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How to Become a Veterinarian

By Ibrahim Okunade


Ever wondered what it takes to heal, nurture, and protect our furry, feathered, and finned companions?

If so, then you may be interested in a career in veterinary medicine. If you’re curious about this career path, our guide outlines the steps to becoming a skilled and compassionate veterinarian.

Career Summary

What is a Veterinarian?

Veterinarian Salary

A veterinarian is a trained medical professional specializing in animal health and well-being. Their role extends beyond just treating illnesses; veterinarians play a vital role in preventing diseases, promoting animal welfare, and ensuring the overall health of various species. Their expertise encompasses a wide range of animals, from beloved pets to livestock to wildlife. The veterinarian job description includes diagnosing and treating medical conditions, performing surgeries, administering vaccinations, conducting medical exams, and advising on nutrition and preventive care.

How Much Do Veterinarians Make?

The earning potential for veterinarians can vary based on factors such as location, specialization, type of practice, years of experience, and the specific industry they work in. According to Glassdoor, veterinarians could potentially earn up to $200,000 per year.

The breakdown is as follows:

  • Entry Salary (US$133k)
  • Median Salary (US$177k)
  • Executive Salary (US$237k)

Compared to the national average salary for all occupations in the United States, veterinarians can be categorized as high-income earners.

Veterinarian Career Progression

  • Intern Veterinarian: Newly graduated veterinarians may start their careers as interns. They work under the guidance of experienced veterinarians to gain practical experience, refine their skills, and apply their theoretical knowledge in a real-world setting.
  • Associate Veterinarian: After completing their internship, veterinarians can move on to become associate veterinarians. They work in established veterinary practices, clinics, or hospitals, providing medical care to animals, performing surgeries, and interacting with clients.
  • Senior Associate Veterinarian: With experience, an associate veterinarian can take on more responsibilities, gain expertise in specific areas, and potentially become a senior associate. They might take on leadership roles within the practice and mentor junior veterinarians.
  • Veterinary Specialist: Veterinarians with a strong interest in a particular field, such as surgery, dermatology, or cardiology, can undergo further training to become specialists. This involves additional education and certification. Specialists are highly skilled in their chosen area and often work in referral hospitals or academic institutions.
  • Head Veterinarian: Within a veterinary practice, a senior veterinarian might advance to become the head veterinarian or chief of staff. This role involves overseeing the clinic’s operations, managing staff, ensuring quality care, and maintaining client relationships.
  • Practice Owner or Partner: Some veterinarians choose to open their own practices or become partners in an existing practice. This step involves not only providing medical care but also managing the business aspects of the clinic, such as finances, staffing, and marketing.
Veterinarian Career Progression


  • The job offers the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of animals and their owners.
  • The field of veterinary medicine offers a diverse range of specialties.
  • Veterinarians earn competitive salaries that reflect their education and expertise.
  • There are many career paths available to veterinarians, as they can work in various settings.
  • Veterinarians find immense personal satisfaction in a career that aligns with their passion for animals and their welfare.


  • It can be physically demanding, involving tasks like lifting animals and standing for extended periods.
  • Veterinarians often have to make the difficult decision to euthanize animals.
  • Handling animals, especially large or distressed ones, poses a risk of injury to veterinarians.
  • Veterinarians are at risk of exposure to zoonotic diseases.
  • Pet owners can be demanding and unrealistic about the care of their pets.

Essential Veterinarian Skills

  • Clinical Diagnosis
  • Surgical Proficiency
  • Medical Treatment
  • Animal Handling
  • Communication Skills
  • Compassion and Empathy

Popular Veterinarian Specialties

  • Zoological Medicine
  • Equine Medicine
  • Large Animal Veterinarian
  • Small Animal Veterinarian
  • Veterinary Specialist (e.g., Surgeon, Dermatologist, Cardiologist)
  • Veterinary Anesthesiology

How to become a Veterinarian

Veterinarian 6 Steps to Career

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

To become a veterinarian, you have to attend a veterinary school, and each veterinary school has its specific requirements. First, you must complete an undergraduate degree and the prerequisite coursework.

Undergraduate bachelor’s degrees in animal science, biology, physics, and chemistry are ideal. While opting for biology-related majors is preferred, you can also opt for any other course. The most important thing is to complete the prerequisite coursework and do well.

