How to Become a Veterinarian

If you like animals and think you would like a job taking care of them and keeping them healthy, then you might be interested in how to become a veterinarian. Vets have a tough job when they have to care for very sick or seriously wounded animals, especially when they have to put these animals to sleep. You have to have good people skills and be able to tell people bad news. You should not be afraid of blood or open wounds, since you will a lot of this type of thing as a vet. On the other hand, being a veterinarian can be a very rewarding and fulfilling job when you are able to help an animal get better and return to a loving home.

Education and Licensing

First, you will need to attend college, preferably one that has a pre-veterinary program. Good majors include biology, biochemistry or animal and wildlife sciences. You'll want to maintain a high GPA in your college coursework to increase your chances of being accepted into one of the 27 accredited veterinary schools in the United States. These schools will also require you to take certain standardized tests (like the VCAT, MCAT, or GRE) for admission. Since each school has different requirements, you need to check with the ones you want to attend to see exactly what you need to do to be considered for admission. The American Veterinary Medical Association's website will have more information about different school's requirements.

Once in veterinary school, it will take you four years to earn your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree. Upon graduation, you will need to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam in order to obtain your license. You may also have to take a state exam and complete a certain number of clinical hours before you qualify for licensing.

Pay and Duties

Although becoming a vet won't generally make you rich, especially considering all the student loan debt you will probably have, you can still earn a comfortable living. In fact, most of the 86,000 currently practicing vets make somewhere between $65,000 and $100,000 a year. Luckily most vets have a flexible work schedule diagnosing illnesses and injuries in a variety of types of animals from dogs and cats to cows and horses to birds and hamsters. But if you really want to work with more exotic animals like dolphins or giraffes, you will generally have to get an additional diploma in marine biology or zoo medicine. These jobs are rare, since you usually have to be associated with a particular ocean park or zoo in order to qualify.

Vets never stop studying because they have to continuously keep up with the latest medical treatments, drug therapies, and surgical techniques. As a result, you will have to take numerous "continuing education" courses. If you decide to focus on a particular type of animal like pocket pets (hamsters/gerbils) or a particular area like cardiology or dermatology, you will have to pass additional exams to qualify as a specialist.