How to Become an Animal Doctor: Education and Career Roadmap

Jan 23, 2022

Learn how to become an animal doctor. Research the education and career requirements, licensure and experience needed for starting a career as an animal doctor.

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Should I Become an Animal Doctor?

Animal doctors, more commonly referred to as veterinarians, diagnose and treat pets, livestock, and other animals experiencing sickness, disease, and other medical conditions. They also provide preventative care, such as check-ups and vaccinations. Duties include examining animals and treating wounds, performing surgeries, advising animal owners about care, and prescribing medications.

While most veterinarians have medical offices, many who work on animals other than domestic pets, such as farm animals, will travel to treat their patients on site. The job can be stressful, physically demanding, and noisy. The risk of injury and infection is also high with this career. Those in private practices can earn high incomes. Many animal doctors work long hours, often including nights, weekends, including those times when they need to respond immediately to an emergency. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $99,250 for veterinarians in May 2020.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; doctorate (required)
Degree Field Veterinary medicine
Licensure/Certification State licensure mandatory; voluntary certification available through the American Veterinary Medical Association
Key Skills Compassion and strong communication skills; the ability to think critically and make decisions under pressure; leadership skills; strong hand-eye coordination; computer skill with medical and veterinary management software; use of complex medical and surgical equipment like x-ray machines and surgical tools
Salary $99,250 (2020 median annual salary for veterinarians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ONet Online

You'll need a bachelor's degree and a doctorate in veterinary medicine to be an animal doctor. State licensure is mandatory and voluntary certification is available through the American Veterinary Medical Association. You'll also need compassion and strong communication skills for working closely with animals and owners, the ability to think critically and make decisions under pressure, strong hand-eye coordination for surgical procedures and leadership skills for overseeing a veterinary facility, and computer skill with medical and veterinary management software, complex medical and surgical equipment, like x-ray machines and surgical tools.

Steps to Become an Animal Doctor

Let's go over the steps required to become an animal doctor.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prospective veterinarians generally need bachelor's degrees to qualify for admission to a veterinary college. While there isn't one specific major required, students need to take a minimum number of science courses during undergraduate school, such as in chemistry, biology and physics. Depending on the veterinary college, students may also be required to meet social science, humanities or mathematics prerequisites.

While there is no pre-veterinary major, some schools offer supplemental programs that allow students to gear their undergraduate studies toward veterinary college admission requirements. Along with fulfilling prerequisites, students in these programs may take courses that introduce them to the ins and outs of veterinary medicine. These pre-veterinary programs also tend to offer students extracurricular activities, like pre-veterinary clubs.

Gain experience working with animals. Admission to veterinary school is highly competitive, and having experience with animals can significantly increase one's chances of being admitted to a DVM program. Aspiring animal doctors can volunteer to work under a licensed veterinarian, or they might volunteer at animal shelters, rescues or kennels.

Step 2: Take the GRE

Veterinary colleges typically require that DVM program applicants take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and submit their scores to the admissions office. The GRE tests an individual's verbal, quantitative and analytical skills. Some programs may require that applicants achieve a minimum score on the GRE, such as a score above the 50th percentile, in order to qualify. The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is another option that some schools may accept in lieu of the GRE.

Take a practice test. Educational Testing Service (ETS), which develops the GRE, offers a wide range of preparation materials for people scheduled to take the exam. Students getting ready for the exam can take the practice test to familiarize themselves with the content.

Step 3: Complete a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine Program

A DVM program takes four years to complete and is composed of three years of pre-clinical instruction and a final year of clinical training. Students may take courses in animal anatomy and physiology, immunology, veterinary neurobiology and genetics, parasitology and radiology. The clinical training during the final year of the program allows students to work with animals and participate in a variety of rotations involving animal cardiology, anesthesia, dentistry, surgery and dermatology.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure

All states require that veterinarians earn licensure. After obtaining a DVM degree, a future veterinarian may need to submit an application and pay a fee to be eligible for the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). In addition to the NAVLE, some states may require that individuals take an exam that covers state laws and regulations. Licensure usually does not transfer to other states, so animal doctors may need to obtain licensure from each state in which they work.

Step 5: Consider Certification

Veterinarians may want to consider obtaining specialty certification through the American Veterinary Medical Association. While certification is optional, it does demonstrate one's skills in a veterinary specialty, such as surgery, dentistry or internal medicine. Veterinarians may need to have 3-4 years of experience or additional training before being eligible for certification, depending on the specialty.

To become an animal doctor, you'll need a bachelor's degree, a DVM and a license from the state.

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