Guide to getting a doctorate of veterinary medicine (DVM)
Working as a vet is a dream role for animal lovers. These ‘doctors of the animal world’ spend their days improving the wellbeing of pets, livestock, and even zoo animals. The role tends to suit people who enjoy variation in their work. One moment you might be treating a dog with an upset stomach, and the next vaccinating a herd of cows.
Vets tend to be well paid, with an average salary of $99,250. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs are projected to grow 17% between 2020 and 2030. Vets can choose to work for a clinic or open their own. Alternatively, they can find employment at animal shelters, farms, ranches, zoos, and aquariums. After working as a vet, some pivot into new roles, such as with wildlife agencies, feed companies, or laboratories.
An important step to becoming a veterinarian is getting a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). This degree program prepares would-be vets for various duties, from animal care and public health practice, to research and education.
What can you do with a DVM?
There are many career opportunities with a DVM. Most veterinarians work in private practice, providing care for pets. They can also work in a larger setting, such as a clinic, hospital, or zoo. While private practitioners often focus on small animals like dogs and cats, some specialize in specific interests, such as avian, equine, or feline care. Veterinarians may also work in other areas, such as research, education, diagnostic laboratories, consultation, public health, and regulatory medicine.
Should you get a DVM?
If you have a deep desire to support the care and wellbeing of animals then a DVM may be for you. It is important to enjoy working with people, because pet owners you interact with might be sad, grieving, or angry. (On that note, you may also struggle with these emotions yourself when dealing with animals that have been abused or neglected.) If you don’t like working with people, there are alternative career paths, such as working in research labs and animal shelters.
Other qualities of successful vets include:
- a strong sense of responsibility
- decision-making and problem-solving skills
- attention to detail
- patience and perseverance
- a commitment to lifelong learning
How to pick a DVM program
Factors to consider when choosing a DVM include:
Attending an accredited school means you are better placed to qualify for federal financial aid, licensure, and to find employment. The Council on Education (COE) is the US Department of Education’s approved accrediting agency for veterinary programs.
NAVLE pass rates
Administered by the ICVA, the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) is a licensure requirement. Accredited veterinary schools need a NAVLE pass rate of 80% or above. A high NAVLE score is a positive sign of a program’s quality.
Check out the curriculums on offer, for example, what elective classes are available? If you aspire to work with exotic animals, choosing a school with expertise in this area is critical. Also investigate whether there is a wide range of specialty areas and services offered at the teaching hospital.
Not all schools have their own veterinary hospital, which can make getting the required training more difficult. Look at each hospital’s caseload, checking for a variety of cases that represent what you may see as a vet.
Can I study for a DVM online?
Due to the clinical skills and practical laboratory requirements, it is not possible to complete the DVM fully online. Some schools offer hybrid programs that combine distance learning with on-campus training. This allows you to complete theoretical modules remotely, but most of the course still takes place in-person.
» Read: Online vs. on-campus courses
Financial aid and scholarships for students of DVM programs
Most students who attend veterinary school take advantage of federal student loan programs. This involves filling out the FAFSA form on the Federal Student Aid website. There are also scholarship opportunities available, some of which are specifically aimed at veterinary students.
You may also be eligible for a loan forgiveness or repayment program, such as the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), or an income driven repayment plan. In these programs, the student debt is cancelled once you have been working for a specified time period.
» Read: How to budget as a student
What to expect from a DVM program
Most DVM programs consist of core coursework. This comprises teaching, laboratory instruction, clinical rotations, and electives. Subjects studied typically include:
Clinical work provides students with practical experience in physical examinations, surgery, anesthesiology, and pharmacology. In the fourth year, students participate in a clinical internship and/or clerkship, where they choose a focus area.
What are the admission requirements for a DVM program?
With record numbers of students applying to veterinary schools, it is vital to ensure your application is as strong as it can be. While there is no single undergraduate major requirement for admission, a solid foundation in the sciences including math, chemistry, biology, and physics is important. Coursework in the biological and physical sciences is also critical. Additionally, some veterinary programs require applicants to have experience working with animals, for example at veterinary clinics or animal shelters.
» Read: Decision fatigue: how to manage during the admissions process
How long does it take to get a DVM?
It takes a minimum of 8 years to earn a DVM degree. This includes 4 years of undergraduate studies, followed by 4 years at an accredited veterinary school. After receiving a DVM, additional general or specialty clinical training may also be required.
Does the DVM include an internship?
Practical training is vital when studying to be a veterinarian. Typically, a DVM program includes an internship, which consists of required rotations through specialty areas.
Examples of rotations include:
- anesthesia emergency and critical care medicine
- internal medicine
- primary care
- soft tissue surgery
What type of courses are there in a DVM program?
Most DVM programs require core coursework in the biological and physical sciences, as well as elective courses in relevant areas of study.
Foundational courses may include:
- animal anatomy
Additionally, electives are available, such as:
- small animal medicine
- field marine biology and ecology
- infectious diseases and health
- wildlife medicine
- marine sciences
- shelter medicine
- equine medicine and surgery
What careers can I have with a DVM?
While people typically think of private veterinary practitioners, there are many career paths for individuals with a DVM degree, and not all of them are veterinary roles.
What are the next educational steps after a DVM?
To begin practicing as a vet, you need to complete an internship and residency training. To gain licensure in the state where you intend to practice, you are also required to pass the AAVSB licensing exam.
Veterinarians require a unique blend of hard and soft skills, including everything from in-depth knowledge of animal sciences to strong people skills. There are very few veterinary schools in the U.S., so gaining admission depends on the quality of your application, background, and experience.
Becoming a veterinarian takes a minimum of 8 years. To become a specialist, more training may be required. Additionally, you need to pass a licensing exam in the state where you intend to practice. While most DVM graduates become practicing veterinarians, there are many other potential career paths for DVM holders.
Frequently asked questions about the DVM
How much does a vet make?
In 2020, the average veterinarian salary was $99,250. This figure can vary depending on the state of practice and years of experience.
Are vets in high demand?
Yes, veterinary jobs are expected to grow by 17% percent by the year 2030, creating even more positions for qualified candidates.
What is the difference between a DVM and Ph.D.?
The DVM is a medical degree that prepares graduates to practice as a veterinarian. A Ph.D. is a doctoral degree available in many subjects, one of which is veterinary medicine. Its purpose is to further research and knowledge about the veterinary field. Crucially, a Ph.D. does not qualify degree-holders to work as clinicians. Some veterinary schools offer joint DVM-Ph.D. programs.
Is vet school hard?
Because it covers a vast range of complex material, veterinarian school can be challenging. That said, both the study period and the subsequent work is uniquely rewarding for the right candidate.
Can I become a vet without a doctorate degree?
A DVM is necessary to become a veterinarian in most states. If you don’t want to commit to the extensive schooling, there are other potential careers in the veterinary field, such as veterinary assistant, veterinary technician, and veterinary receptionists.
Interview with a vet
American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA).
The nation’s largest advocate group for the veterinary profession, the AMVA serves the needs of all veterinarians and the animals they care for.
The American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).
Represents the global academic veterinary medical community. The AAVMC safeguards the health and wellness of people, animals, and the environment, through the advancement of the field of veterinary medicine.