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So You Want to be a Veterinarian ?

Veterinary medicine is a great career. Once completed, your veterinary training can take you in many directions.

What is a veterinarian? A veterinarian is literally an animal doctor. Much of the schooling and training is the same or parallels that of a human doctor. So, a veterinarian is a person who has completed 4 years of college undergraduate work, and 4 years of professional training at a school of veterinary medicine - no different than an M.D.'s first 8 years! After graduating from veterinary school, a new doctor can go into practice, work in industry, or continue their education into specialty fields.

How does someone become a veterinarian? Becoming a veterinarian involves many years of school with classes that include mostly sciences. Many veterinarians started preparing in high school by taking biology, chemistry, physics and math courses along with english and the rest of their curriculum. Once in college, the Pre-Vet path includes college level biology, chemistry, physics, microbiology and comparative anatomy classes, as well as english and technical writing. Most programs have Pre-Med and Pre-Vet students taking the same courses. Many veterinary schools will now also accept persons with degrees in biology, microbiology or chemistry.

Once a student has the required prerequisites taken, they complete the application packet provided by the vet school they are applying to. This usually includes completing any needed testing (usually the MCAT and/or the GRE), having recommendations written by veterinarians, teachers, or employers that they may know, and sending a transcript of their grades. After submitting an application packet, the student will be interviewed by veterinarians who will try to determine if the student is a good candidate for completing the rigorous 4 year veterinary school program. At this time, there are only 23 veterinary schools in the U.S., and competition for a seat is fierce. The need for a high grade point average in your undergraduate studies cannot be overstressed.

So what's vet school like? Veterinary school teaches students the fundamentals that are needed - like building blocks - so the students progress from learning basic anatomy and physiology (how the body works), to pathology and disease states, medicine, surgery, and clinical pathology (tests that are run to find the diagnosis). What makes veterinary school exciting is that for all of these subjects, there are differences in cats from dogs, horses, cattle, sheep, goats, birds, snakes, and sometimes differences from breed to breed. Once the student has the necessary background information, they move into clinical studies that allow them to actually practice their skills.

What does a veterinarian do after 4 years of vet school? Veterinarians have many directions they can take after vet school. Many go into private practice as general practitioners. These vets may see many species (mixed practice), or select one species (like equine, avian, or feline practice). The majority see dogs and cats.

Some veterinarians become specialists, which means more school. These veterinarians specialize in areas such as cardiology, dermatology, internal medicine, surgery or ophthalmology. They can then practice and teach in veterinary schools, or can enter into a specialty referral practice that sees difficult cases sent to them by general practitioners. Another specialty option is the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, which recognizes veterinarians who have developed substantial skills associated with treating a particular species, such a canine/feline, feline, avian, equine, dairy, beef, swine, small rumenants, reptiles, and "pocket pets".

Veterinarians are found in research, which can occur at vet schools or in the pharmaceutical industry. Other employers of veterinarians include the armed services and the government (in areas such as the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)).

As you can see, there are many options for a person who pursues a veterinary degree. To find out more go to LSU's website at for info on undergraduate programs and for info on the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine.

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