Admit it – at least once in your life, you imagined yourself as a veterinarian. Maybe you’d run a local practice to get to know the neighborhood pets. Maybe you’d be a modern-day James Herriott, delivering new life at lambing season. It all sounds so good that the Woof Reporters just had to know: What does it take to become a vet anyway? Thanks to Your Dog newsletter from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, we got the details from prereqs to postgrad. Sharpen those pencils, this is going to take awhile.

Ready? With 125 medical schools to choose from, it seems odd that only 28 veterinary graduate programs exist in the U.S. No wonder the admissions process is so highly selective. For example, each year the Tufts School receives approximately 750 applicants for only 80 seats. Overall, about 8500 students enroll in veterinary programs in the U.S. each year (interestingly, 75% of whom are women), with 2100 graduating into a wide range of veterinary careers. Job options include positions in public health, research, international vet medicine and conservation and wildlife medicine. But most vets, a whopping 70%, choose careers in private, small animal practices. For a grand total of roughly $100,000 smackers (not including books and beer) it’s a worthy investment.

Get Set. Most veterinary schools require two years of prerequisite or “pre-veterinary” science classes with excellent grades, of course. The average applicant has a grade point average of 3.5. Then, depending on the college you select, it’s necessary to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and/or the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT). The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges website spells out the latest admissions details for the different schools.

Go! Once a student is in, they’ve got to buckle down for four full years of veterinary medicine. They’ll cover courses in pharmacology, physiology, anatomy, immunology and surgery just to names a few, and of course learn all of the differences for each species. In their third year, students begin applying the knowledge they’ve learned to diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of practicing vet faculty. It continues in the students’ final year, and they take electives or may complete externships related to areas of interest, all before receiving their degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). They also must pass board exams to receive a license from the state where they plan to practice and in some cases, a state vet law exam too. For some, it doesn’t stop there; they may complete an internship at a referring hospital or extend their education three to four years in residencies specializing in specific disciplines such as orthopedic surgery or oncology.

So there you have it. It takes six whole years of study, lab work and clinical studies (or about 6,000 hours) to become a veterinarian. But everyone knows that good ones offer something not covered in school. It’s that certain way they connect with your pet, that kind, loving approach you grew to trust. Does this sound like someone you know? Take the time to honor an exceptional veterinarian by entering him or her into the “Thank Your Vet for the Healthy Pet Contest” short-essay contest, running until August 31st. It’s co-sponsored by Hill’s Pet Nutrition, the Morris Animal Foundation, and BowTie Inc. and will recognize those who provide care above and beyond the norm to keep our pets happy and healthy.

The Scoop:

Read more about the veterinary profession from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook
www.bls.gov/veterinarian

Honor an exceptional veterinarian by entering him or her into the “Thank Your Vet for the Healthy Pet Contest” essay contest, running until August 31st.
www.thankyourvet.org

Thank you to Tony Alter and Jimmy Dean for the photo.