How to Become a Veterinarian

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4 Steps to Becoming Licensed as a Vet

Step 1

Earn a bachelor’s degree in a biological science to prepare for entering veterinary school.
Take courses in animal behavior (if available), general biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Then take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to qualify for entering a veterinary school. While in school, volunteer or intern at vet clinics or animal care facilities to gain experience working with animals.

Step 2

Complete a four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program in one of more than 30 accredited schools in the country. Doctorate curriculum should include animal anatomy, biology, chemistry, physiology, nutrition, virology, and zoology. Pursue independent research in the field. Undertake hands-on supervised clinical practice (practicums) in your final year. Potential sites include animal farms, veterinary clinics, hospitals, and zoos.

Step 3

Take and pass the seven-hour licensing examination offered by the state in which you plan to practice. A common exam is prepared by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.

Step 4

Start practicing, and pursue training and certification. You may choose to select one or more of 40 veterinary specialties, including anesthesia, behavior, dentistry, emergency and critical care, internal medicine, laboratory animal medicine, nutrition, oncology, radiology, and surgery.

FAQ on Earning Your Veterinary Degree

The road to completing your veterinarian doctorate and entering the profession can be long and arduous. But there are keys to make the experience rewarding and beneficial to your building a sustained career. Here are some tips worth considering:

  • Immediately. Your peers and faculty can become invaluable resources from choosing a specialty to searching for the right job after you graduate.

  • According to the New York Times, your graduating debt should remain less than twice the amount of your starting salary. Budget carefully, paying back as much of your tuition and loan money – even a little bit at a time – as you move through your program. Investigate income-based repayment loans.

  • On the contrary, networking with fellow students and mentors are a key to success in school. You can find peers pursuing the same professional fields and discover off-campus opportunities to work within your choice of specializations.

  • In order to become eligible to take a certification examination in a veterinary specialty you will need advanced training, often in a residency training program under the supervision of veterinarians who are board-certified in that specialty. For example, becoming certified in veterinary surgery requires training with a board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist, a board-certified veterinary radiologist, a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist, and a board-certified veterinary pathologist during the 3 or more years of a veterinary surgical residency.

  • Not necessarily, although it depends on the program. In general, undertaking internships or volunteer positions to gain practical experience in the summer can bolster your credentials. Summer is also a great time to explore student and professional veterinary organizations and associations.

Veterinarian Salary & Job Growth

Across the United States, veterinarian salaries very widely based on factors that include state and city cost of living, types of veterinarian clinics or private practice, and personal experience in the field. According to the BLS, the 69,400 veterinarians in the country earn a mean annual wage of $101,530.

Experience also impacts earnings. PayScale reports that beginning veterinarian salaries range from $52,863 - $103,684. Average initial bonuses can amount to $17,633 per year, with commissions from $2,021 to $40,490. Mid-career veterinarians can earn up to $109,815, with a $20,000 bonus and $38,438 in commissions. Late career veterinarians earn up to $140,954, with a bonus of $20,664 and commissions as high as $49,665. Don’t forget to consider profit-sharing. Depending on the practice or firm, veterinarians can receive annual profit sharing contributions that range wildly, from $2,432 - $181,207.

The BLS has compiled 2016 data for every state, including salaries, numbers of veterinarians, and job projections (2016-2026). The bureau predicts that nationwide employment for qualified veterinarians will grow by 19% between 2016-2026. The highest median annual wages are offered in Hawaii, $198,340; New Jersey, $124,830; New York, $122,500; Nevada, $121,150; California, $120,300; Connecticut, $114,110; and Rhode Island, $118,660. The lowest-paying states include Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

Where are the best, and worst, states to find a veterinarian job? The percentage of new veterinarian jobs predicted 2016-2026 also varies – sometimes dramatically – from state to state. The BLS predicts the highest percentage of veterinarian job growth for the decade is expected in Arizona, 26.3%; Washington, 26.2%; Colorado, 24.9%; Florida, 23.7%; and North Carolina, 20.7%.

States where the fewest percentage of new jobs are anticipated include West Virginia, a net loss of 3.3% jobs; Wyoming, net loss of 1.7% jobs; New Mexico, net gain of +2.4%; Idaho, +2.8%; Massachusetts, +3.9%; Maine, +4.1%; Minnesota, +4.4%; Arkansas, +4.5%; and Delaware, +5.6%.

The states with the greatest number of working veterinarians include California, 6,480 veterinarians; Florida, 4,300; North Carolina, 2,888; Ohio, 2,870; Michigan, 2,050; Maryland, 1,740; Massachusetts, 1,450; Minnesota, 1,340; and Pennsylvania, 2,990. States with the fewest number of working veterinarians include Alaska, 190; Wyoming, 200; Delaware, 220; North Dakota, 230; South Dakota, 230; West Virginia, 330; and New Mexico, 370.

