4 Steps to a Degree in Veterinary Medicine

UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAMS | 3 MIN READ

An illustration showing the path to a degree in veterinary medicine, from classroom to veterinarian office.Technically, there are five steps to a degree in veterinary medicine. The first one? Have a love for animals.

But if you have come this far, we assume you’ve already met that requirement. From there, things get a little more specific.

Step 1: Meet Your Veterinary School Prerequisites

The good news is you have a lot of latitude in what you choose for a major. In fact, you can major in anything, as long as you complete the prerequisite courses required for entrance to veterinary school.

Most of the prerequisites are science- and math-based, and it also helps to consider courses that don’t make the prerequisite lists but will better prepare you for what’s to come—subjects such as anatomy and physiology, zoology, microbiology and histology.

Meanwhile, try to acquire knowledge that will set you up for a long-term career as a veterinarian. Classes in ethics, business and communications can are highly beneficial.

Many schools offer pre-veterinary medicine programs that can help you meet your academic goals and develop your professional interests.

Some colleges also have academic affiliation programs with veterinary schools. For example, Elmhurst College partners with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. At the end of your first year at Elmhurst, you can apply to the U of I vet program for early admission and, if accepted, earn your bachelor’s degree and doctor of veterinary medicine in seven years instead of eight.

Step 2: Study, Study, Study

First, some myth-busting: The popular notion that veterinary school is much harder to get into than medical school is just not true. According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), the acceptance rate of nearly 50% is about the same as the rate across all medical schools.

Still, to get in, you will need to rise to a big academic challenge. So, how do those 3,000 successful “vet med” applicants gain admission each year?

A high GPA helps. Pre-vet classwork is rigorous, and joining a student veterinary association can provide much-needed resources and moral support. Faculty and professional connections, plus the help of a pre-veterinary medicine advisor, are good avenues for guidance on veterinary medicine degree requirements and letters of recommendation.

In addition to good grades, you’ll need to prepare for an entrance exam. This is usually the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), although some schools allow you to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) instead.

Learn more about the field, your choices of veterinary schools and how to make yourself a stronger candidate through the AAVMC. Its website includes specifics on the more than 30 accredited veterinary schools in the U.S.

Step 3: Gain Some Hands-On Experience

This is the fun part. You already love animals. Now is the time to see which environments and types of work best suit you.

  • Volunteer at an animal shelter or humane society.
  • Shadow a veterinarian in private practice or one who focuses on research.
  • Look for work at a farm, a zoo or a wildlife preserve.
  • Take a part-time job at a kennel or even a racetrack.

The more exposure you get to different species, the better. After all, what better way is there to introduce you to the many different fields of veterinary medicine? Volunteer programs and internships can give you a better idea of what the day-to-day work of a veterinarian entails. They also show you are serious about applying to school and dedicated to becoming a vet.

Step 4: Earn Your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

The requirements for a degree in veterinary medicine can vary by school, but DVM programs typically take four years to complete:

  • In the classroom, you’ll build the framework for understanding veterinary medicine, starting with basic courses and moving to systems-based subjects like the digestive tract and the nervous system.
  • You will also perform clinical and lab work that can include making diagnoses and recommending treatment.
  • Finally, you’ll apply the experience you have gained with practicums, externships and rotations.

Graduates of veterinary schools must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam; some states also require additional licensing tests.

And then you will be a veterinarian, joining the ranks of the 70,000 others in the United States who make it their life’s work to medically treat and care for animals.

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Posted June 11, 2019

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