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How Do I Become a Veterinarian?

I am a simple junior in high school and I wanted to become a vet. I love animals and I grew up around them to I was wondering is there some advice you could give me.  Like what type of field would be best for me? How would I know? Etc… RS, North Carolina

Dear RC,

Ah, a question near and dear to my heart!  As you can probably tell, I’ve followed a very non-traditional career path in veterinary medicine but it has been both interesting and rewarding.  Throughout my journey, I have always been involved in what’s called “organized veterinary medicine,” so let me turn to a group I’m involved with—the American Association of Equine Practitioners or AAEP—for help in answering your question.  Some basic facts for you:

  • Students that are interested in a career within the equine veterinary field should perform well in general science and biology in junior high school and pursue a strong science, math and biology program in high school.
  • Upon entering college, students must successfully complete pre-veterinary undergraduate course work.  Be sure and speak with your college advisor regarding the classes that are required for a pre-veterinary major, since each college/school of veterinary medicine establishes its own pre-veterinary courses (Typically, these include demonstrating basic language and communication skills as well as courses in the social sciences, humanities, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics.)
  • Admission to veterinary school is highly competitive.  Students interested in veterinary medicine should try to gain experience in the field by volunteering or working with a veterinarian during their summer vacations and/or other school breaks.  Applicants may be required to take a standardized test known as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and may also take the standardized Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
  • The number of qualified applicants that are admitted to veterinary schools nationwide will vary from year to year, but typically one third of all applicants are accepted.
  • There are currently 33 colleges or schools of veterinary medicine located in the United States, Canada and the West Indies.  Tuition for veterinary school can be expensive especially if one chooses to attend an out-of-state institution.  However, many scholarships and financial aid programs exist to help lower those costs.
  • After admission to veterinary school, it typically takes four years to complete the required veterinary medical curriculum to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (DVM, VMD, MV or BVSc).

For a complete list of schools and links to their websites, visit the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges at

Now for the fun part:  what to do with your veterinary degree!  Employment opportunities are endless for the equine veterinarian.  Most practitioners are employed in private equine practice, where they may run a solo practice or be on staff at a multi-doctor surgical or referral hospital.  Many private practitioners make farm calls to visit their patients.  Especially in rural areas, an equine veterinarian’s office may truly be his or her veterinary vehicle, as much of the workday is spent traveling from client to client. Equine veterinarians in private practice can expect to work a five-to six-day week.

Other career paths for the equine veterinarian can include teaching and research, regulatory medicine, public health or military service.  Technical sales and service, agribusiness and pharmaceutical companies also provide opportunities for practitioners to use their veterinary training. Veterinarians employed in research at universities, colleges and governmental agencies or in industrial positions are dedicated to finding new ways to prevent and treat equine health disorders. Veterinarians also serve as epidemiologists in city, county, state and federal agencies, investigating animal and human disease outbreaks such as influenza, rabies, Lyme disease and West Nile virus.  In addition, veterinarians provide disaster/emergency support for our communities. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its veterinarians within the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) monitor the testing and development of new vaccines and are also responsible for enforcing humane laws for the treatment of animals.

I will give you just one piece of advice as you consider whether veterinary medicine is the right field for you.  As much as you love working with animals, no animal comes in by himself for treatment.  They ALL have owners.  So you have to love people, and communicating with them, as much or more than animals.

Good luck as you explore all that veterinary medicine has to offer!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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