Do you have what it takes to become a Veterinarian? Just how much training is required? Once you learn, you’ll be assured you and your pup are in good hands at the vet.

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 and information provided to prospective students at in the Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Program at Penn State, we got the details from prereqs to postgrad. Sharpen those pencils, this is going to take awhile.


With only 30 veterinary schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) in the U.S., no wonder the admissions process is so highly selective. For example, there were nearly 6,800 applicants competing for approximately 2,700 openings in 2013. 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.

Get Set (with Veterinary School Prerequisites)

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.

That’s not all. Beyond the classroom, you’ll want to volunteer for a veterinarian or animal hospital to gain a variety of animal and clinical experience. This experience is also a great opportunity to learn if this is the right field for you. You’ll also want to show leadership skills and your interest in the field through clubs and other activities (as well as beyond); for instance, through a pre-vet club at school or in the community through animal shelter volunteer opportunities.


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.

After completing the D.V.M. (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) or V.M.D. (Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris) degree, candidates have to take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) in order to practice in the U.S.  Each state has its own licensing procedures and requirements which are listed online.

There are currently 22 AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties.   Applicants may pursue board certification in a particular specialty or two after obtaining a DVM/VMD degree

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) or V.M.D. (Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris). A student must also pass board exams issued through the International Council for Veterinary Assessment 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 one of 22 AVMA-recognized veterinary specialties such as orthopedic surgery or oncology.

The Final Count

So there you have it. It takes undergraduate pre-requisites and then four full years of veterinary medical education, lab work and clinical studies (or about 6,000 hours) to become a veterinarian. But everyone knows the 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? If so, consider yourself and your dog lucky!

The Scoop:

Read more about the veterinary profession from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook and from the article about Penn State’s Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences Program.

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

Originally published in August 2009; reviewed and revised in October 2016.