prior to admission. You can then make sure that you include the required courses in your undergraduate curriculum. You can expect to see course requirements like:
- Animal Nutrition
- Organic Chemistry
- Speech Communication
- Technical Writing
Remember, completing required coursework may not be enough to get you into the vet program of your dreams. The competition to get into veterinary programs is fierce and you must have excellent grades in all your undergraduate coursework in order to compete.
Vet School Testing
Before admission to vet school, you will probably have to take an aptitude test that makes it clear you're ready for the types of mental reasoning required with graduate level coursework. Depending on which vet schools you're applying to, you'll probably have to take one of the following three tests:
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
- Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT)
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
Experience With Animals
Most vets schools require proof of extensive work with animals. During your undergraduate coursework volunteer with a vet clinic and document the time spent volunteering. Some schools will accept work at humane societies or animal shelters, so familiarize yourself with the requirements for your preferred schools.
You may think that getting into vet school seems hard, but once you're in, the work is just beginning. Veterinary school functions like a medical school for animals. Vets have to learn as much as they can about as many types of animals as possible. And unlike human medicine, the animals can't communicate to help with the diagnosis. You have a required four years of intense medical training covering coursework including:
- Internal Medicine
- Diagnostic and Clinical Pathology
- Preventative Medicine
- Infectious and Noninfectious Diseases
Because most vets end up going into private practice, additional coursework in business, management, medical billing and ethics are required.
Once you've completed the general coursework required by your vet school, you may participate in additional training for veterinary specialties, or you can immediately complete the required state licensing exams for general practice.
Other Requirements to Become a Veterinarian
In addition to the technical requirements to become a veterinarian, it takes a special personality to become successful. You have to be a strong leader, good with people, thoughtful and patient. Because you may end up starting your own business, having a strong business sense is important as well.
Veterinary medicine can be a very rewarding field, but you must be willing to put in years of work in order to see your dream become a reality.