Requirements to Become a Veterinarian in the U.S.

Oct 20, 2021

Veterinarians provide health care services for animals, whether they're beloved pets, livestock, or even wildlife. Veterinarian requirements are extremely difficult, with extensive education and licensure necessary before beginning a career.

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What Do You Need to Become a Veterinarian?

Veterinarians are responsible for the care, diagnosis, and treatment of animals of all kinds. While most veterinarians predominantly treat pets, veterinary specialties dealing with livestock animals such as cows and pigs, work animals such as horses, and wildlife rehabilitation also exist. Vets can perform everyday check-ups and provide general care as well as emergency and surgical care. To become a veterinarian, an individual will need to go through a relevant undergraduate program, complete a doctorate in veterinary medicine, which is likely to include internships, and receive licensure to practice from the state in which they reside.

Veterinarian Qualifications

Degree Level Doctorate
Degree Field Veterinary medicine
Licensure & Certification All states require a license to work; certification is available for specialties
Key Traits & Skills Compassion, dexterity, a strong stomach and a fondness for animals; problem-solving and communication skills are critical, along with decisiveness.

Veterinarian Education Requirements

The schooling needed to be a veterinarian is lengthy. A student hoping to become a veterinarian will need to start with an undergraduate degree that can lead into a doctoral program, such as a bachelor's in pre-veterinary medicine, biology, or zoology. The best way to figure out what to major in or what courses to take is to look at the prerequisite courses for Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) programs at universities across the country. Completing as many of the common courses as possible can help ensure that applicants are eligible for a number of DVM programs. Additionally, volunteer work at animal hospitals or shelters is highly recommended and can help them be competitive in the admissions process.

Once these and other admissions requirements have been met, such as Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores in some cases, students begin their four-year doctoral program. To fulfill DVM requirements and gain the experience needed to be a veterinarian, students may work at teaching hospitals, perform internships with clinics and offices, and typically have the opportunity to try their hand at a variety of specialty options throughout their studies.

Licensure and Certification for Veterinarians

Upon receiving their doctorate, new veterinarians will need to become licensed to practice in the state where they plan to live and work. Each state has its own licensing board, with its own rules regarding what is necessary to practice. A test called the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) is commonly required, and several states have their own veterinary license exams. Recommendations of character are sometimes also needed.

Certification is optional and is largely used to establish expertise in a specialty. Veterinary careers have more than forty specialties one could pursue, often after completing a residency of up to three years relating to that specialty, such as avian practice, canine and feline practice, exotic companions, and shelter medicine.

Veterinarian Career and Salary Information

The median salary for veterinarians in the US was $93,830, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2018. The veterinary profession is expected to see a growth of 19% over the decade between 2016 and 2026, significantly faster than the national average. Much of this growth can be attributed to the increasing popularity of pet ownership and larger shares of income being spent on pet care.

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