Alabama Mean wage annual: $87,740
Currently Employed: 980
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11.40%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $112,270
Currently Employed: 190
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11.00%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $101,870
Currently Employed: 13,060
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 26.30%
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $69,130
Currently Employed: 580
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4.50%
California Mean wage annual: $120,300
Currently Employed: 6,480
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 18.70%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $86,220
Currently Employed: 2,120
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 24.90%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $114,110
Currently Employed: 700
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8.50%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $106,810
Currently Employed: 220
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 5.60%
Florida Mean wage annual: $100,140
Currently Employed: 4,300
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 23.70%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $88,050
Currently Employed: 19,050
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4.80%
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The BLS predicts that employment growth in the veterinary service industries will be spurred by the increasing number of consumers who depend on pet care. The rise of specializations and services among veterinarians will also drive increases in hiring, depending on the community where pet owners seek advanced care and treatment to extend the lives of their animals.

Finding a Veterinary Program

Discovering the ideal program that prepares students for careers in veterinary medicine can be time consuming. Of course, students’ paramount concerns start with the total cost of tuition. Some key factors worth considering are the credentials of faculty members and where the school is located. Here are some other questions to ask: Is the school accredited? How long will it take to complete your DVM? Is your preferred specialization offered at the school? Does the program offer online components that can reduce commuting time or free you for work in an existing job or volunteer position?

Other things to examine are whether the school has a range of contacts/partnerships with non-profit or membership associations. Is there a student counseling or job placement service? Does the program provide appropriate academic training to prepare for state and federal licensing examinations? Check with the school for graduation rates. Finally, is there financial aid available?

The following tool can dramatically streamline your search. It returns results including the state, the school name, and degrees that the institution offers.

State
Degree Level
School Type
Environment

Professional Veterinary Associations & Groups

Students are encouraged to investigate and join professional associations that advocate for veterinarians, their common interests, and that support research in the field. The benefits are legion. An association can provide mentors and practitioners for career networking, employment strategies, the latest job alerts, advancements in the profession, and evidence-based clinical techniques. Here are several to consider as you grow into the field:

  • American Veterinary Medical Association

    The AVMA has more than more than ​91,000 members. Its student organization, Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA), offers free publications, a career center (posted job openings), scholarships, and insurance coverage.

  • The International Council for Veterinary Assessment

    The ICVA is a non-profit organization that develops the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) used by states and territories to assess applicants for their license to practice. The NAVLE is offered in the fall and spring.

  • The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC)

    The AAVMC advocates for schools and institutions that prepare students for their veterinary careers, representing more than 30 U.S. veterinary medical colleges, all five Canadian colleges of veterinary medicine, and eight U.S. departments of veterinary science. Site includes a listing of veterinary colleges, sorted by state.

  • American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP)

    Founded in 1954, the AAEP represents more than 9,000 veterinarians and students who are dedicated to the care of horse breeds. The organization has a job board and advocates for ethical standards, education, and professional development.

  • The American Society of Animal Science (ASAS)

    The ASAS publishes more than 500 scholarly articles a year in its Journal of Animal Science. It provides research and scientific information along with insight into career development for educators and animal scientists.

  • International Veterinary Students' Association (IVSA)

    Headquartered in Belgium, the IVSA is run by run by volunteer veterinary students. Its website offers information on foreign exchange programs, networking with practitioners, scholarships, training events, and international symposia.

  • The Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA)

    The VBMA assists veterinarians and students in the development of key skills in networking, personal management, knowledge of student loans, finance, communication, and business operations.

Resources for Veterinarians

Veterinarians never stop learning or conducting research. Students may want to familiarize themselves with the following helpful resources that offer information from government agencies and professional organizations. Learn about animal hospitals, government regulations, and associations offering advice on building your business:

  • The National Association of Federal Veterinarians (NAFV)

    Made up of public health veterinarians, NAFV serves Veterinary Medical Officers with leadership roles in national animal health programs. Its resources are helpful for those who plan to work in the livestock field as a federal employee. Find information on state requirements, student loan forgiveness programs, and continuing education.

  • The United States Animal Health Association (USAHA)

    Founded in 1897, the USAHA is a non-profit, science-based organization offering an international forum for members representing veterinarians, state and federal governments, universities, research scientists, and national livestock and poultry organizations. Website topics include disease eradication, animal welfare, emergency preparedness, and emerging diseases.

  • The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)

    AAHA is the nation’s only veterinary association exclusively serving caregivers and owners of companion animals. More than 3,700 veterinary practice teams in North America are accredited by AAHA. The organization also sponsors the Animal Hospice & Palliative Care Certificate Program, offering six hours of CE credit for students who complete the coursework.

  • FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM)

    As part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the CVM regulates animal pharmaceuticals, veterinary devices, and pet foods. It does not regulate vaccines for animals or the practice of veterinary medicine. The website contains federal publications on product approvals, compliance and enforcement, safety and health.

  • Morris Animal Foundation

    This non-profit foundation funds critical scientific studies related to the health of all animals. Specific animal populations that are served include dogs, cats, horses, and wildlife. MAF is currently seeking grant proposals for studies on large companion animals such as horses and llamas.

  • Student Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (SVECCS)

    Student chapters across the country participate in SVECCS wet lab activities. SVECCS is one of the largest student organizations in many veterinary colleges, providing resources for continuing educational and employment opportunities organized around emergency and critical care medicine.

  • Vet-I-Care

    Vet-I-Care is charitable, non-profit organization dedicated to helping money-strapped families receive emergency and specialty care for their pets.