“My child wants to become a veterinarian. How long did you have to go to school?” Veterinarians get this question at least once a week. To answer the question, you will go to school just as long as human doctors.
Schooling to become a veterinarian is very similar to becoming a human doctor. You will attend college and receive an undergraduate degree. My degree happens to be a Bachelor of Science in microbiology. I studied bacteria, fungi, and viruses thinking it would help me in the long run.
During undergraduate time, you will likely volunteer or work as a veterinary assistant or technician because veterinary schools require a certain amount of hours in the field during the application process. The veterinary school application would be grossly incomplete without these hours. You will also spend this time asking professors and veterinarians for the ever important letters of recommendation.
Once these things are in the works, you can hope to prepare for the biggest test you have ever taken. Human doctors have to pass the MCAT to get into medical school. You will have to pass the VCAT, the veterinary college admissions test. This exam tests your basic knowledge of your last three to four years of school and determines your ability to move forward.
Now, all this is done and the application is submitted. You now wait. Most applicants will be rejected on the first try. There are a lot less openings in veterinary school and less schools than in medical school. If you are rejected, you have to submit your application again. It can be very frustrating, but it can also be very rewarding. You cannot imagine the joy when that letter of acceptance comes, and you know you are going to veterinary school.
The hardest four years of your life now begin. You take anatomy, pharmacology, cardiology, and internal medicine. Everything the professors feel you need to become a great veterinarian is crammed into your head. Sleep is optional.
The last year of your time in veterinary school is spent in clinics. You actually perform physicals and surgeries under the watchful eyes of professors, residents, and interns. Also, it is the time for the experienced clinicians to grill you, constantly, about every minute detail about the patient or their problem. They want to prepare you for the real world, and the next big test.
All of this teaching leads to the next big test in your journey. It is time to take the national and state board exams and the clinical competency exam. I have never been so exhausted as I was after these tests. It was two days of continuous testing about every little thing I was taught over the last four years.
So the board exams are finished and you passed. You are almost done with your senior year. What to do next? Most of my class applied for jobs as veterinarians in private practice. We went out and became the veterinarians you deal with on a day-to-day basis. Some of us also went on to join the military, and others went into research or worked for drug and food companies. A small portion of my graduating class applied for internships. They spent the next year at university veterinary hospitals or specialty private practices furthering their education. The next step after the internship for these individuals is applying for a residency.
A residency will move you closer to becoming specialized in cardiology, oncology, surgery, and many other fields. These specialists are the veterinarians that see your pets when they need more specialized care or the hospital cannot care for their problem properly.
So, to answer the question, it takes many years to become a veterinarian. For any young people thinking of becoming a veterinarian, keep up your grades.