So, you want to be a veterinarian.
For purposes of this discussion we will assume that you are older than age nine, as everyone that age and younger wants to be a veterinarian.
At least, according to the kids who come into our practice and talk to me in public when I’m on errands around town.
For purposes of this article let’s assume you’re a middle school, high school or college student.
Keep in mind that your first impression is not going to be how you present yourself. Rather, it will be your grades. You will need to have at least a B+ average and your science courses will need to be all As. You don’t have to be a genius to be a doctor, but you must prove that you are a good student with excellent study skills. There will be more information to absorb in veterinary medical school than you can possibly imagine now.
So, if you think school is hard now, be prepared to buckle down. You have to really want this. It is not going to come easily.
Plan on a minimum of three years of undergraduate school prior to being qualified for your first application. I say “first” application because many people don’t obtain acceptance the first time around. My next-door-neighbor at Auburn had ten years of schooling and a Master’s degree prior to being accepted after numerous applications. Thirty years later he is an excellent and successful practitioner.
Professional school is three to four years in duration depending on whether you attend a school on the semester or trimester schedule. Trimester programs typically go year-round and finish sooner.
There will be an interview process at most colleges of veterinary medicine, and another of the factors the admissions committee will look at is whether you are a well-rounded person. Someone who does nothing but school and has no personality may have difficulty relating to clients in a clinical setting. Your desire may be to perform scientific veterinary research, or work for a corporation. However, the admissions personnel know that plans change. They also know that the student and the state will be making a huge investment in the educational process. A major goal for them is to have every student graduate and every student become a long-term, productive member of the profession.
Even a dropout in the first or second year has major costs associated with it, as well as the consideration that someone else could have taken that slot. Five to ten applicants vie for each opening. Even numerically you must be an exceptional candidate to have a chance of being chosen.
To present that image of well-roundedness, you should have extracurricular activities such as church, Scouting, sports, music, social groups and volunteerism. Each of these shows the ability to work toward a common goal with a group or team.
Let me give you a good example of how that was important from the beginning of veterinary school for me. In each of our labs we were assigned seats alphabetically. During lectures we were allowed to sit wherever we wanted, but zero allowance was made for changes in labs. Can’t get along with your lab partner? Too bad. This is real life, get used to it. Lab partner wears cologne that you can’t stand? Work it out. In our class of 115 prospective veterinarians there were very few conflicts. For the ones that came up, no amount of begging resulted in a seating change.
Experience counts. Some of my classmates had “known” from a very early age that they wanted to be veterinarians. As a result they had far more experience being around clinics and patients than I did, but that didn’t go against me. Most colleges do want to see that you have worked for a veterinarian for a few months to a year prior to applying. Such experience allows you to see that it’s serious business, it’s not always fun, some aspects are “gross” and some are heartrending.
There is much more to being a veterinarian than “I just loooooovvvve animals.” It is not sitting around playing with puppies and kittens all day.
Veterinary students now graduate with debt in the range of $140,000. Average starting pay is a little over $60,000, so it will take you some time to pay off that debt. And, that assumes you will be working for someone else. If you want to begin your own practice you are looking at spending a lot more money.
Plan on working long hours. I practice alone, but I have colleagues who tell me horror stories of veterinarians who arrive for an interview with “demands” of a 40-hour work week with no weekend hours. Some practices may be able to accommodate such a schedule, but they will mostly be large corporate practices with many doctors. Those practices may not be in the region of the country where you want to work.
In addition, experts have been saying for years that a glut of veterinarians may be coming because nearly every state has a veterinary school and the number of graduates is on a continual rise. That means the number of patients per doctor is constantly dropping and the dollars are equally diluted.
However, few of us practice for the money. I’m known for saying, “The money just keeps me in fish baits. I work for the satisfaction and gratification of practice.”
If you pursue your goal of becoming a veterinarian with that concept in mind, you will rarely be unhappy.