Veterinary medicine seems to be a profession that intrigues many people. I often am asked what kind of training I had or how long I went to school. So, instead of the usual subject matter, I wanted to let the readership of "Pet Doctor" know some of the requirements necessary to become a veterinarian and to present some alternate career paths that some vets take.
After graduation from high school, prospective veterinary students attend college like everyone else. While in undergraduate studies, the pre-vet curriculum is very similar to the pre-med curriculum required for human medical school.
This coursework tends to emphasize the sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biochemistry and biology. The prerequisites also include more general classes, such as English composition, math (college algebra and trigonometry) and the humanities.
Once the required coursework is completed, pre-vet students also take entrance examinations (MCAT, VCAT or GRE) as required by the veterinary school to which they are applying. There are currently 28 veterinary schools in the United States. Once the application is submitted, there is usually an interview process from which the students are selected.
The curriculum in veterinary school is challenging, including (but not limited to) classes in animal anatomy and physiology, nutrition, internal medicine, surgery, parasitology, pathology, endocrinology, embryology and neurology.
As well as doing work in the classroom, veterinary students participate in clinical rotations and externships (working in clinical settings outside of the veterinary school). As in human medicine, veterinary specialists (surgeons, internists, pathologists, etc. ) must undergo internships and residency training. The exception for vet medicine is the general practitioner who usually goes into practice right out of vet school.
When asked about veterinary medicine, most people envision the general veterinary practitioner. They see the "other family doctor" who takes care of companion animals and makes up more than 70 percent of the veterinary profession.
There are, however, other career paths vets may take. As I mentioned earlier, there are veterinary specialists who serve in referral centers to aid the general practitioner in serious or complicated cases. These veterinarians often conduct medical research to further the knowledge of veterinary and human medicine alike.
Other vets work for the government as regulators and researchers. The U.S. Army also has a veterinary division; members of this unit were instrumental in the discovery of the Ebola virus (their story was told in the book "The Hot Zone").
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) employs many veterinarians to study other viruses and bacteria.
Your pet's doctor is likely the veterinarian with whom you are the most familiar. But, in preparing this article, I was reminded of what it took for me to get here and of some colleagues who don't have mainstream veterinary careers. If anyone reading is interested in the veterinary profession, ask your pet's doctor.
-- Dr. Michael Dill is a veterinarian at Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs, Miss.