Although the specific requirements differ from one veterinary school to the other, some general coursework requirements include:

  • Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • General Chemistry
  • Mathematics (Statistics/Calculus)
  • Physics
  • Humanities and Behavioral Science

In addition to completing your undergraduate degree and completing the prerequisite coursework, many veterinary schools require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Alternatively, some schools accept the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) instead of the GRE. In addition, some schools require Biology GRE. This is why it is important to understand the specific requirement of the veterinary schools you want to apply to.

Step 2: Gain Practical Experience

Beyond the academic requirements, practical experience is a pivotal aspect of your journey toward becoming a successful veterinarian. Acquiring hands-on experience with animals and immersing yourself in various animal-related settings provides you with invaluable insights, skills, and a realistic understanding of the veterinary field. You can gain the needed experience through volunteering and internships related to animal care and handling.

Volunteering Opportunities for Pre-Vet School Students to Gain Experience

The quality of your volunteering experience can go a long way in convincing the admissions board of veterinary schools to admit you. So, where can you volunteer?

Here are some ideas for you:

  • Veterinary Clinics/Hospitals: You can volunteer at veterinary clinics and animal hospitals. This volunteering opportunity allows you to shadow veterinarians and technicians, observe consultations, surgeries, and treatments, and gain experience in animal care and handling.
  • Animal Shelters: Volunteering at animal shelters or rescue organizations exposes you to a wide variety of animals. You might be involved in feeding, cleaning, administering basic treatments, and helping with adoption processes. This experience offers insights into animal behavior, socialization, and the challenges of shelter medicine.
  • Zoos and Aquariums: Zoos and aquariums often offer opportunities with a focus on veterinary care for exotic and captive animals. You might assist with medical procedures, wellness checks, and enrichment activities while learning about the specialized care of these animals.
  • Research Facilities: Volunteering at research institutions that focus on animal-related studies provides exposure to research and laboratory techniques. This experience can be particularly valuable if you’re interested in pursuing a career in veterinary research.
  • Farm Animal Facilities: Volunteer experience on farms or livestock facilities give you exposure to large animal medicine. You’ll learn about herd health management, reproduction, nutrition, and treatment of farm animals.
  • Equine Facilities: If you’re interested in working with horses, equine facilities offer experience in equine health and management. You might assist with routine care, observe surgeries, and learn about equine-specific medical procedures.

Step 3: Apply to Veterinary School

After completing your undergraduate coursework and gaining practical experience, the next step toward becoming a veterinarian is applying to veterinary school. This pivotal step requires careful planning, meticulous organization, and a strong application that showcases your academic achievements, practical experience, and passion for the field. Here are a few things to note:

  • Research the Schools

Begin by researching veterinary schools to identify those that align with your interests, goals, and values. Consider factors such as location, program structure, areas of specialization, faculty expertise, and any unique offerings.

Each veterinary school has specific admission requirements, including prerequisites, GPA thresholds, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and sometimes standardized test scores (such as the GRE). The Veterinary Medical School Admission Requirements (VMSAR) has information about the admission requirements for veterinary schools in the United States and Canada.

  • Prepare Your Personal Statement and Letters of Recommendation

Tailor your personal statement to the veterinary school you’re applying to. Emphasize your unique qualities and experiences and how they align with the school’s mission and values. When applying, you will also need strong letters of recommendation to bolster your application and provide a comprehensive view of your qualifications, character, and potential as a future veterinarian. These letters play a critical role in helping admissions committees assess your suitability for veterinary school.

  • Submit Your Application

Keep track of application deadlines, submission confirmations, and any additional information requested by the schools. Being organized demonstrates your attention to detail and professionalism. Since almost all veterinary schools in the United States utilize the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS), you can apply through this portal. VMCAS is a single, standardized application that can be sent to multiple schools at once.

  • Wait for Interview Invitations and the Final Decision

If you are selected for an interview, you will have the opportunity to meet with admissions representatives and answer questions about your application. This is your chance to make a good impression and show the admissions committee that you are a good fit for their school.

The admissions process can take several months. Once all of the applications have been reviewed, the admissions committee will make a decision and notify you of their decision.

Step 4: Complete Veterinary School

After securing your admission to veterinary school, you embark on a journey of rigorous education and training spanning approximately four years. The curriculum is rich and diverse, encompassing a wide range of subjects crucial to veterinary medicine. Courses delve into anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, surgery, and diagnostics, giving you a solid foundation in the field.

