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Requirements to Become a Veterinarian in the U.S.

Veterinarians provide medical care to animals, particularly pets, zoo animals, livestock and laboratory animals. Along with diagnosing and treating illnesses, veterinarians may work as researchers or help control the spread of disease to humans through food. Becoming a veterinarian generally requires four years of undergraduate school, four years of veterinary school and state licensure. Specialists require additional residency training and board certification.

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Education Requirements

Pre-Veterinary Degree

The first step to becoming a veterinarian in the U.S. is attending undergraduate school. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some veterinary colleges require applicants to hold only 45-90 undergraduate hours; however, most students enter veterinary school with bachelor's degrees (www.bls.gov). Whichever undergraduate major students pursue, coursework should focus heavily on the biological and physical sciences, such as chemistry, genetics, microbiology and physiology. Studies in communication, social science, humanities and mathematics may also be beneficial for the transition into veterinary school.

Applying to Veterinary School

Gaining admittance into veterinary school can be difficult. In the U.S., there are only 28 veterinary schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association's (AVMA) Council on Education (www.amva.org). The BLS notes that only about one-third of applicants were granted admission in 2007.

While specific admissions requirements vary by school, all applicants must take a college admissions test, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Most schools require applicants to use the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (www.wvma.org) to apply to school.

Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree

After gaining admittance, students complete four years of veterinary school to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.). The first two years of veterinary school typically focus on basic science education in the classroom and laboratory. The final two years consist of clinical instruction, allowing students to gain hands-on experience diagnosing and treating animal diseases under the supervision of licensed veterinarians. Fourth-year veterinary students generally focus solely on clinical rotations in animal hospitals and private practices.

State Licensure

All veterinarians in the U.S. - except for some state and federal government employees - are required to obtain licensure from their state licensing board. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all boards require applicants to hold D.V.M. degrees and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. The exam, which takes eight hours to complete, is comprised of 360 multiple-choice questions. Most states also require licensure applicants to pass an examination covering veterinary laws and regulations.

Specialty Certification

Veterinarians who choose to concentrate in a specialty of veterinary medicine must earn certification through the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties. The AVMA recognizes 40 different specialties, including internal medicine, surgery, dentistry and pathology. Veterinarians must complete 3-4 years of specialty training in an approved residency program to be eligible for certification.

Career Outlook

The BLS stated that veterinarian jobs were predicted to increase 12% from 2012-2022, which was much faster than average. There should be less competition for large animal veterinarians seeking jobs. Veterinarians earned an average salary of $96,140 per year in May 2013. The top-paid ten percent of professionals took in $149,530 or more per year, while the bottom-paid ten percent of earners made $53,270 or less annually.

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