How to Become a Veterinarian

veterinarian career guide

Table of Contents

1. Overview: Job Responsibilities, Salary, and Common Requirements

2. A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Veterinarian

3. What Does a Veterinarian Do?

4. Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Veterinarian

5. How Do You Become a Veterinarian?

6. What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Veterinarian?

7. Popular Schools and Colleges in the U.S. for Aspiring Veterinarians

8. How to Gain Veterinary Experience

9. How to Get a Job as a Veterinarian

10. Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

11. Make Your Resume Stand Out

12. Ace Your Veterinarian Interview

13. Top Online Courses for Aspiring Veterinarians


Job Responsibilities

  • Conduct physical examinations on animals
  • Diagnose any medical condition for the animal
  • Provide medications for animals to take
  • Educate animal owners of the general care of their pets
  • Vaccinate animals against diseases
  • Perform surgeries on animals
  • Heal and dress wounds of animals
  • Do examination analysis of animals using their blood, urine, feces, and other bodily fluids
  • Utilize medical equipment like x-ray machines, other radiographic and ultrasound equipment and other apparatus to examine animals
  • Handle consultations and share diagnoses to animal owners
  • Euthanize animals
  • Inform the public about illnesses that can be spread from animals to humans
  • Train and oversee clinical staff who handles the care for animals

How Much Does a Veterinarian Make?

Veterinarians made a median salary of $96,640 in 2019. The best-paid 10 percent made $160,780 that year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $58,080.


Common Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree in a science-related program
  • Doctorate degree in veterinary medicine
  • License to practice veterinary
  • Pass the state board exam for veterinarians
  • Additional training for chosen specialty

Similar Careers

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Animal Care and Service Workers


Medical Scientists



Physicians and Surgeons

Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Common Skills

Decision-making skills

Problem-solving skills

Manual dexterity


Availability to work on uncomfortable hours




$95,460 per year
$45.90 per hour





A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Veterinarian

Animals play a big role in our ecosystem—without them, the chain will be broken and who knows what will happen when they’re all gone? But not only do we need them in the ecosystem, we also want them to be our buddies for life! In fact, 67% of the American population or about 84.9 million homes have been reported to own a pet according to the 2019-2020 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. With this huge number of pet-owners, it is only logical to need the aid of veterinarians.

Veterinarians serve as the doctors of the animals. They seek to diagnose, treat, medicate, and provide overall care for all animals including pets, livestock, and other kinds of animals. 

The need for these medical professionals are gradually increasing—with a job outlook of 16% which is faster than the average for any other profession as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), things are looking up for those who want to pursue this career.

What Does a Veterinarian Do?

Veterinarians are medical professionals who provide healthcare for animals and aim to protect public health as well. They are doctors who took an oath in providing overall healthcare for animals, educating animal owners, and ensuring public health is not compromised because of animals.

Veterinarians may specialize in taking care of various kinds of animals like pets, livestock, exotic animals or zoo animals. Their typical duties include the following:

  • Conduct physical examinations on animals
  • Diagnose any medical condition for the animal
  • Provide medications for animals to take
  • Educate animal owners of the general care of their pets
  • Vaccinate animals against diseases
  • Perform surgeries on animals
  • Heal and dress wounds of animals
  • Do examination analysis of animals using their blood, urine, feces, and other bodily fluids
  • Utilize medical equipment like x-ray machines, other radiographic and ultrasound equipment and other apparatus to examine animals.
  • Handle consultations and share diagnoses to animal owners
  • Euthanize animals
  • Inform the public about illnesses that can be spread from animals to humans
  • Train and oversee clinical staff who handles the care for animals

There are various types of veterinarians who serve the general public with their respective specializations. Some of them include the following:

