How Long Does It Take to Become a Veterinarian

January 12, 2022

For Veterinarians

January 12, 2022

Many people dream of becoming a veterinarian when they are children, and this career is a great fit for those interested in science, and who love animals. However, the path to becoming a veterinarian requires diligence, determination, and commitment. Students who have decided they want to be a veterinarian must spend many years of rigorous study to learn the information and gain the skills necessary to diagnose and treat animals of all shapes and sizes. Veterinary students typically spend eight years preparing for a career in general medicine, and longer to become a veterinary specialist.

High school preparation 

Diligent study during high school helps prepare students who are interested in veterinary medicine. Advanced placement classes are a great way to gain a solid foundation for the demanding math and science classes that await you in college. Students who maintain a high grade point average (GPA) in high school are more likely to be accepted to a suitable undergraduate program that will effectively prepare them for veterinary school. 

Participation in organizations such as 4-H and the National Future Farmers of America provides excellent experience for veterinary school hopefuls. Volunteering at animal shelters or rescues exposes students to situations that can help them determine whether they should pursue a veterinary medicine career.

Undergraduate courses

Most veterinary schools require applicants to complete a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes about four years. Science majors are popular for aspiring veterinarians, because veterinary schools typically require good grades in undergraduate courses such as biology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, zoology, and animal sciences. Complex math classes that teach critical thinking skills also are often required. 

Many colleges that have resident veterinary schools have pre-veterinary clubs, which provide resources to students pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. These connections can be helpful when applying to veterinary school.

Veterinary school

Veterinary school is a four-year program with a demanding curriculum that includes the anatomy, physiology, nutritional requirements, microbiology, diseases, and behavioral issues of numerous species. In addition, students are expected to learn about preventive medicine, and techniques for diagnosing and treating animals. Elective courses are offered in areas including aquatics, zoo animal medicine, endangered species conservation, rehabilitation medicine, and Eastern medicine (e.g., acupuncture). 

The first two years are typically spent in classrooms, laboratories, and study sessions. During the third and fourth years, students participate in six- to eight-week clinical rotations, which allow them to observe procedures, and gain hands-on experience working under a licensed veterinarian. These rotations include:

  • Equine medicine and surgery
  • Food animal medicine and surgery
  • Anesthesiology
  • Radiology
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Ophthalmology
  • Small animal surgery
  • Diagnostic pathology
  • Small animal internal medicine
  • Reproduction

Most veterinary schools also allow and encourage students to travel to other veterinary schools and practices to complete externships, to further expand their knowledge and experience. 

Licensing examination

Once a student finishes the four-year veterinary program, they are eligible to take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), which is administered by the International Council for Veterinary Assessment (ICVA), and composed of 360 clinically relevant, multiple choice questions. Passing the NAVLE is required for licensure to practice veterinary medicine in all licensing jurisdictions in the United States and Canada. 

Further education

After graduating from veterinary school, many veterinarians choose to pursue further education, to gain experience and enrich their veterinary education. 

Internships

An internship is a one-year program started immediately or soon after veterinary school graduation to obtain mentored, experiential, clinical training, to advance their competency. Internships provide training for practice, clinical teaching, and eligibility for those interested in seeking board certification. Internship opportunities include:

  • Equine medicine and surgery
  • Small animal medicine and surgery
  • Ambulatory and production animal medicine
  • Companion exotic pets and wildlife medicine
  • Small animal emergency and critical care
  • Shelter medicine
  • Reproduction
  • Clinical pathology

Residencies

After completing an internship, veterinarians interested in board certification in a particular area can enter a residency program. A residency is a two- to four-year program that provides supervised clinical experience, training, and educational opportunities to further a veterinarian’s knowledge, and allow them to qualify for board certification. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes 22 veterinary specialty organizations. Once they have completed their residency, a veterinarian must pass an extensive examination focused on that specialized field, typically administered over a two- to three-day period. After passing the exam, the veterinarian is known as a Diplomat of that particular field. These Diplomats work in several areas, collaborating with primary care physicians, human medical professionals, research scientists, and public health officials, to serve animals and the public.

Continuing education for veterinarians

Learning doesn’t stop for veterinarians once they graduate. Continuing education is critical for veterinary professionals. New techniques, research, and trends emerge that can benefit the veterinarian’s patients and practice. To expand their knowledge, hone their skills, and continually improve their patients’ quality of care, veterinarians must participate in continuing education. 

Each state requires veterinarians to participate in a certain number of continuing education hours to be eligible for license renewal. Continuing education conferences are held across the country every year to help veterinarians meet these requirements, and some states allow veterinarians to access online courses. 

Veterinary technicians

If the path to becoming a veterinarian seems too daunting, becoming a veterinary technician is another option. These valuable assistants perform numerous duties to help veterinarians, including providing first aid care, assisting with procedures and examinations, preparing animals for surgery, assisting in surgery, collecting blood samples, placing intravenous catheters, performing dental cleanings, and performing diagnostic tests. 

Veterinary technician requirements

To become a veterinary technician, you need to earn a high school diploma or general education development (GED), and then complete a two-year veterinary technician program. Most states require that the program be accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), to ensure the school meets AVMA’s high standards for teaching, curriculum, and student outcomes. 

Alaska, California, and Wisconsin allow on-the-job training as a substitute for a degree. Unless you live in one of these states, you will also likely need to obtain official credentials. You will first need to pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) before you will be eligible to be credentialed. 

Once you become a veterinary technician, most states require a certain number of continuing education hours every year to ensure your knowledge and skills remain current.

Summary

To become a veterinarian, after finishing high school, you will spend about another eight grueling years of study. If you desire to specialize in a particular field, your journey will continue for another three to five years. Becoming a veterinarian is not for the weak-willed or easily distracted student, but for those willing to work hard and remain dedicated to the task, the profession can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling. If you would like to consult with a veterinarian, VetVet is here to help.

Sources:

https://www.avma.org/education/veterinary-specialties. American Veterinary Medical Association.

https://www.icva.net/navle/. International Council for Veterinary Assessment.

https://www.dvm360.com/ce-requirements-by-state. DVM360.

https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/internships-and-residency-programs. American Veterinary Medical Association.

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Disclaimer: Our content is for informational purposes only — it’s not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.