How Long Does It Take To Become a Veterinarian?

veterinarian working with animals

Students who are passionate about animals may feel called to become a veterinarian. A veterinarian plays an important role in the community, helping pet owners care for their furry, feathered or scaly friends. In addition, they sometimes provide welfare services for neglected animals. It’s a career that is often challenging, yet immensely rewarding for animal lovers.

You may be wondering, “How long does it take to become a veterinarian?” Typically, it requires a four-year undergraduate degree before entering a veterinarian medicine program. At a minimum, the minimal prerequisite courses provided by veterinary schools must be completed. In addition, it’s an ideal career for someone who would consider themselves a lifelong learner, as professional veterinarians must stay on top of the latest medical research and trends in the field.

A Typical Veterinarian Job Description

A veterinarian job description involves diagnosing, treating and potentially researching medical conditions that affect companion animals, livestock, zoo animals and other creatures. There are different types of veterinarians.

  • Companion animal veterinarian: Most veterinarians belong to this category. They specialize in the care of companion animals, such as cats and dogs.
  • Exotic animal veterinarians: Some veterinarians have undergone advanced training in the care of exotic pets. These include pocket pets like guinea pigs, as well as reptiles, birds and amphibians.
  • Livestock, food and large animal veterinarians: These professionals specialize in the care of large animals, such as cattle, goats and horses. It’s common for large animal veterinarians to travel around to various farms and similar facilities to see their patients, rather than having their patients come to the veterinary hospital.
  • Laboratory animal veterinarians: Not all veterinarians work directly with members of the public and their pets or livestock. Some work behind the scenes in research roles. For example, a lab veterinarians might research new formulations for animal feed or conduct pharmacological research to develop new veterinary medicines.
  • Teaching veterinarians: Recent graduates may pursue a one-year internship followed by a three-year residency to focus on interest areas. Successful completion of a residency leads to eligibility to go for a board certification in a specialized area. At this point, some veterinarians elect to practice in a referral hospital while others choose to teach future veterinarians.
  • Research and Industrial Veterinarians: Some veterinarians are employed by research instructions such as NIH (National Institutes of Health) or by pharmaceutical companies developing medications or medical devices for animals.

Although there are a few different specialization options, the majority of veterinarians do provide direct patient care. They work in veterinary clinics and hospitals, helping sick animals feel well again.

Veterinarians are specialty medical doctors who have sometimes been likened to pediatricians. Like pediatricians assessing a newborn, veterinarians work with patients who cannot answer their questions about their health. Instead, vets must ask the pet parent lots of questions about the patient to assess the patient’s health status and recommend treatments.

Every day looks a little different in the life of a veterinarian. A veterinarian can do any of the following tasks:

  • Perform wellness exams and help pet parents understand how to care for their animals 
  • Conduct diagnostic exams and tests
  • Administer vaccinations
  • Treat wounds and prescribe medications
  • Perform surgery
  • Operate medical equipment

Veterinarians who run their own private practices must also handle or outsource all of the tasks related to entrepreneurialism, such as hiring staff, managing the budget and ordering new supplies.

How To Become a Veterinarian

Now that you’re familiar with a typical veterinarian job description and you have a better sense of whether this career is right for you, it’s time to take a look at the process of becoming a veterinarian. Here’s a quick breakdown of the process:

  • Graduate from high school
  • Earn your undergraduate degree
  • Graduate from veterinary school
  • Pass the national licensing exam
  • Pass the state licensing exam
  • Pursue advanced clinical training, a residency or additional certifications (optional)
  • Apply for a veterinarian position

It’s a rather lengthy process, with good reasons. Veterinarians must possess an in-depth knowledge of animal anatomy, diseases, treatments and preventive care. Plus, unlike physicians for humans, animal doctors must know how to work with many different species.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Veterinarian?

It usually takes at least eight years to become a veterinarian. On average, it takes a student four years to complete an undergraduate degree. Then, students must go on to veterinary school, which typically takes another four years.

Following successful graduation from veterinary school, students may obtain the necessary licenses and begin practicing as veterinarians. Do note that some veterinary school graduates choose to pursue further credentials, which will lengthen the timeline.

