Ask virtually any child who has had a relationship with a pet what they want to be when they grow up – and odds are you'll hear, "I want to be a Veterinarian." With estimated 160 million household pets living in America that's a lot of potential vets filling the job market each year. However, the reality is that the path of learning how to become a Veterinarian is among one of the most competitive – and most difficult to complete; successfully.
There are approximately 28 veterinary schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in the U.S. In 2013, there were nearly 6,800 applicants competing for approximately 2,700 openings in 2013. As such, it's clear to see that any candidate for becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine must find ways to stand apart from other potential candidates.
What is a Veterinarian?
A Veterinarian is a board certified Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who will tend to the healthcare needs of animals, including pets, livestock, and zoo and laboratory animals. Their job is to diagnose illnesses, provide emergency medical treatment such as surgeries, and recommend treatment programs for multiple animal species.
For the most part, a Veterinarian will work in private clinics or animal hospitals, treating small household pets like dogs and cats. However, this profession has 22 individual specialties that range from being an Equine Veterinarian (or a specialist that works with horses) to becoming a clinical pharmaceutical veterinarian – with a mission to develop drugs and treatment protocols for other Veterinarians to follow.
Veterinarians typically treat several medical conditions including:
It's also common for Veterinarians to conduct research in areas such as biomedical sciences. They often work very long hours, and many make themselves available for emergency situations to their frequent patients.
The Educational Path for a Veterinarian
A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree is required in order to be considered as a Veterinarian. This course of study covers both small and larger animals. There are currently 28 different accredited Veterinary Medicine colleges in the United States that offers the DVM program. After passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to become a licensed Veterinarian the candidate will then proceed to completing the Board Certification program in Veterinary Medicine.
It's at this moment when a Veterinarian will take one of two paths:
Most people who have dedicated a large portion of their adult lives to wanting to become a Veterinarian will choose a specialty to follow. Doctorly.com has compiled extensive data on virtually every Veterinarian specialty to provide candidates detailed information about the educational and career path for each.
Step by Step Educational Path of an Emergency Veterinarian
Pre-Graduate School Bachelor Degree
The initial educational phase that must be completed prior to heading to medical school is receiving a Bachelor Degree. During this four year program, it is recommended that anyone who would like to become a veterinarian completes core studies in biological sciences, anatomy, physiology, mathematics, chemistry and communications.
It's also a great idea for the future Veterinarian to volunteer at local animal shelters or attempt to gain a part-time job at a Veterinary clinic or hospital in some capacity. This allows the student to gather real world working experience and make a critical decision on whether or not this career path is one they wish to dedicate several more years to accomplishing.
Earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
This degree is completed at an accredited Veterinary medical college. It's a four year program that will focus on general animal anatomy, virology, nutrition and physiology during the first two years. The third year then focuses on clinical study and the final year of educational training is spent at Veterinary hospitals that are accredited by the Veterinary medical school. This is also where the licensing exam is taken. In order to practice Veterinary medicine a candidate must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Most states require additional certification to practice in each state.
Complete a Residency Program
Career Options for Veterinarians
A Veterinarian typically will choose a specialty to follow which will determine the career path. In general, Veterinarians follow two specific paths:
There are several Veterinarians who choose to work in the private sector and those that choose academia – becoming instructors and teachers at Veterinary colleges and Universities. It's also possible for a Veterinarian to gain experience working for the Federal Government in research labs, the US Department of Defense and Pharmaceutical companies.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average wage for Veterinarians in 2010 approached $83,000 annually. Board Certified specialists tend to earn higher than average salaries, however the BLS does not specify the direct salary for this specialty. Just like any other specialty, salary and compensation is primary based on need, supply and demand for the practice.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics believes the growth rate of the Veterinary profession should increase at a rate of 35 percent over the next five year. Since pet ownership in households has steadily increased over the past twenty years, the need for board certified emergency veterinarians will also increase.
Although many people have goals and aspirations of becoming a Veterinarian, the competitive nature of this profession along with the intestinal fortitude needed and strong interpersonal skills makes actually becoming a Veterinarian a very difficult job. A veterinarian can be the savior that provides exceptional critical care to save an animal's life – but they also have the unenviable task of reporting bad news to pet owners. This skill requires exceptional tact, and compassion. Regardless of what path a candidate chooses to follow in Veterinary Medicine, the reality is that it will be a difficult one that will require extreme dedication, patience and a willingness to compete against several other equally qualified candidates.