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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Preparing To Enter Veterinary Medicine

Emily has asked a series of questions, and I'm going to answer each in turn.

So why am I considering becoming a vet? I have been an animal activist for years, lost hope in people and kept it all to myself. Until I met the vet for my two dogs who inspired me to look into the Vet programs as a way for me to help animals. I believe that not enough owners are properly educated about nutrition and care for their animals- their front line for information is from their Vets. No other job field inspires me quite like this one...yet no other scares me as much. Ergo, I have questions....if you'd be so kind to answer?

Emily, I think it's great that you've found a vet that inspires you so much. However, if you lost hope in people beforehand, you may be in for a rude awakening as a vet. If you've followed some of my discussions (especially my pet peeves) you'll see that there are a lot of people out there who don't do what they should with their pets. This will frustrate you incredibly, and you will need to learn how to deal with it. This is NOT a profession to get in if you don't like people or can't handle them well. You'll be talking to people and trying to get them to do your recommendations. The owners make the decisions, not the pets, and you'll have to face that.

(1) I know a science background is preferred for acceptance. Is there anything I can do to improve my odds and show that I am a smart potential candidate?

Veterinary school is VERY competitive. You have 400-500 applicants for about 100 openings in an average school. Having a science background isn't essential. In my own veterinary class there was someone who worked for IBM and a school teacher. The vet who took over my hospital near St. Louis had previously been a magazine editor. However, you will need to have very good grades in the necessary classes, at least a B average and an A is more preferable. You will also need to send in recommendations from veterinarians as part of your application, so you will need to make good friends with your local ones.

(2) If I become a vet tec, does that certification translate into becoming a vet, ie: would I have to take less classes? Thought that being a vet tec first might be a good way to ease myself into the profession.

Whether or not you are a veterinary technician has no bearing on veterinary school. Having that certification won't reduce the classes one tiny bit. You may find some of the classes easier than your fellow students, but you'll still have to take the same ones as everyone else. Being a tech doesn't keep you out of medical training any more than being a human nurse keeps you out of part of human medical school. If you truly want to be a vet, I would recommend skipping the tech degree and going straight for the doctorate.

(3) In the school part, how important would you say math/chemistry skills are? If it doesn't come naturally to you, perhaps extra studying involved, is it possible to succeed?

Both are extremely important. Most veterinary schools require algebra and calculus for admission. You will also need enough chemistry classes to almost qualify you for a chemistry minor. Once in practice you will use basic math and algebra every single day as you calculate drug dosages and fluid rates. You will also need a very good grasp of chemistry (especially organic) to understand how drugs work on the body. Math isn't natural to me, so I'm an example of how hard work and study can get you through.

(4) Are there any resources available which might give me a sense of what material will be covered during Vet school?

Veterinary school will cover every possible subject related to an animal's health: anatomy, physiology, internal medicine, infectious diseases, toxicology, pharmacology, parasitology, embryology, cardiology, dermatology, nutrition, neurology, soft-tissue surgery, orthopedic surgery, and classes I probably can't even remember. You'll also have to learn all of this for more than one species: dogs, cats, reptiles, birds, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, and pretty much EVERY species except humans. It will be the most incredibly challenging four years of study you can ever imagine. Once you get to know your vet better, ask to borrow some of his or her texts and look through them to give you an idea of the detail that we have to know.

Good luck with your studies, Emily!


  1. Yeesh. You really don't get paid enough!

  2. When checking out a vet school, this looks like an awesome place to begin your academic program! The True Blue Campus at St. Georges University.

  3. Not only do they have a good VETERINARY MEDICINE school but their medical school is also pretty good. Plus who wouldn't want to be on an island for college

  4. I was under the impression most people prefer degrees from US based accredited programs and it's sometimes frowned upon to have come from a Caribbean school. Though I might be mistaken.

    I think it's a better option to look at schools which focus on the area of veterinary medicine you might be interested in. I'm sure all programs have basic requirements for accreditation, but do Vet Schools have elective rotations for you to focus your studies as they do in medical school?

    Great honest advice about obtaining a doctorate in any science related field!

  5. The Caribbean schools can indeed offer a quality veterinary program (Ross University as well as St. Georges). However, as far as I know they are considered foreign schools, so the graduates have to jump through many, many more hoops and testing than if they had graduated through a US school. This is true even for US citizens. So personally I would not recommend one of these schools as a first choice because of the difficulties in getting licensed in the US.

    Currently US veterinary schools do not "track" their students in certain areas. This means that everyone has to take most of the courses, including those with no interest in a field. I had to learn about livestock medicine, when I darn well knew that I would never use it. However, there are usually at least some electives available to direct your studies in the fields of your interest.

  6. where in St. Louis did you practice?

  7. I was just across the river in O'Fallon, IL.

  8. @ Dr Bern

    Very interesting to know. I'm quite surprised they don't offer more specialization since as a vet it seems you can go into a variety of different speciality areas (my neighbor is a large animal vet). Do you think if they retained the basics for every major area, but included more specialization it might increase the productivity of vets? I know it's incredibly difficult to get into a good school, and had a friend go to med school after she was turned down from vet school.

    From my limited knowledge on "foreign" schools I agree about the difficulty with being licensed (with all of my knowledge coming from human medical doctor institutions).


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