Hands-on learning takes center stage, where practical training and clinical experience become your guides. In labs and simulated scenarios, you apply your theoretical knowledge to real-world situations, honing your skills in animal care, handling, and medical procedures.

As you advance, clinical rotations provide invaluable exposure. Guided by seasoned veterinarians, you delve into specialized areas like internal medicine, surgery, and radiology. This immersion nurtures your ability to diagnose, treat, and care for a diverse array of animal patients.

Beyond medical expertise, you’re shaped into a professional adept at communicating with clients, adhering to ethical standards, and navigating legal aspects of practice. Case studies and problem-solving exercises refine your analytical thinking, while research opportunities and specializations deepen your understanding of specific niches within the field.

Throughout your journey, assessments keep you on track. Written exams, practical evaluations, and clinical assessments ensure your progress aligns with the rigorous standards of veterinary practice. Upon successful completion, you graduate with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, a testament to your dedication and mastery.

How Much Does Veterinary School Cost?

You won’t get the exact cost of attending veterinary school because it varies from school to school based on several factors. For example, in-state and out-of-state students attending the same public veterinary school are not likely to incur the same cost to complete veterinary school. Nonetheless, the estimated total cost of attendance for a four-year veterinary school program ranges between  $150,000 and $420,000.

Can I Become a Veterinarian Through Online Education?

A complete Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree program cannot be offered solely online due to the essential clinical, field, and laboratory components integral to veterinary training. Veterinary education requires direct hands-on experience with live animals for clinical assessments, diagnoses, surgeries, and animal interactions. Laboratory work, diagnostic skills, and ethical considerations also demand practical engagement that virtual learning cannot replicate.

The development of clinical competence, emergency preparedness, surgical skills, and animal welfare understanding necessitates in-person exposure and real-world scenarios. While online education may complement theoretical learning, the diverse and dynamic nature of veterinary practice mandates the integration of practical experiences to ensure students are equipped with the skills and knowledge required for comprehensive veterinary care.

What are Some Web Resources to Improve My Knowledge of Veterinary Medicine?

You can access several online web resources to enhance your knowledge of veterinary medicine.

Here are some reputable websites and platforms that offer valuable information and educational content in the field:

Remember that while online resources can be valuable, they should complement your formal education and clinical experiences. Always verify the credibility and source of the information you’re accessing. Additionally, stay connected with your academic institution and local veterinary associations for recommendations on trusted online resources.

Step 5: Internship and Residency (Optional)

After bagging your veterinary degree, you can engage in internship or residency programs. These programs are not mandatory and can be skipped, meaning vet internships are not required in order to practice. Those interested are to apply through the Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program of the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians.

Prospective interns or residents choose programs they’re interested in and rank them. It’s a good idea to rank more than one program because competition is high. Applicants complete an Application Packet and submit it on the website. Institutions or private practices also rank applicants based on their criteria.

The VIRMP uses a computer system to match interns/residents with programs. Applicants create a list of programs they want to apply to, and institutions/private practices make a list of applicants they’d accept. Both lists are private. The computer system matches them in a way that gives each the best option from their list. Applicants are allowed to apply to both an internship and residency program simultaneously. However, such applicants will be considered in the residency match first.

Essential Veterinarian Skills to Learn

While learning the ropes as a veterinarian, you will develop a wide range of skills that are essential for providing comprehensive care to animals and ensuring their well-being.

Below are some key skills you will learn as a veterinarian:

  • Medical Diagnosis and Treatment: You’ll learn how to diagnose medical conditions in animals, interpret diagnostic tests, and develop treatment plans that may include medications, surgeries, or other interventions.
  • Surgical Proficiency: Veterinarians often perform surgeries, such as spaying/neutering, tumor removal, orthopedic procedures, and more. You’ll acquire surgical skills and techniques to ensure safe and effective procedures.
  • Animal Handling and Restraint: Safely and effectively handling and restraining animals is crucial for examinations, treatments, and procedures. You’ll learn techniques to minimize stress and ensure the safety of both animals and handlers.
  • Diagnostic Imaging: Understanding and interpreting X-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, and other imaging techniques allow you to diagnose internal issues and plan appropriate treatments.
  • Laboratory Techniques: Learning laboratory skills helps you analyze blood, urine, tissue samples, and other specimens to diagnose diseases and assess overall health.
  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics: You’ll develop expertise in prescribing medications, understanding drug interactions, and determining appropriate dosages for various species.
  • Anatomy and Physiology: A deep understanding of animal anatomy and physiology is essential for diagnosing and treating medical conditions effectively.
  • Communication Skills: Effectively communicating with pet owners, colleagues, and team members is crucial. You’ll learn to explain diagnoses, treatments, and preventive care in a way that is understandable and relatable. Educating pet owners about animal care, nutrition, behavior, and disease prevention empowers them to make informed decisions for their pets’ well-being.
  • Empathy and Compassion: Developing empathy for animals and their owners is fundamental. Your ability to connect with both can positively impact treatment outcomes and client satisfaction.
  • Time Management and Organization: Juggling appointments, surgeries, diagnostics, and administrative tasks requires effective time management and organizational skills.
  • Ethical and Professional Conduct: Veterinarians uphold ethical standards and professionalism in all interactions, ensuring the welfare of animals and maintaining trust with clients.

