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When a pet becomes ill or needs medical attention, pet owners turn to veterinarians to care for their pets. Veterinarians fulfill a variety of roles, including working with small animals, livestock and farm animals, laboratory animals and in zoos. Veterinarians also work in food safety, drug testing and for the United States Government. Because veterinarians work as medical professionals, they need to receive advanced and specialized medical training to work with and care for animals and must fulfill educational and training requirements.
The first step in becoming a veterinarian is earning an undergraduate degree, which usually takes four years. Potential veterinarian students do not have to earn a certain undergraduate degree, but a large number of schools offer an animal science undergraduate degree that prepares students to move on to vet school. Typically, no matter what major they pursue, students are highly encouraged to take classes in biology, chemistry, math, physics, anatomy and social sciences.
After completing an undergraduate degree, a potential veterinarian student moves on to attend a veterinary school. Veterinary schools have highly competitive admissions requirements and generally take four years to complete. While in vet school, students continue to take science classes and receive hands-on training with animals. Vet school students can expect large course loads, with 17 to 22 semester hours of science work per semester, plus 35 hours a week of homework.
Internships and Residencies
Though not required, students in vet school can choose to participate in an internship or residency program. Students who wish to pursue a veterinarian specialty, like animal surgery, dentistry, toxicology or pharmacology, opt to receive additional schooling and training beyond graduating from vet school. The additional training can come in the form of one, two or three-year internships and residencies studying with a specialist or may come in the form of an additional advanced degree, like a master’s degree or Ph.D.
Once a student has received an undergraduate degree and completed vet school, before he may practice as a vet he must pass a national veterinary medical board exam. Each state also requires practicing veterinarians to pass a state exam prior to practicing in that state. The National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners administers the national and state exams and oversees the licensing process.
ACVIM Diplomates Designation
Veterinarians who wish to pursue one of the specialties of veterinarian medicine can receive further training, education and certification from the American College for Veterinary Internal Medicine. The ACVIM provides advanced education in the areas of cardiology, oncology, neurology and large and small animal internal medicine. Veterinarians receive the ACVIM Diplomates designation after completing ACVIM training and education in one of the specialty areas.