Becoming a Veterinarian: Earning a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine

By Elizabeth Quinn

People who love animals and science may enjoy a career as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.  Earning the DVM requires four years of college beyond a bachelor’s degree; veterinarians are required to have a practicum year, which is included in the DVM study program.  In addition, many veterinarians choose to take a one year internship after receiving their degree.  Employers look more favorably on those with this extra training.  Internships may take place at schools of veterinary medicine located on university campuses.

Veterinarians care for all types of animals and perform everything from routine healthcare, such as vaccinations, to complex surgery.  Work as a veterinarian is rewarding, but can sometimes be emotionally trying, as when animals must be euthanized or distraught pet owners must be dealt with.  Additional training is required to be certified as a specialist in fields such cardiology, oncology, internal medicine, and dentistry.  A total of thirty-nine specialties are recognized by the American Veterinary Medicine Association. While many veterinarians work directly with animals, some work in research or for public health departments.  Research with animals often translates directly into medical treatments of human diseases and conditions.  Veterinarians working for public health departments help prevent the transmission of disease from animals to humans.

The U.S. Board of Labor Statistics reports that positions for veterinarians will open at a better than average rate.  Employment of veterinarians is expected to grow 33 percent between 2008 and 2018.  The majority of veterinarians work in private or group practices.  Some veterinarians work for zoos or animal parks and others work in research and the food animal industry.  There are currently twenty-eight schools in the United States offering an accredited DVM program.

Earnings

The median annual income for veterinarians was $79,050 in May 2008.  The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46, 610 while the highest 10 percent earned over $143,660.  The middle 50 percent of veterinarians earned between $61,370 and $104,110.  Veterinarians working for the Federal Government were making an average of $93,398 annually as of March 2009. 

Licensure

Every state and the District of Columbia require veterinarians to be licensed in order to practice.  Veterinarians working for some State governments and some Federal agencies are exempt.  Licensure requirements are not standard among the states, but every state requires that a veterinarian completes the DVM degree and passes the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam, an eight hour examination of 360 multiple-choice questions and visual materials to test diagnostic skills.  Most states also require that veterinarians pass a State jurisprudence exam, covering state laws and regulations pertaining to veterinary medicine.

Veterinarians trained in foreign countries must be certified by the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates or evaluated by the Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Education Equivalence before they can practice in the United States.  Successful candidates must demonstrate clinical proficiency and a certain level of English language skills; certification by the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates meets the educational requirement of every state.  Students from non-accredited veterinary schools may be licensed if they pass the Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Education Equivalence (PAVE).

 Requirements for entering a Veterinary Medicine Program

A strong pre-med or pre-health undergraduate program is good preparation for entering a veterinary medicine program.  Each school of veterinary medicine has its own specific requirements, so make sure you inquire early in your undergraduate career about what the requirements are for the school you want to apply to.  For example, Texas A & M now requires a course in animal nutrition and a course in general animal science in order to enter their veterinary medicine program.  A helpful comparison chart of course prerequisite requirements for each veterinary college in the United States as well as some in Canada and the United Kingdom can be found at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges site.

Depending on the school you are applying to you will have the pass the GRE, or the Medical College Admission tests (MCAT).  At present most schools require the GRE.  Some schools used to require the Veterinary College Admission Test which is no longer being administered.

A standard application process must be undertaken when applying to any school of veterinary medicine.

Keep in mind that admission to a veterinary school is very competitive.  Since 1983, the number of applicants to veterinary schools has risen significantly, but there are about the same number of schools as there were in that year.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics about 1 in 3 veterinary school applicants were accepted in 2007.

If you are high school student thinking of a career in veterinary medicine, you should take biology, chemistry, and math courses like you would take in preparation for any pre-med program.  You should also take courses in emphasizing communication skills.  Involvement in activities like Future Farmers of America (FFA) and volunteer work for animal shelters also impresses admissions boards of veterinary colleges.

Some Schools offering Doctorates in Veterinary Medicine

The University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine offers the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a dual degree program, the Veterinary Medical Scientist Training Program.  The DVM/Ph.D. program allows students to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical research while earning their doctorate of veterinary medicine; graduates of this program are prepared to go into veterinary practice or into high level research which will benefit both people and animals.  The University of Georgia also offers the dual Veterinary Medicine/ Master of Public Health program.

Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge offers the DVM degree and a dual DVM/Ph.D. which enables graduates to practice veterinary medicine or enter biomedical research.

Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas offers the only doctor of veterinary medicine program in the state.  Texas A & M’s program is highly competitive; it is one of the oldest schools of veterinary medicine in the United States.  A & M’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital offers future veterinarians ample practice in both small and large animal medicine.

The above schools are just a sample of the schools of veterinary medicine across the United States.  Take your time to look into a large number of programs before you settle on a few you would like to apply to. 


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