Step 6: Obtain a License

After completing your DVM/VMD program, you’ll need to pass the national veterinary licensing examination in your country. In the U.S., it’s the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). The International Council for Veterinary Assessment administers the exam.

There are two testing windows annually, so it’s important to prepare and get regular updates. You are only allowed to take the examination once per testing window and a maximum of five attempts within a five-year period.

Passing the licensing examination demonstrates your readiness to enter the veterinary profession independently. It confirms that you possess the necessary foundation of medical knowledge, diagnostic capabilities, and ethical understanding to make informed decisions in the treatment and care of animals. This examination is usually computer-based and may consist of multiple-choice questions, case scenarios, and practical application questions.

Upon successfully passing the licensing examination, you will receive your veterinary license, granting you the legal authority to diagnose, treat, and care for animals. This licensure is a significant milestone that marks your transition from a veterinary student to a licensed professional veterinarian.

What’s the Career Outlook for Veterinarians?

The career outlook for veterinarians is encouraging. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of veterinarians is expected to grow 19 percent from 2021 to 2031. The growth rate is much faster than the average for all occupations in the United States.

Further, more than 4,000 openings for veterinarians are projected each year over the decade. This steady demand for veterinary professionals reflects the ongoing need for high-quality animal care across various sectors, including private practices, animal hospitals, research institutions, government agencies, and animal health and welfare industries. The strong projected growth in the field signifies opportunities for veterinarians to contribute their expertise to diverse areas such as companion animal medicine, livestock health management, public health, wildlife conservation, and more.

Veterinarian Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities for a Veterinarian?

Going by the positive veterinarian job outlook, there’s a wide array of job opportunities that await those entering the field. Veterinarians have the chance to pursue diverse and fulfilling career paths, each offering a unique blend of challenges and rewards.

Here are some top job opportunities for veterinarians:

  • Small Animal Veterinarian: Provides medical care and treatment to companion animals like dogs, cats, and small mammals in private clinics or animal hospitals.
  • Large Animal Veterinarian: Focuses on the health and well-being of livestock animals such as cattle, pigs, sheep, and horses.
  • Veterinary Specialist (e.g., Surgeon, Dermatologist, Cardiologist): After additional training, specializes in a specific area of veterinary medicine, offering advanced care and expertise.
  • Emergency Veterinarian: Handles urgent and critical medical cases in 24/7 emergency veterinary clinics.
  • Zoo Veterinarian: Cares for exotic animals in zoos, wildlife reserves, and aquariums, focusing on their health and well-being.
  • Research Veterinarian: Works in research institutions, universities, or laboratories, contributing to scientific advancements and animal health studies.
  • Wildlife Veterinarian: Cares for wild animals, often working in conservation and rehabilitation efforts.
  • Veterinary Anesthesiology: Managing anesthesia and pain management during surgeries and procedures.
  • Equine Veterinarian: Specializes in the medical care of horses, including performance animals, racehorses, and other equines.
  • Shelter Veterinarian: Provides medical care to animals in shelters, performs spaying/neutering surgeries, and manages the health of shelter animals.
  • Veterinary Consultant: Provides expertise and advice to individuals, businesses, or organizations on matters related to animal health and care.

What Type of Organizations Hire Veterinarians?

Veterinarians are sought after by a variety of organizations across different sectors. Their expertise in animal health, medical care, and disease prevention makes them valuable assets in numerous fields.

