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Healthy Paws: How to Become a Veterinarian

Healthy Paws

Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.

Besides the bountiful love for our furry family members and a deep desire to keep them healthy and happy, how does one go about becoming a veterinarian?

Here are the basic ingredients:

  1. Work experience in the field
  2. Undergraduate education
  3. Veterinary school
  4. Passing the boards
  1. Work experience in the field:

Veterinary Medicine Schools are not as common as Medical Schools — there are 30 veterinary schools in the United States. As an aid in screening applicants, the schools want to make sure those that are interested in a career in veterinary medicine have worked in the field in some capacity. This could be in many forms: working or volunteering in a small animal clinic or shelter, a barn or stable, poultry houses, government agencies (such as the CDC or USDA), and so much more.  This experience helps ensure that applicants are aware of the career they are entering into before making the time and monetary commitment.

  1. Undergraduate Education

Just as for any advanced degree program, most applicants have completed an undergraduate degree; however, it is possible to enter veterinary school without obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, depending on the program’s prerequisite requirements. Many assume that a science major such as Biology or Chemistry is necessary, but this is not the case! In fact, different majors are welcome and add diversity to the student body. Regardless of major, certain prerequisite courses are mandatory: they usually overlap with many pre-med pre requisite courses.  

Veterinary Medicine is considered a professional program; but just like any other graduate program the intensive application process involves a standardized test, in this case the GRE.

  1. Veterinary School

A standard veterinary education includes learning about small, large & exotic animal species. While a lot of emphasis is placed on dog and cats, farm animals and horses also get quite a bit of attention; “exotics” such as birds, rodents, and reptiles are also covered. Needless to say, a veterinary student needs to keep track of a lot of differences among all these different animals!

Over the course of a four year program, many different subjects and specialties are covered, reflecting the many hats that a veterinarian may wear.

The curriculum is arranged differently in each school, but generally it includes a mixture of academic instruction and clinical application of lecture material. Despite the variation, all programs prepare students by the end of the four years to practice in any capacity they choose. Successfully performing in both the academic and clinical components of a program results in attaining a DVM – Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (or, in the case of University of Pennsylvania, a VMD – Veterinary Medical Doctor).  

  1. Passing the dreaded Boards

Even after graduation, a DVM still cannot practice without a license. In order to obtain a license to practice in the U.S.A., one must pass the NAVLE (North American Veterinary Licensing Exam), commonly referred to as “The Boards,” which takes place during the fourth year of schooling. This is the biggest test of a veterinary student’s career.  It tests all of the topics and species mentioned above… and more… so if you happen come across a 4th year vet student who may seem frazzled and stressed, you know why.

At this point, you have a knowledgeable and licensed DVM! Additional optional training programs are available, though are not required. An internship is an intensive one-year program, typically at a large emergency and/or referral hospital, or at a university, where one can gain a lot of hands-on experience and get additional mentorship from specialists.

Following an internship, many will go into general practice, while others will elect to continue their education further, specializing in one specific area of veterinary medicine through a three-year residency program (yes, there are veterinary ophthalmologist, surgeons, and behaviorists!) Internship spots are limited and residency spots are even more sparse. Undertaking this additional training takes a great deal of stamina and results in an even more specialized, in-depth knowledge of a specific subject of veterinary medicine. In our area, we are fortunate to have a number of wonderful residency-trained specialists with whom we can consult on complicated or unusual cases.   

If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing this path, or if you’re just plain curious, feel free to inquire with your veterinarian! We not only love cuddling with and caring for your pet, but we also enjoy involving you in the care of your furry loved ones and sharing our love of our profession with others!

This installment was written by Ami Perkins, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2017, who is completing the first clinical rotation of her fourth year with Clarendon Animal Care.

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