Veterinarian (Equine): How Does One Become an Equine Veterinarian?

Research the requirements to become an equine veterinarian. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in veterinary medicine.

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Do I Want to Be an Equine Veterinarian?

Equine veterinarians are animal doctors who provide medical care for horses. They examine, test and occasionally operate on or euthanize the animals. Travel to ranches and farms is often necessary, and equine vets have to work outdoors in various types of weather conditions. In addition, surgeries sometimes have to be performed on-site under dubious cleanliness conditions.

Job Requirements

The education path for becoming an equine veterinarian includes undergraduate education followed by veterinary school, resulting in licensing as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.). They may also possibly undergo additional training through internship programs. Veterinarians who want to specialize in a particular area of equine medicine, such as surgery, must complete post-graduate training in residency programs, earning optional certifications. The following table contains the main qualifications and requirements needed to become an equine veterinarian listed from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Requirements
Degree LevelDoctor of Veterinary Medicine
Licensure (Certification)Licensure is required in all 50 states and the District of Columbia; certification is available through the American Veterinary Medical Association.
ExperienceInternships or residency programs
Key SkillsCompassion, decision-making, communication, management, problem-solving
Additional RequirementsManual dexterity

Step 1: Prepare in Secondary School

Preparation for becoming an equine veterinarian can begin as early as middle school. A strong grasp of science is important for further veterinarian education. In high school, students may further prepare for a career in equine medicine by continuing to perform well in math and science courses, specifically in biology. Joining science and math clubs may also be beneficial.

Step 2: Take College Science Courses

While no specific major is necessary for pre-veterinary degrees, it is helpful to have undergraduate training in the sciences, such as biology, chemistry, physics, genetics, zoology and nutrition. Prerequisites for veterinary school may include coursework in math, English, humanities, social science and business. Most equine veterinarians hold bachelor's degrees before entering veterinary school; however, some veterinary colleges admit students with only 45-90 undergraduate credits.

Success Tip:

  • Research admission requirements. Admission requirements vary by school, so students may benefit from consulting with a college counselor before planning coursework.

Step 3: Earn a Veterinary Medicine Degree

According to the BLS, admission to veterinary school has become increasing competitive in the past few decades because the number of applicants has outgrown the number of colleges. In 2010, less than half of applicants were admitted, reported the BLS. Those with bachelor's degrees have the best chances for admission. Admission requirements vary by school, but all applicants must sit for a standardized test, such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) or VCAT (Veterinary College Admission Test).

Veterinary school generally lasts four years and results in a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M. or V.M.D.) degree. The first two years of veterinary school typically take place in the classroom and focus on biomedical science courses and preparation for clinical practice. In the last two years, students usually participate in clinical clerkships, gaining hands-on, animal care experience under the supervision of licensed veterinarians. During the fourth year, students can choose to complete clinical rotations in equine medicine, among other specialties. Some veterinary school graduates choose to enter clinical practice directly after earning a D.V.M. or V.M.D and obtaining state licensure.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. According to the BLS, equine veterinarians who complete an internship program before entering the practice generally experience greater employment opportunities and higher pay later in their careers. Internships typically last one year and offer paid, practical experience in equine medicine. The American Association of Equine Practitioners offers a program that matches prospective interns with licensed practitioners.

Step 4: Obtain a License

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require veterinarians to be licensed. The requirements to earn a license vary from state to state, but all aspiring veterinarians must complete a veterinary training program and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. The exam is offered by the National Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (NBVME).

Step 5: Consider a Specialty

Some equine veterinarians pursue advanced training in a specialty, such as internal medicine, surgery, neurology, dentistry or preventive medicine. To become specialists, veterinarians must complete 3-4 years of residency training in an area of expertise approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Equine veterinarians are then eligible to apply for board certification in their specialties.

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