What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Veterinarian?

Veterinarian 5.2014Deciding on a career in healthcare is a major decision – but for aspiring veterinarians, it can be a rewarding one on many levels. Not only will their day-to-day jobs involve caring for animals, but they can also enjoy a high earning potential and the opportunity to open their own practice. To become a veterinarian, candidates must earn a college degree at the undergraduate level and beyond.

Bachelor’s Degree Options for Aspiring Veterinarians

A bachelor’s degree is not an absolute requirement for candidates to have before applying to veterinary school, but most applicants earn one, if only to improve their resumes. Acceptance into veterinary school programs is competitive, with fewer than half of all applicants gaining entry into any program, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). College-level science courses are necessary, so aspiring veterinarians must spend at least some time getting a formal college education at the undergraduate level. Courses in animal science, biology, chemistry, microbiology, zoology and anatomy and physiology are prerequisites for veterinary school. Courses in humanities, mathematics and social science can improve a candidate’s chances of being accepted, and many veterinary programs even require these courses.

Some schools offer a major in “pre-vet” studies that is comparable to “pre-med” majors or concentrations for human doctors. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that this specific major isn’t necessary for getting into veterinary school. Candidates approach the field from a wide range of educational backgrounds, some as unexpected as mathematics, English and engineering. More often, students choose a science major, such as biology, zoology or animal science. Experience caring for animals is another important a factor in gaining admission to a veterinary school.

Veterinary School Curriculum

Just as doctors must attend medical school to learn to care for human patients, veterinarians must attend veterinary school, where they earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. This four-year program consists of three years of classroom, laboratory and clinical education and one year of hands-on clinical rotation. Veterinary school studies focus heavily on preventing, diagnosing, and treating diseases and medical conditions in animal patients. Of course, the curriculum also covers anatomy and physiology of different types of animals. Some veterinary programs even offer business components for veterinarians who intend to open their own private practices. Once they complete their studies, aspiring veterinarians must earn a license to practice in their state.

There are many rewards to a career as a veterinarian. Healthcare practitioners in general can expect to earn $2.5 million over their working lifetimes, or more. Veterinarians actually earn a median salary of $84,460 a year, more than the $73,410 median annual wage for healthcare practitioners as a whole, according to the BLS. They also enjoy the option to operate their own practice, which 18 percent of veterinarians do, the BLS reported. However, most veterinarians chose the occupation not for the financial benefits, but instead because they have a passion for working with and caring for animals.

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