Becoming a Veterinarian

Alex Scroggins


Nationwide, there are 30 colleges of veterinary medicine that are accredited and part of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. In recent years, there has been a shortage of veterinarians in the United States. Only 3,000 students graduate from vet school per year, half of those who applied. Although this seems like a poor statistic, it is roughly the same ratio as those who apply to human medical schools.


University of California- Davis

Cornell University

Colorado State University

North Carolina State University

Ohio State University

University of Wisconsin- Madison

Texas A&M University- College Station

University of Pennsylvania

University of Minnesota- Twin Cities

Tufts University

On average, 8 complete years (4 undergraduate and 4 graduate) of college are necessary to become a qualified veterinarian. The most common programs include Veterinary Medicine, Pre-Veterinary Studies, and Zoology/Animal Biology. I would personally be most interested in Zoology/Animal Biology because my dream is to work with big cats, traveling from zoos, rescue shelters, and even foreign countries.

After the long education part itself and obtaining a DVM degree, veterinarians who want to work with a specific animal or specialize in a particular area, such as surgery, radiology, or laboratory animal medicine, usually go on to complete a 1 or 2-year internship. If they want to become certified specialists, they must complete a 3 or 4-year residency program. I would love to intern in Africa to study the big cats they have roaming there.

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Job Description

Veterinarians treat sick and injured animals, provide preventive medical services, and give advice about animal care and breeding to owners. They may specialize in the care and treatment of either small or large animals.

Small-animal veterinarians deal mostly with household pets, such as dogs, cats, birds, rodents, and even reptiles. They usually work in cities and have owners bring their animals to a clinic or office.

Large-animal veterinarians, who commonly work with horses, cows, pigs, sheep, and other farm animals, often have mobile practices. They may travel all over the countryside at all hours of the day and night, performing urgent procedures on sick or injured animals. This type of veterinarian works mainly with food-producing animals on large, corporate-run farms.

The day-to-day work of veterinarians involves examining animals, making diagnoses, doing blood tests or x-rays, treating animals’ diseases or injuries, performing surgery, and preventing animal illness through vaccinations. They also often euthanize very old, sick, or unwanted animals, helping them die in a relatively pain-free way.


Earnings for veterinarians depend on experience, responsibilities, location, and employer. Veterinarians who are employed by government agencies or corporations tend to have higher earnings than those who work in private practice.

The type of animals they work with can also affect vets’ earnings. For example, those who work with food animals exclusively (typically large-animal vets working with farmers), tend to earn more than those who work exclusively with companion animals such as cats and dogs.

In general, full-time vets can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $145,000 a year. Median annual earnings for veterinarians in the US are around $82,000.

In addition to a salary, veterinarians typically receive benefits such as sick days, health coverage, and paid vacation. Self-employed veterinarians must provide their own benefits.

Zoo Veterinarians

Zoo veterinarians provide both emergency and routine medical treatment to the many species of exotic animals kept at zoos. By observing an animal's behavior and providing a physical examination, a zoo veterinarian can diagnose illnesses, learn the extent of injuries and provide treatment. Dealing with sick animals can be emotionally stressful, and the zoo atmosphere may tend to be noisy.

But, in order to be a zoo veterinarian, new vets must acquire work experience with exotic animals, which can be accomplished through a voluntary internship. Many zoos have internship programs with veterinary schools that allow interns to work under the supervision of experienced zoo veterinarians in treating exotic animals. Interns may serve rotations in various aspects of zoological medicine, including surgery, dentistry and anesthesiology. Completing an internship usually takes one year and can prepare interns to serve a residency training program in zoological medicine or to work in private practice or perform clinical scientific work at a university. Serving an internship can also help veterinarians who want board certification.

Also, being certified in Zoological Medicine almost guarantees a spot at any zoo around the country. Certification isn't mandatory for veterinarians, but getting certified in zoological medicine displays expertise and extended training in that specialty. To be eligible for certification from the ACZM, applicants must be graduates of a veterinary medicine program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, possess a veterinarian license and have published a minimum of five articles on zoological medicine in professional journals. Other eligibility requirements include finishing an ACZM-approved training program lasting at least three years or working in zoological medicine for six years after veterinary school. Applicants who meet all eligibility requirements receive board certification and recognition as a diplomate of the ACZM.
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Big Cat Sanctuary

I emailed a big cat sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, and asked a series of questions. Lisa Turner, a long time veterinarian that worked at this shelter, replied enthusiastically and with a lot of detail.

She said that they get dozens of letters every day from people who tell us it has been their life long ambition to work with animals, but followed that by saying most of these people are hoping to get a paying job where they can work with our big cats or advice on how they can get a paying position at a zoo.

Their volunteer staff consists roughly of about 100 people, and can house up to 15 interns, as do most sanctuaries, because there is sadly no money in the rescue business. Even people who have volunteered with exotic animals for many years find themselves on waiting lists for those zoo jobs behind people who have been in line a lot longer.

They only have a tiny paid staff and those people are making minimum wage with no benefits, managing volunteers and working on the administrative side of things.
She said that if they could afford to pay salaries, they couldn’t accommodate all of the people who want to be here.

Sometimes they have openings for on site for interns! I was very excited when I heard this bit of news. She stated that the lodging is provided on site, but all interns will need to have their own funds for food and transportation around town. And even applying more to me, she said that a veterinarian intern that has an exemplary record could be overseen by their vets!
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