How to Become a Veterinary Doctor?

How to Become a Veterinary Doctor?

How to Become a Veterinary Doctor?
Sailesh Sitaula

Are you contemplating a veterinary medicine path but need help determining where to begin? This guide will explore the steps to becoming a veterinarian, your daily duties in this field, and other relevant information.

If you strongly desire to work closely with animals and promote their well-being, a career as a veterinarian might be just what you're looking for. Veterinarians have the privilege of caring for and treating animals daily.

If your passion lies in the health and welfare of animals, you've found the right resource. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the journey of becoming a veterinarian, from the veterinary school application process to considerations for your future in this rewarding profession. Let's dive in!

How to Become a Veterinarian: The Step-by-Step Guide

Here’s our simple guide on veterinary education requirements and more to get you started. 

Step 1: Determine If Veterinary School Is Your Calling 

Before making any life-changing decisions, confirming that becoming a veterinarian aligns with your passion and values is essential. While a deep love for animals is a must, being a vet often involves making tough decisions in the animals' best interest. If, for instance, the idea of euthanizing an animal is emotionally challenging for you, it's crucial to consider the potential mental toll of this profession.

Exploring a career in pet care is an excellent way to gauge your suitability for veterinary school. You can apply for positions at animal shelters or private pet care companies, allowing you to gain hands-on experience in caring for various animals and even administering medications.

Step 2: Attain an Undergraduate Degree (Including Prerequisite Courses) 

Most veterinary schools require applicants to have completed a bachelor's degree before applying. The specific prerequisite courses for vet school can vary but generally include subjects like:

  • Biology/Zoology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Mathematics/Statistics
  • English Composition
  • Humanities/Social Sciences

Some institutions may demand additional courses like genetics, microbiology, and anatomy. Researching and verifying the prerequisite requirements of your chosen veterinary schools before submitting your applications is vital.

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Step 3: Accumulate Practical Experience 

Before embarking on your veterinary school application journey, bolster your resume with relevant volunteer work and job experiences. Opportunities to gain valuable experience include:

  • Joining a pre-veterinary club
  • Volunteering at animal shelters
  • Employment in pet care roles
  • Shadowing practicing veterinarians
  • Any other experiences involving working with animals

This step is crucial in the veterinary school application process. According to data from the American Association of Veterinary Medicine Colleges (AAVMC), most applicants have logged hundreds of hours working with animals before applying to vet school.

Step 4: Apply to Veterinary Schools 

Thoroughly review the admission requirements for each of your target veterinary schools. Typically, these requirements include:

  • A personal statement
  • Two or more letters of recommendation
  • Secondary essays
  • A resume
  • A Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS) application or a similar application through another service

Step 5: Pursue a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) 

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Degree Once you've secured admission to a veterinary school, it's time to embark on your four-year journey to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. The initial two years emphasize science courses with laboratory components, while the third year is dedicated to gaining clinical experience. Your final year often involves clinical rotations, providing you with invaluable hands-on experience in the field.

Step 6: Pass the NAVLE Exam

 The North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) is a crucial multiple-choice examination for obtaining a veterinary license in the United States. Successfully passing the NAVLE is the key that unlocks your ability to practice veterinary medicine. It's essential to allocate ample time for thorough exam preparation, as this marks the final hurdle on your journey to becoming a veterinarian.

Step 7: Fulfill Any Additional State Requirements

 In addition to the NAVLE, some states may impose supplementary prerequisites for veterinary licensure. Before seeking positions, you must verify your state's specific requirements to ensure that you have completed all necessary steps.

Step 8: Consider Pursuing a Residency Program (Optional)

 While completing the requisite veterinary education is sufficient to begin your veterinary career, you may undertake a residency program post-vet school if you wish to specialize in a particular field. While not mandatory for entering the workforce, a residency can enhance your qualifications and open doors to specialized positions with higher earning potential.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) recognizes 22 veterinary specialty organizations encompassing 46 distinct AVMA-Recognized Veterinary Specialties. These organizations include:

  • American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
  • American Board of Veterinary Toxicology
  • American College of Animal Welfare
  • American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine
  • American College of Poultry Veterinarians
  • American College of Theriogenologists
  • American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia
  • American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
  • American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology
  • American College of Veterinary Dermatology
  • American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
  • American College of Veterinary Microbiologists
  • American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists
  • American College of Veterinary Pathologists
  • American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine
  • American College of Veterinary Radiology
  • American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • American College of Veterinary Surgeons
  • American College of Zoological Medicine
  • American College of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care
  • American Veterinary Dental College

Each AVMA-recognized specialty organization maintains a directory of exceptional specialty programs. When applying for a specialty program, it is essential to ensure that you meet all eligibility requirements. For further information on veterinary specialties, consult the AVMA's specialty information page.

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Step 9: Launch Your Veterinary Career! 

After successfully navigating these steps, you are prepared to begin the job application process. Maintaining an updated CV throughout your educational journey is crucial, ensuring it accurately reflects your evolving experiences and qualifications.

Regularly updating your CV during these steps also helps prevent the accidental omission of essential experiences or information.

