How to Become a Vet

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Work as a veterinarian can be very rewarding, but also challenging and demanding. Veterinarians are engaged in a wide variety of activities and disciplines. This article presents an overview of the profession, and explains everything from the education you'll need to what you can expect when you do become a veterinarian.

Things You'll Need

  • Compassion for animals
  • Time to volunteer with animals
  • Energy and funds for the education

How to Become a Vet

  • Volunteer time at a local vet clinic, animal hospital, SPCA, or humane society to gain experience. Get to know some people in the veterinary care field. Talk to other vets about their profession. You can learn a lot, and one of them may offer you a job someday. This will also help you decide what kind of vet you want to be as there are various "kinds" of veterinarians that are engaged in diverse occupations. You may choose to work with small companion animals or larger farm animals such as horses, cattle and some wildlife. A "mixed animal practitioner" works with both small and large animals. Veterinarians also work in academic settings and many are employed by colleges to teach both human medical and veterinary medial students. Many do research and publish their findings in medical journals. If you decide to go to vet school, you will be required to do volunteer veterinary work as part of your admission requirements.

  • Research the veterinary profession. There are many accredited veterinary schools in the United States that offer the four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree. Some vet schools don't require a bachelor's degree to admission, but they all require some college courses such as biology, biochemistry or another science. Learn which college courses are required by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and which standardized tests are required as this varies from school to school. Many colleges have residency preferences, and you may have to move to the region. You may also have to do some undergraduate work there to get in. If possible, visit the vet schools and talk to the faculty, students and technicians to get an idea of their experiences.

  • Consider your finances. Although some financial assistance may be available to qualifying students, keep in mind that you will need to be able to afford living costs, which in some large cities can be expensive. Financial arrangements often must be reworked, which can add some stress to the challenges and exhaustion you will experience.

  • Do well on your exams. Veterinary courses are difficult and academically demanding. You will have to study hard. Universities expect high grades and you will need to prove that you can do well. If you don't you will have to repeat an academic year, or you may not be allowed to continue. Once you graduate from vet school, you will take the North American Veterinary Licensing exam for your veterinary license. A license in one state does not automatically permit you to practice veterinary medicine in another state. Be prepared to take a state exam covering state laws and regulations.

  • Rewards. In the past 20 years, the number of pets in the U.S. has grown considerably. Not surprisingly, large numbers of people are entering the veterinary profession, which also experienced its own unprecedented boom in the past 20 years. There are now 65% more specialists today than 10 years ago and the number is growing at four times the rate of general practice veterinarians. On average, a veterinarian can make from $45,000 to over $200,000 annually depending on the type of practice. There is usually less income potential being an employee. If you choose to become a vet, you will realize another significant reward: helping animals recover from diseases and injury.

Tips & Warnings

  • Getting a good veterinarian job is a challenge, and competition for jobs is tight. But don't throw away your dreams. Training and good grades are of the utmost importance.
  • You will have to deal with difficult matters such as incurable illness and euthanasia on a regular basis. Also, you have an obligation to respond to medical emergencies and will be often be on call during nonworking hours.
  • Due to the limited number of universities that offer a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree, it may be difficult to obtain acceptance to even one of approximately 23 universities in the U.S. that offer the necessary curriculum.

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