Step by step guide to becoming a Veterinarian

Most veterinary physicians work in clinical settings, treating animals directly. These veterinarians may be involved in a general practice, treating animals of all types; they may be specialized in a specific group of animals such as companion animals, livestock, zoo animals or equines; or may specialize in a narrow medical discipline such as surgery, dermatology or internal medicine.

What does a veterinarian do?

A veterinarian is a doctor who specializes in the treatment of animals. The tasks that he or she performs on the job vary widely, depending on his or her medical specialty and where he or she practices. Old fashioned country vets may have a practice which includes house calls to all the local animals, for example, while another might specialize in equine reproductive services, offering consulting services to horse breeders. Practitioners of this incredibly varied and demanding profession are often in demand, making veterinary medicine a great career choice.

Most veterinarians break down into one of three categories: large animal, small animal, and exotic. Large animal vets focus primarily on farm animals like sheep, goats, horses, and cattle; they may offer general large animal services, or they may choose to specialize in something like large animal orthopedics. Small animal vets care for pets like cats and dogs, although some may receive additional training in small exotics like guinea pigs, hamsters, and so forth. Exotic animal vets can be found at zoos taking care of everything from giraffes to lions, and they may also have private practices to serve people with exotic pets like snakes and lizards.

What kind of skills are required?

Passion for Animals

The most important skill is a passion for animals and a commitment to the health and well-being of animals. The future veterinarian cannot just own a dog or cat; he must have desire to care for the pet and keep it healthy and happy. Veterinarians must also have a natural curiosity about other species, such as domestic farm animals or exotic species that live in the wild.

Academic Competencies

All veterinarians need outstanding competency in math, science, language and research and a commitment to lifelong learning. They need to keep informed of new scientific developments, quickly understand new information on procedures and drugs, and how to use them appropriately when treating their patients. They must be willing to take continuing education classes and attend conferences in their areas of specialization. As with physicians for the human population, they need to read articles in veterinary journals, understand the benefits of new drugs and meet with representatives who provide new types of medical equipment and supplies for the clinic.

Business Skills

A veterinary practice is primarily a service business that provides health care for animals. In a small animal practice for dogs and cats, the owners usually bring the animal into the office. If the veterinarian specializes in farm animals or species that reside in zoos, on-site visits are the normal place to examine the animals and provide treatment. The exceptions include animals that require surgery or lengthy observation to determine the proper course of treatment. Then it might be housed in a clinic for a short period unless the vet can rely on the owner or caregiver to provide useful observations. Like any other business, a clinic needs to have office space and staff to schedule appointments. It needs a waiting room, examination rooms, equipment, medical supplies and an inventory of medications needed to treat the patients. The services require a fee schedule, invoicing for services rendered and an accounting system to record payments to client accounts. All these things are part of running a successful business, and the veterinarian in a small practice must have an understanding of how to do them.

Interpersonal Skills

Almost every animal treated by a veterinarian has an owner. Whether it is a cat, dog, ferret, bird or any other type of pet, the owners of these animals are the clients who pay the bills. Good interpersonal skills with clients are essential when treating their pets. Clients must understand the instructions regarding vaccination schedules, feeding instructions, and proper administration of medications. Sadly, when an animal is too old or too sick to live a quality life and there are no more treatment options, the veterinarian must advise the client that the pet’s life needs to end. Euthanasia is a difficult decision for pet owners, and the veterinarian and other staff members need to show empathy for clients who lose their pets.

The steps to becoming a veterinarian

  1. Complete a Bachelor’s degree program
  2. Earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine
  3. Become licensed
  4. Gain Experience
  5. Become certified in a specialty