  • Companion animal veterinarians – the most common type of veterinarians, companion animal veterinarians diagnose and treat various medical conditions of animals (most often, cats and dogs). They provide vaccinations and medications, dress wounds, conduct surgery and dental work, perform euthanasia when needed, and edify clients about the proper care for their animals.
  • Veterinary practitioners – these are the kinds of veterinarians who hold advanced expertise in a specialization that deals with a particular species of animals. The practice may vary from avian practice, canine/feline practice, equine practice, exotic companion mammal practice, and reptile and amphibian practice.
  • Food animal veterinarians – these veterinarians work at farms to ensure the safety of animals that serve as food sources to humans. These animals include cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, and some aquatic species. Their main responsibility is to test, treat, and vaccinate these food sources against any diseases. They also provide education to farm owners about the proper shelter, food, and general care for them.
  • Food safety and inspection veterinarians – this kind of veterinarian aims to strictly implement the government regulations in food safety. They do inspections and assessments for livestock and animal products to ensure food safety. They also vaccinate, examine the slaughter process, and do research on how to improve animal health. Lastly, they take part in public health programs to prevent the transmission of animal diseases to humans.
  • Research veterinarians – dealing with the research aspect of veterinary service, these veterinarians conduct in-depth studies about the prevention of any animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans. They also administer research that will benefit the improvement of general care to animals, drug formulation and effects to animals, and some potential innovation in the surgical approach.

Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Veterinarian

In veterinary medicine, you can’t just wing it. You have to possess the initial factors that will determine how much you’ll succeed in this field. You will spend grueling years learning the scope of the field, so you have to prepare for it. To know if you are someone cut out for the role, here are the telling signs:

You love animals.

Most people tend to pursue a career as a veterinarian because they consider themselves an animal lover. There is no veterinarian who doesn’t like to be with animals. First of all, the field itself deals with the study and care for animals—so it is a must to feel for them. If you don’t have any hatred or fright of animals, then you can be comfortable fulfilling the role.

You are into science.

Have a genuine interest in the study of knowledge? If yes, then you are one step ahead of being perfect to be a veterinarian. To become one takes up an ample amount of time that will make someone doubt himself if he can conquer all the requirements. If you are not one to give up for your love of knowledge, then you can totally nail this career.

You are a people person.

As much as you are around animals, you are going to be around people, too. If you are not comfortable talking to people, you can’t be a good veterinarian as this role demands talking with tons of clients. On the other hand, if you are very much into people, then you can totally wing it during consultations.

You have good communication skills.

All kinds of doctors need to have excellent communication skills as they are interacting with lots of people including their patients, clients, and colleagues on a daily basis. As a veterinarian, you are also required to simplify too scientific terms that ordinary people cannot understand. 

You have a strong stomach for blood and painful procedures.

Not that you enjoy the pain of others, but if you do not feel squeamish under uncomfortable situations that include pain, blood, surgery, dressing wounds, etc. then you can stomach to be the healing hands of these animals. The role of veterinarian doesn’t just revolve around giving medications, it also includes surgeries and other painful procedures that should be done in order to save an animal. You should have the guts for all of that.

You are emotionally stable.

Can you contain your real emotions when you think it is not appropriate to be emotional? Your strong emotional stability will play a vital role in fulfilling your duties as you will often deal with life-and-death situations. You have the responsibility of informing your clients how their pets are doing and you cannot break down when you know there are fatal cases.

You are okay at working on a flexible schedule.

Working on a weekend, holiday or even wee hours cannot be helped in fulfilling clinical responsibilities. If you feel like this won’t be a problem for you at all, then you can go ahead and pursue this career. After all, your main role here is to look after the safety of the animals and you should be invested in that even if it means compromising personal time.


How Do You Become a Veterinarian?

To be a veterinarian is quite work. You need the patience to meet the end as this requires a series of requirements that take up not just four, but eight years of educational background to accomplish. How prepared are you to conquer all this?

Here are the set of requirements that an aspiring veterinarian must meet to finally gain the title:

1. Complete a bachelor’s degree program.

In order to get into a vet school, you should have graduated a 4-year degree program that covered some subject in science like chemistry, physics, organic chemistry, biology, mathematics, and genetics. These subjects serve as prerequisites to enter a vet school as these provide a comprehensive introduction to veterinary medicine. 

2. Earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree.

Upon earning a bachelor’s degree, the next step you shall take is entering an accredited veterinary school to garner your DVM. Aside from a degree program that offers the prerequisite subjects, most vet schools prefer students who have direct experience working with animals. So you may consider volunteering for any charity work that provides animal health care.

In order to attain a DVM, you will have to go through a 3-year academic and clinical immersion plus 1-year on-field training to get hands-on experience. Upon completing these, you will finally earn your DVM.

3. Obtain your license to practice.

All states require veterinarians to earn their licenses in order to practice. Upon finishing the educational requirements, you must pass the exam administered by the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination in order to start your practice.