Let’s check out some types of organizations that commonly hire veterinarians:

  • Private Veterinary Clinics and Hospitals: Private practices catering to companion animals or large animals hire veterinarians to provide medical care, surgeries, and preventive services.
  • Animal Hospitals and Emergency Clinics: Veterinary hospitals with specialized services and round-the-clock care often employ veterinarians skilled in emergency and critical care.
  • Research Institutions: Universities, research facilities, and laboratories hire veterinarians for roles in animal research, biomedical studies, and advancing veterinary medicine.
  • Zoos and Wildlife Reserves: Zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, and aquariums hire veterinarians to care for exotic animals, manage health programs, and contribute to conservation efforts.
  • Government Agencies: Government bodies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and health departments employ veterinarians for roles in public health, food safety, and disease control.
  • Veterinary Colleges and Academia: Veterinary schools and colleges hire veterinarians as educators, researchers, and experts to impart knowledge and conduct studies.
  • Animal Shelters and Rescue Organizations: Animal shelters, humane societies, and rescue groups hire veterinarians to provide medical care to animals in need and oversee spaying/neutering programs.
  • Equine Facilities: Equestrian centers, racing stables, and equine clinics hire veterinarians with expertise in horse health and medical care.
  • Pet Food Companies: Companies in the pet food industry hire veterinarians to ensure the nutritional quality and safety of pet food products.
  • Wildlife and Conservation Organizations: Nonprofits and NGOs focused on wildlife conservation hire veterinarians to contribute to research, rehabilitation, and habitat protection.
  • Livestock and Poultry Production: Organizations involved in livestock and poultry production hire veterinarians for herd health management, disease prevention, and biosecurity.
  • Veterinary Consulting Firms: Consulting firms specializing in veterinary services hire veterinarians to offer expert advice to individuals, businesses, and organizations.

Tips for Balancing Work and Life as a Veterinarian

Finding that sweet spot between your work as a veterinarian and your personal life might seem like a bit of a challenge. With the demands of the profession, striking a balance is important for your overall happiness and well-being.

Here are some practical tips to help you navigate this delicate equilibrium:

  • Set Clear Boundaries: Start by setting clear boundaries between work and your personal time. When you’re off-duty, try your best to detach from work-related matters and allow yourself the space to unwind.
  • Self-care is Unnegotiable: Taking care of yourself should be a non-negotiable. Whether it’s a brisk jog, quality time with loved ones, or indulging in a hobby, these moments of self-care contribute significantly to your overall well-being.
  • Plan Your Time: Planning your time thoughtfully can make a world of difference. Organize your schedule in a way that allocates time for work commitments, relaxation, and those personal responsibilities that demand your attention outside of work. Effective time management is a skill worth honing.
  • Delegate: Delegation is a smart move. If you have support staff, consider passing on tasks that don’t necessarily need your direct involvement. This way, you free up more of your valuable time. Recognize your limits, and don’t hesitate to turn down extra tasks if you’re already swamped. It’s perfectly alright to prioritize your well-being.
  • Take Breaks and Vacations: Oddly enough, taking short breaks during your workday can actually improve your productivity. These moments of pause can be like a quick mental reset. If your workplace allows for flexible hours, think about how to use this to balance your work and personal commitments. Make sure you regularly plan for breaks and vacations. Stepping away from work, even for a little while, can do wonders to recharge your energy

Remember that finding the right balance is a personal journey. It might require trial and error to discover what works best for you. Prioritizing your well-being and making conscious choices to maintain a healthy work-life balance will contribute to your overall happiness and success as a veterinarian.

Should I become a Veterinarian?

A career as a veterinarian can prove to be very fulfilling for those who have a genuine passion for animals and a strong commitment to their well-being. This guide equips you with all you need to make a sound decision. If you find deep satisfaction in caring for animals, diagnosing and treating their medical conditions, and contributing to their overall health, then becoming a veterinarian could align with your aspirations.

The prospect of working with both companion and large animals, addressing a wide range of medical challenges, and potentially even impacting public health through disease prevention might resonate with your goals. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that becoming a veterinarian requires dedication and rigorous education. Veterinarian education requirements are quite extensive. Obtaining a veterinarian degree requires completing undergraduate prerequisites, attending veterinary school, and often specializing in specific areas of interest. The journey may involve long hours, challenging cases, and emotional moments.

Consider whether the rewards of this profession outweigh the challenges. Ultimately, the decision to become a veterinarian should align with your individual values, passions, and long-term goals.

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Ibrahim Okunade

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