On an almost daily basis, I get asked about why I became a veterinarian and what it takes to become one. Fortunately, I have been blessed to celebrate 29 years of practice since graduating from Kansas State School of Veterinary Medicine in 1985. I have been able to answer these questions for young interested children and teenagers, and I have seen more than a handful follow their passions and graduate as veterinarians.
Have you ever stopped to think about veterinarians and what they need to know to take care of your pet? A definition is as follows: according to Wikipedia, a veterinarian or a veterinary surgeon is a doctor who treats animals and is a practitioner of veterinary medicine. Did you know that in your lifetime, there are 23 different doctors who can or will take us from birth to death? They include the obstetrician, pediatrician, orthodontist, dermatologist, internist, surgeon, radiologist, anesthesiologist, gynecologist and pathologist, to name a few.
Veterinarians need to know about all of these areas of animal medicine to take care of animals, whereas a human medical doctor has one species to attend to. A typical day for a small animal/exotic practitioner such as me may see the gamut — from a snake to a hedgehog to a Chihuahua to a Great Dane to an Amazon parrot. A mixed practitioner can add horses, cattle, goats, pigs and the like.
Today's pre-veterinary student typically must complete a bachelor's degree, and in doing so, complete the pre-veterinary required courses, such as organic and inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biology, animal nutrition and genetics, along with a good dose of math and English. In addition, applicants must submit tests scores from standardized tests like the Veterinary College Admission Test. There are currently 28 veterinary schools in the United States, and each school's application committee decides who gains admittance and who does not. Many schools place a large emphasis on a candidate's veterinary and animal experience. Formal experience consists of work with a veterinarian in a clinic or research in some other area of health. Less formal experience would include a farm or ranch background or work at an animal shelter. Veterinary school is highly competitive, with an average glass GPA of a 3.5, passage of the VCAT and two to three years of some sort of work experience.
Once accepted into a veterinary school, a student spend the first two years in pre-clinical curriculum, meaning more class work, and the remaining two years is the clinical phase, where medical and surgical experience is gained. Upon graduation with doctorate of veterinary medicine, a student must pass national and state boards to practice.
Job opportunities for a graduate veterinarian could be in companion animal practice, mixed or food animal practice, research and government jobs, such as meat inspection. Some veterinarians take further studies and specialize in areas such as cancer treatment or emergency and critical care.
To this day when I get asked about what I like best about being a veterinarian, I answer that every day and every case is different, which means each day brings new and different challenges, especially at the pace medical care and technology has evolved.
The interactions with and the ability to help animals is a passion that all veterinarians share. And at this stage of my career, I truly cherish the relationships that have developed with clients over the years and working with a compassionate and dedicated staff.
For you parents with children who might be interested in veterinary medicine, make sure they go along with you for your pets' veterinary visits to gain some exposure. If you are a teenager interested in becoming a veterinarian, do some research online about the veterinary schools and their requirements. In addition, gain some practical experience and challenge yourself in school with college prep classes, and, of course, talk about it with your family's veterinarian.