In addition, most states require you to pass the state-level licensing examinations so you ought to prepare for that as well because each state has its own set of laws and regularizations. However, if you are employed by the state or federal government, you may skip the state licensing as they have a different requirement.

4. Choose your specialty area.

For some, earning your license is not enough. Specialization is often needed to practice in the field and this is done through additional training and educational pursuance. Here are the 22 sub-disciplines that specializes in animal care:

  • Anesthesia
  • Animal welfare
  • Behavior
  • Dentistry
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency and Critical Care
  • Internal Medicine
  • Laboratory Animal Medicine 
  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition
  • Ophthalmology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Radiology
  • Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation
  • Surgery
  • Theriogenology
  • Toxicology
  • Zoological Medicine

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Veterinarian?

It’s not just the gift of knowledge that makes one successful in this career–one should acquire the skills that will make him thrive in this field. Together with the obtained clinical experience, the following skills are needed to fulfill his responsibilities as a veterinarian.

Communication skills

Just like any other profession, strong communication skills are highly needed in this profession. You are constantly interacting with various people who need your supervision and explanation so you must be a good communicator in order to effectively fulfill your duties. Not only are you responsible for explaining diagnoses and medications to your clients, but you are also in charge of giving instructions to your clinic staff.

Decision-making skills

You are going to be responsible for a lot of decisions in the course of your practice as you have the authority. So you need to be keen, alert, and methodological in making these decisions that affect the health of the animals.


Dealing with lives, you must have the heart to heal others and promote the wellness of the animals. You must be able to provide utter kindness and respect to the animals and their owners.

Problem-solving skills

Being in the medical field, you are always finding resolutions for the medical conditions of animals. Providing the needed resolutions will prove how competent you are in your job as this is your main responsibility as a veterinarian.

Love for animals

No one can fake love for animals. Your genuine care for them will take you places as you of all people are invested in providing the care they deserve. If you have uncertainties with animals, think again. In the course of your practice, you are going to deal with a bunch of them. 

Manual dexterity

As a doctor performing surgeries and treating wounds, you are required to have good control over your hands. You cannot afford to make mistakes when dealing with this kind of situation as you are the only one trusted to do these.

Medical equipment knowledge

You have garnered years of studying and training to be a veterinarian. You are expected to be knowledgeable in using various equipment when performing examinations or surgeries to animals. After all, you are the sole operator of these medical equipment.

Availability to work on uncomfortable hours

As a doctor, sometimes you won’t be able to control your duty hours especially when serving on clinics. There will be times wherein you will be required to stay for long hours and tend to the help of animals. It’s quite demanding and you should be okay with that.

Check out this list by US News & World Report for the best veterinary schools in 2019:

  • University of California – Davis
  • Cornell University
  • Colorado State University
  • North Carolina State University
  • Ohio State University
  • Texas A&M University – College Station
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Wisconsin – Madison
  • University of Florida
  • University of Georgia
  • University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
  • Tufts University
  • Purdue University – West Lafayette
  • Auburn University
  • Iowa State University
  • Washington State University
  • Michigan State University
  • Virginia Tech – University of Maryland
  • Kansas State University
  • University of Missouri
  • University of Tennessee – Knoxville
  • Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge
  • University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign
  • Mississippi State University
  • Oregon State University
  • Oklahoma State University
  • Tuskegee University
  • Western University of Health Sciences

How to Gain Veterinary Experience

During your application, the experience will set you apart from other candidates. This is because the more exposure you have to supervised veterinary practice, the more it demonstrates your knowledge and capabilities. You even need this experience upon your application to veterinary school. Usually, vet schools require their applicants to have 400 hours of veterinary experience.

Kinds of veterinary experience to look for:

  • Dogs, cats, etc.
  • Small animal veterinarian
  • Livestock veterinarian
  • Exotic veterinarian
  • Wildlife veterinarian
  • Specialty veterinarians
  • Zoological veterinarians
  • Surgery, dentistry, pathology, radiology, toxicology, anesthesia, and more
  • Research
  • Animal shelters
  • Federal government
  • USDA, NIH, CDC, and FDA

Tips on how to gain veterinary experience

Here are some tips on how you can gain veterinary experience:

You don’t have to stick with animal clinics.