The typical path to becoming a veterinarian without specialization in the United States requires eight years of post-secondary education. The initial four years are dedicated to earning a bachelor's degree, while the subsequent four involve completing veterinary school and securing your license.

You may extend your educational journey by up to three additional years if you choose to specialize. For instance, achieving expertise in veterinary surgery may necessitate up to eleven years of education.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Veterinarian?

The expenses associated with a veterinary career can vary considerably, influenced by multiple factors. For instance, the annual tuition for veterinary school in the United States can range from approximately $19,500 to $65,000. The specific amount hinges on variables such as the institution you attend, your state of residence, and your academic year. Notably, many schools start with lower tuition fees in the first year and gradually increase them throughout the program.

In addition to tuition, there are various other financial considerations when outlining your budget for veterinary school:

  • Cost of Living: Living in your chosen area can significantly impact your financial outlay.
  • Transportation: Expenses related to commuting or travel should be considered, especially if you need to relocate for your veterinary studies.
  • Application Fees: Applying to veterinary programs typically incurs application fees, which can vary among institutions.
  • Textbooks: The cost of textbooks and study materials is another financial factor to include in your budget.
  • Out-of-State Fees: You may face additional out-of-state fees if you attend a veterinary school outside your residence.

When calculating the total cost of your veterinary education, it's essential to factor in these supplementary expenses. On average, over four years, most veterinary students spend more than $200,000 to obtain their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree.

However, it's important to note that most students do not bear the full cost of their education out of their own pockets. Financial assistance options are available through both government programs and educational institutions. The AAVMC (American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges) website also offers numerous scholarship opportunities tailored to aspiring veterinary students.

How Much Do Veterinarians Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinarians' median annual salary is $100,370.

The annual income of a veterinarian can fluctuate based on many factors. Location, work environment, and specialization can significantly influence your yearly earnings. The states with the highest salaries for veterinarians are New Jersey, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Rhode Island, and Oregon, all offering mean annual salaries exceeding $122,000.

The most lucrative veterinary positions often necessitate additional specialized training, typically spanning three years beyond veterinary school.

However, it's crucial to remember that a high salary in the veterinary field comes with certain challenges. The journey to a veterinary career is competitive, and the responsibilities can be demanding. Aspiring veterinarians will find themselves competing with highly dedicated individuals committed to the well-being of animals.

To demonstrate your passion and ensure that a veterinary career aligns with your aspirations, it's advisable to accumulate substantial volunteer hours. Animal shelters and foster programs are perpetually in search of volunteers. Accumulating more than a hundred hours of volunteer work with animals can give your application a competitive advantage.

Furthermore, it's important to recognize that the life of a veterinarian is not always glamorous. Working with animals entails more than just cuddling kittens and playing with puppies. Veterinarians must maintain professionalism, sometimes getting their hands dirty, and handle animals that may only sometimes be cooperative. Your dedication to animal care should extend beyond the easy-to-handle cases.

A career in veterinary medicine is undoubtedly challenging, yet it is also profoundly rewarding. It can be emotionally taxing, so gaining experience through volunteering and caring for your animals can provide valuable insights into animal healthcare's rewarding and less glamorous aspects.


Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about becoming a veterinarian in the U.S.

What Is The Best Vet School In The U.S.? 

According to U.S. News, the University of California Davis is ranked as the country's top school for veterinary medicine.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Veterinarian? 

Becoming a veterinarian typically takes eight years: four years to complete an undergraduate degree and an additional four years of veterinary school.

Are Veterinarians Doctors? 

Veterinarians are indeed doctors, specifically doctors of veterinary medicine. They practice medicine on animals, undergoing extensive training in veterinary medicine. However, they do not attend medical school and are not qualified to treat humans.

Does Veterinary School Have Prerequisite Courses? 

Yes, most veterinary schools require applicants to complete prerequisite courses or demonstrate proficiency in certain subjects. Common prerequisite courses for vet school include Biology/Zoology, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, Inorganic Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics/Statistics, and others.

When Should I Start Preparing for Veterinary School? 

Assuming you have completed a bachelor’s degree or are on track to do so, it is advisable to start preparing for vet school at least two years before your intended application date. This lead time allows you to compile your CV, fulfill prerequisite course requirements, obtain letters of recommendation, and complete all necessary application components.

What Education Is Required to Become a Veterinarian? 

The educational journey to become a veterinarian includes earning a bachelor's degree and completing four years of veterinary school to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. While not mandatory, some individuals pursue residencies to gain expertise in specific veterinary specialties.

Is Becoming a Vet Worth It? 

Whether becoming a veterinarian is worth it depends on your passion for working with animals and your love for the field of science. It's a personal decision that should consider the time commitment, the extensive education required, and other factors unique to your circumstances.

Final Thoughts

Working as a veterinarian is undoubtedly challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Your deep passion for the well-being of animals should serve as your driving motivation, and you should possess the ability to handle high-pressure and emotionally taxing situations with empathy and professionalism.

It's essential to remember the substantial cost and time investment required to become a vet. Careful financial planning and time management are crucial to fully immerse yourself in the learning experience without unnecessary added pressures. If you encounter difficulties during the application process, consider seeking assistance from a professional admissions consultant.

Now that you understand how to become a veterinarian, we extend our best wishes for success on your journey!

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