How to Become a Veterinarian
If you have a love of animals and a passion for science, then the thought of becoming a veterinarian has likely crossed your mind. You’d get to care for cute and cuddly animals all day long! People’s pets are precious to them, and they want the best care when something goes wrong, so providing that care and being able to form a bond with animals of shapes and sizes is a key part of becoming a veterinarian.
While a career as a veterinarian can be very rewarding, there’s a lot of preparation and work you must do before you can become a vet. Being a great vet is more than just diagnosing illnesses and treating injuries. If you’re wondering how to become a veterinarian, keep reading to learn:
- Veterinarian job duties
- How long it takes to become a veterinarian
- What schooling is required to become a veterinarian
- How much a veterinarian makes
- How to write a veterinarian resume
First, before diving into how to become a veterinarian, you need to know what a vet actually does. A veterinarian is a doctor who is qualified to diagnose, treat, and prevent health problems in animals. Common veterinarian job duties include:
- Administering diagnostic tests
- Prescribing medications
- Performing surgeries for pets, livestock, and wildlife
- Operating medical equipment such as X-ray and ultrasound machines
- Interacting regularly with owners
- Educating owners on treatment plans
- Promoting animals’ and pets’ day-to-day wellness
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most veterinarians work in private clinics and hospitals. However, depending on if you decide to pursue a specialty, working on farms or in settings such as laboratories, classrooms, or zoos is not uncommon.
In some cases, vets may choose to specialize in a certain type of animal. Possible areas of focus include:
- Equine care (horses)
- Companion animals (domestic pets)
- Food animals (farm livestock)
Other specialties that are not animal-specific include:
- Food safety and inspection veterinarians (health compliance)
- Research veterinarians (working in laboratories to examine human and animal health issues)
- And telehealth veterinarians
You generally won’t pick a specialty until you’re out of vet school, but if you know what you want to do before then, you can try to take specific classes to help you prepare. A more complete list of specialties can be found here on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) website.
So, how long does it take to become a veterinarian? The answer is around eight years of schooling: four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and four to earn your Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM). However, that doesn’t tell the full story. Veterinary school is extremely competitive, and many schools look for extracurricular experience with animals in applicants. To really stand out from the crowd, consider volunteering with animals as early as high school to enhance your application. For now, though, we’ll focus on the school requirements.
What Schooling Is Required To Be a Veterinarian?
The most important aspect of your education when becoming a veterinarian is veterinary school. Your undergraduate major and grades will be important, but most vet schools don’t require a specific major to apply. You should focus on math and science classes like biology, zoology, and chemistry, but feel free to take other courses if they interest you. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges put together a list of the required courses for all accredited veterinary schools to help you decide what to take.
Remember, having prior experience working with animals is a great way to boost your vet school application, so look for internships, volunteer opportunities, or clubs and groups while you’re pursuing your undergraduate education.
If you’re one of the lucky few who are accepted to a veterinary college, you’ll likely spend your first two years in classes and labs, with the last two years spent acquiring real-world experience as part of clinical rotations. Many graduates say veterinary school is like a full-time job, with courses and training lasting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. You’ll also spend most of your last year studying for your North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE). Passing the NVALE is required for every veterinarian in the United States.
- Doctorate Degree (31.7%)
- Bachelor's Degree (25.0%)
- High School or GED (17.8%)
- Associate's Degree (11.2%)
- Vocational Degree or Certification (7.0%)
- Master's Degree (3.9%)
- Some High School (1.8%)
- Some College (1.7%)
CertificationVeterinarians offer the following certifications
Qualifications / SkillsThe following top skills are often required or desired to land a Veterinarian position
Acupuncture, Animal Care, AVImark, Client Education, Client Services, Communication Skills, Critical Care, Dedication, Dental Prophylaxis, Dermatology
- 1-2 years (25.8%)
- None (19.4%)
- 4-6 years (16.6%)
- Less than 1 year (10.0%)
- 2-4 years (9.5%)
- 10+ years (8.2%)
- 6-8 years (7.1%)
- 8-10 years (3.4%)
Requirements to Become a Veterinarian
There are many requirements to become a veterinarian, but first and foremost is the NAVLE. You must earn a passing score in order to practice. There are 360 multiple choice questions on the exam, covering everything you need to know to be a vet, and you have seven hours to complete it. The good news is you are allowed to take it more than once, so don’t worry too much if you don’t pass the first time, though check with your state to see what the retake limit is. Once you pass the NAVLE, you’ll submit an application to your state to get a license to practice. Again, consult your state board for more requirements.
Official licenses are just one piece of the puzzle, though. To truly be a great veterinarian, you’ll need skills that aren’t easily measured. Because you’ll be the point of contact for patients, their owners, and the vet techs and assistants at your clinic, you’ll also need good communication, leadership, and people skills. You’ll also need solid investigative skills to determine what’s wrong with an animal since, usually, they aren’t able to tell you themselves. And finally, it may seem obvious, but you’ll need a love of animals to succeed. The long hours and tough work might distract you from why you wanted to become a veterinarian in the first place, but always remember the passion you started out with.
Take a look at the other skills and qualifications employers look for when hiring a veterinarian on the included charts.
How Much Do Veterinarians Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median veterinarian salary is just above $100,000. That number could go up or down depending on your location, specialty, or the type of clinic you work in.
- United States
**Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Remember, veterinarian salaries vary significantly by location, so use our free Salary Research Tool to find the salaries in your area.
For a veterinarian, your resume is extremely important for finding a job. With this single document, you can list all your experience and education to let employers know you’re the right vet for the position. However, you can’t just throw everything you’ve ever done onto one resume and call it a day. When writing a resume for a veterinarian role, you need to be strategic. The best way to do that is to tailor your resume to each position to which you apply.
Including the keywords you see in a specific job ad will get you past an automated Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and into the hands of a hiring manager. For vets, those keywords will likely include certain animals you’ve cared for, medical procedures you’re competent in, or experience in certain environments like on a farm or at a zoo. Search out what the job is looking for and include those details in your resume if applicable to you.
Be sure to highlight your certifications and licenses, too. These are also likely to be keywords the ATS is scanning for, and you want to make it easy for the human reader to quickly check those boxes, too. Create a separate section for professional credentials above your education section.
Follow these tips to ensure your first year in veterinary practice is a successful one.