When looking for an institution to gain experience from, chances are, you’ll navigate through veterinary clinics and shelters nearby. However, you have many options to look out for.

Some gain experience from working for animal research centers, food production facilities, aquariums, and more. Even better, you can try to explore multiple areas to demonstrate your well-rounded experience, which you can put in your resume.

Network to find opportunities.

One of the best strategies to find internships is by using your network to find a referral. You can have an advisor who can share a list of internships or clinics that allow students to assist veterinarians.

You may also join your school’s pre-vet club to find notable opportunities. Or, if you want to take it a notch higher, you can watch out for important veterinary events such as the American Pre-Veterinary Medical Association (APVMA) Symposium. This event comprises of exhibitions and seminars, giving you the opportunity to meet representatives from other schools. And this could be the perfect opportunity to extend your interest in having internships.

Ask and prepare your intent.

One way or another, you will be asked why you plan on interning for your prospect. You need to prepare for this as you don’t want to sabotage your chance of getting through.

To nail this, you must prepare your credentials for the interview. You must be able to explain why you are invested in working for the said clinic or institution. Be prepared for rejections; don’t take it by heart and learn to move past it to pursue other opportunities waiting for you.

Ensure to immerse yourself fully.

Once you are in, you must ensure you take it all in. After all, you will include this veterinary experience on your resume—you need to prove that you have gained so much knowledge from it. That’s why you need to ensure you fully immerse yourself as you shadow the veterinarian or assist the facility you are working for.

Ask questions to seek enlightenment. Take notes on new learning you found out. Document your training well. Remember, take as many learnings as you can.

Show gratitude.

Upon the completion of your internship, don’t lose contact with them. Show your gratitude for allowing you to earn veterinary experience by writing them a thank you letter. After all, you still need a letter of recommendation, which only they can provide. If you had a remarkable performance, chances are, the veterinarian himself will be more than willing to write you one himself.

How to Get a Job as a Veterinarian

When you are done earning your license and pursuing any additional training, you are now down to finding your first veterinary job! So where do you find them and how do you land one? There are a lot of ways on how you can score vacancy and here’s a list of each option to help you.

Check small animal clinics near you.

Small animal clinics that tend to domesticated animals need a larger number of staff as they often operate daily or overnight. You have higher chances of finding a vacancy here as there is also a big number of clinics available in every location.

Check your professional network.

Your professional acquaintances may be able to provide recommendations for you. You and your previous colleagues, co-interns, professors, etc. belong to the same field and they can always hook you up with a referral. So always keep in touch with them and add them to your LinkedIn network.

Browse through online job portals.

Your local classified ads may not be as reliable for any job opportunities as clinics do not really post about them. However, do not lose hope because you can still find jobs in your area by browsing online job portals that offer convenient job search. Here are some of those portals you can search on:

Open your own veterinary clinic.

Although not recommended for first-timers who are just gaining reputation and experience, opening your own clinic can be a good venture for you. You get to operate on your own, hire your own staff, and build your own name in the niche. There will be a lot of risks to take, but it is worth it to open up your very own vet clinic.

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

With a median wage of $95,640 in 2019, veterinarians are considered to have an impressive salary although the annual pay may still vary depending on the state you are currently in. Here’s a list of each state and its corresponding annual mean wage for veterinarians:

State2019 Mean Annual Wage
New Jersey$125,110
Rhode Island$121,900
New York$120,580
New Hampshire$113,460
North Carolina$112,930
South Carolina$112,580
West Virginia$97,540
State2019 Mean Annual Wage
North Dakota$94,680
New Mexico$94,390
South Dakota$89,130

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make Your Resume Stand Out

Upon choosing which clinic you are going for, you are to make sure that your resume fully reflects your qualifications to make a good impression. Your resume is the first point of contact your potential employer will see so make sure at just one look, they will know how qualified you are.

Besides your garnered license and certificates, it pays to ensure that your resume is polished and sufficient enough to showcase your specialties. To help you, here are some tips to curate your resume in an impressive manner.

Put a remarkable career objective.

Serving as your quick introduction, put a brief overview of who you are and what you are capable of. This should be a 2 to 3-sentence paragraph containing your title, specialization, working experience, and your objective as a medical professional. Ensure the clarity of your message and just get to the point to keep your objective brief and free from unnecessary details.

