Education and Training Requirements

High School

For the high school student who is interested in admission to a school of veterinary medicine, a college preparatory course is a wise choice. A strong emphasis on science classes such as biology, chemistry, and anatomy is highly recommended.

Postsecondary Training

The doctor of veterinary medicine (D.V.M.) degree requires a minimum of four years of study at an accredited college of veterinary medicine. Although many of these colleges do not require a bachelor's degree for admission, most require applicants to have completed 45–90 hours of undergraduate study. It is possible to obtain pre-veterinary training at a junior college, but since admission to colleges of veterinary medicine is an extremely competitive process, most students receive degrees from four-year colleges before applying. In addition to academic instruction, veterinary education includes clinical experience in diagnosing disease and treating animals, performing surgery, and performing laboratory work in anatomy, biochemistry, and other scientific and medical subjects.

There are 33 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States that are accredited by the Council on Education of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Visit https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/Education/Accreditation/Colleges/Pages/colleges-accredited.aspx for a list of programs. Each college of veterinary medicine has its own pre-veterinary requirements, which typically include basic language arts, social sciences, humanities, mathematics, chemistry, and biological and physical sciences.

Applicants to schools of veterinary medicine usually must have grades of "B" or better, especially in the sciences. Applicants must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Fewer than half of the applicants to schools of veterinary medicine may be admitted, due to small class sizes and limited facilities. Most colleges give preference to candidates with animal- or veterinary-related experience. Colleges usually give preference to in-state applicants because most colleges of veterinary medicine are state-supported. There are regional agreements in which states without veterinary schools send students to designated regional schools.

Veterinary medicine students typically participate in one or more internships during their college careers. The internships allow them to learn more about career options in the field and make industry contacts. Some new veterinary graduates enter one-year internship programs to obtain experience in particular practice specialties such as zoo veterinary science.

Other Education or Training

Nearly all states require veterinarians to attend continuing education courses in order to maintain their licenses. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers continuing education (CE) opportunities at its annual conference. Recent sessions included “Veterinary Financial Planning,” “Fees: Shortchanging your Practice or Right on the Money?,” and “Shake Things Up: Creative Ideas to Grow your Practice.” Many other veterinary organizations provide CE opportunities, including the American Animal Hospital Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians, and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Veterinarians who seek specialty board certification in one of 41 specialty fields must complete a two- to five-year residency program and pass an additional examination. Some veterinarians combine their degree in veterinary medicine with a degree in business or law. 

All states and the District of Columbia require that veterinarians be licensed to practice private clinical medicine. To obtain a license, applicants must have a D.V.M. degree from an accredited or approved college of veterinary medicine. They must also pass one or more national examinations and an examination in the state in which they plan to practice.

Few states issue licenses to veterinarians already licensed by another state. Thus, if a veterinarian moves from one state to another, he or she will probably have to go through the licensing process again. Veterinarians may be employed by a government agency (such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture) or at some academic institution without having a state license.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

There is no way to obtain direct experience in high school, but it's a good idea to take as many science classes as possible and participate in science clubs. During veterinary training, students gain experience by completing a two- to five-year residency program. Some new veterinary graduates enter 1-year internship programs to obtain experience in particular practice specialties such as equine veterinary science.

Individuals who are interested in veterinary medicine should have an inquiring mind and keen powers of observation. Aptitude and interest in the biological sciences are important. Veterinarians need a lifelong interest in scientific learning as well as a liking and understanding of animals. Veterinarians should be able to meet, talk, and work well with a variety of people. An ability to communicate with the animal owner is as important in a veterinarian as diagnostic skills.

Veterinarians use state-of-the-art medical equipment, such as electron microscopes, laser surgery, radiation therapy, and ultrasound, to diagnose animal diseases and to treat sick or injured animals. Although manual dexterity and physical stamina are often required, especially for farm vets, important roles in veterinary medicine can be adapted for those with disabilities.

Interaction with animal owners is a very important part of being a veterinarian. The discussions between vet and owner are critical to the veterinarian's diagnosis, so they must be able to communicate effectively and get along with a wide variety of personalities. Veterinarians may have to euthanize (that is, humanely kill) an animal that is very sick or severely injured and cannot get well. When a beloved pet dies, the veterinarian must deal with the owner's grief and loss.