List down your gathered clinical experiences.

In reverse-chronological order, enumerate the clinical experiences you have had. Even for first-timers, surely there are experiences you can list down. Include the tasks you have handled and the remarkable cases that will boost your qualifications as a veterinarian. You won’t be enumerating your skill set so make sure that you give a brief overview of what you have done in those particular pieces of training.

Share your educational attainment.

You spent eight grueling years to earn your license so showcase these educational achievements you have. Starting from the most recent educational attainment, list them down in reverse-chronological order as well. This way, if you have any additional training and educational milestones, they will come first on your list to display your genuine interest in your field.

Include your professional affiliations and certifications.

Upon earning your DVM and obtaining your license, you are bound to join professional organizations that will give you lots of career and growth opportunities. Being enlisted in at least one shows how much you are invested in growing your career in your chosen specialty. Here are some organizations and specialties recognized by the AVMA that also releases certifications:

  • American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
  • American Board of Veterinary Toxicology
  • American College of Animal Welfare
  • American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine
  • American College of Poultry Veterinarians
  • American College of Theriogenologists
  • American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia
  • American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
  • American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology
  • American College of Veterinary Dermatology
  • American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
  • American College of Veterinary Microbiologists
  • American College of Veterinary Nutrition
  • American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists
  • American College of Veterinary Pathologists
  • American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine
  • American College of Veterinary Radiology
  • American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation  
  • American College of Veterinary Surgeons
  • American College of Zoological Medicine
  • American College of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care
  • American Veterinary Dental College

Ace Your Veterinarian Interview

You’re down to the last step of landing your job as a veterinarian. You have secured your interview and you must make sure you are fully prepared on the big day! We are here to help you in that aspect. Aside from the common interview questions asking why you want the job and where you see yourself in five years, we’ll focus instead on the specific questions for veterinarians like you.

Here are some of those questions you should watch out for:

1. How do you deal with distressed clients?

Apart from dealing with animals, you are also required to interact with their respective owners. There will be times that clients will be coming to you in distress because of panic or tension due to unfortunate situations that their animals are in. You are responsible for keeping them calm and avoiding intensifying the situation.

The employer wants to know your capacity in such situations as you will be facing these often over the course of your practice. In order to pass this little assessment, your answer should display your patience and ability to handle these stressful events. You shall demonstrate your kindness and consideration to feel for your clients without actually causing more distress to them.

2. How do you break the unfortunate news to your clients that their pets are terminally ill?

One of the hardest duties as a veterinarian is facing the worst-case scenario of telling your clients that their pets are down to their last moments and there is nothing to be done. As unfortunate as it can be, you have to tell them ahead of time before it’s too late. And you have to do it swiftly.

As a veterinarian, you are expected to share this heart-breaking news to them. You have to have strong emotional stability to handle the situation. Your answer must show how much you can balance your professionalism and your compassion.

3. Have you encountered a situation wherein the client opposed your treatment plans? How did you overcome it?

It’s a common situation wherein the client will not agree with your decisions. As the person who has the authority, you cannot be too compliant to what they have to say. After all, you are the doctor and what you’re doing is just for the best.

To answer this question properly, you ought to prove that you practice your authority well, but you still put into consideration what your clients have to say. You might be the best person who knows what to do, but you should consider the fact that they are still the owners of the animals. They should be able to understand the fine line between what’s safe and what isn’t.

4. How do you feel about providing emergency duties during the middle of the night, your personal events, or holidays?

Meeting emergency duties cannot be helped when you have become a licensed doctor—it’s a part of the oath you have sworn to obey. There will always be circumstances when you cannot choose between your patients and your family. 

To provide a good answer, just tell your potential employer your compliance with the call of duty. Show your genuine willingness to cover during emergency situations because any employer would not want it any other way. 

5. How do you feel about the subject of pet owners promoting breeding instead of adopting pets from shelters or rescues?

This is a very touchy subject so you have to be careful on what you are about to say. Although it is logical to just be against the whole concept of breeding and go to opting for adoption instead, the key here is being honest with what you feel.

Just be honest about answering this question. It is your opinion that the employer is asking so your honesty is what they need.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Veterinarians

Sharpen your skills in veterinary by taking these top online courses

Here are some additional training materials to guide you on immersing yourself in the world of veterinary medicine:

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