For example, a veterinarian school graduate might spend an additional year as an intern receiving specialty clinical training. Others might take two to five additional years of residency training, after which they may become board certified in a medical or surgical specialty. Specialty options in veterinarian medicine include the following:

  • Zoo medicine
  • Equine medicine
  • Dermatology
  • Cardiology
  • Orthopedic surgery
  • Neurology

After becoming a veterinarian, professionals need to continue their learning in order to stay informed of the latest medical research that could affect their patients. All states will have annual continuing education requirements that veterinarians are required to complete to maintain a license. Some actively practicing veterinarians choose to pursue specialty training in order to better serve their patients and enhance their career opportunities. For instance, they might choose to become certified in ultrasound technology, veterinary dentistry or even animal chiropractic care.

Earning Your Biology Degree

Now that you know the answer to the question: “How long does it take to become a veterinarian?” you may be wondering how to get started on the process. After high school, the first step is to earn your bachelor’s degree. There is no one universal undergraduate degree that is required for aspiring veterinarians.

However, it's generally best to choose a common major as listed. However, students only need to complete veterinary school required classes. :

Before you choose a specific degree program, you should spend some time researching Veterinary schools. Select a few you might want to attend, and then research their prerequisite requirements to ensure your chosen bachelor’s degree program will meet those requirements. In general, you can expect the prerequisites to consist of math and science courses.

However, you shouldn’t neglect the humanities, as veterinarian schools generally require their candidates to have a well-rounded education. Communication skills are crucial for veterinarians. When you’re selecting electives, you may wish to choose a communications class and perhaps a foreign language as well, as these courses will help you work effectively with your future clients.

Tips for Getting Into Veterinary School

Admission to veterinarian school can be highly competitive. As such, you should work on positioning yourself as a strong candidate from early on in your academic career. Maintaining excellent grades while earning your bachelor’s degree is one of the most important steps to take. Not only are good grades reflective of your academic strengths, but they also indicate to the school that you are willing to work hard.

As previously discussed, it’s important to ensure you have completed all of the prerequisites required by the veterinarian school(s) to which you’re applying. You should also take the time to visit your professors during office hours. Discuss the course material, ask for additional reading recommendations and discuss your career ambitions and other relevant topics.

Why is it important to get to know your professors? When you apply to veterinary school, you’ll be asked to provide letters of recommendation. Your professors will be better able to write a solid recommendation letter if they’ve gotten to know you outside of class.

The GRE is a unique sort of standardized test because a good score isn’t dependent on having memorized a slew of facts and figures. Rather, the GRE tests your problem-solving abilities and analytical reasoning skills. You should begin studying for the GRE at least two to three months ahead of your testing date.1

This begs the question: If you’re not focusing on memorizing facts, how exactly can you study for the GRE? The most effective method is to start by taking a full-length practice exam to see what your baseline score is. Then, work through lots of practice questions and continue to take practice exams until you’ve hit your target score. Contact your SSC or a Faculty member for more information.

What to Expect From a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) Program

Veterinarian school is the same as medical school for aspiring human physicians; it’s rigorous, challenging and requires long hours of intensive studying. You’ll attend on a full-time basis. Veterinarian school students typically spend roughly half of each day in lecture-based classes and the other half in labs doing hands-on work in small groups and individually.

After you're done with your classes and labs for the day, you’ll likely head for the campus library to study for a few more hours. Veterinarian schools also have extracurricular opportunities for students, providing some much-needed social time with peers.

Joining a study group can be highly beneficial. First-year students may want to look for a study group led by upperclassmen, as these “veterans” have a stronger understanding of exactly what material students need to focus on to succeed. Two of the most important classes are anatomy and physiology, so expect to spend a great deal of time studying these subjects.

During your final year or two of veterinarian school, you’ll go through clinical rotations. These typically last six to eight weeks. During a clinical rotation, you’ll work in a teaching hospital under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

Students participating in a clinical rotation will work directly with patients and practice diagnosing and treating them. Each clinical rotation focuses on a specific area of veterinary medicine, such as the following:

  • Small animal internal medicine
  • Anesthesiology
  • Radiology
  • Diagnostic pathology
  • Orthopedic surgery

These are some of the many clinical rotations completed. Do not neglect large animal or equine options. In addition to your required clinical rotations, you’ll likely have the opportunity to choose some electives.

Obtaining National and State Licenses to Practice

After successfully graduating from veterinarian school, it’s time to work on obtaining the necessary licenses to practice. Many veterinary students take the national board exam after their didactic training is completed.

Aspiring veterinarians from all U.S. states (as well as Canada) are required to pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.2 This exam is administered by the International Council for Veterinary Assessment (ICVA). It consists of nearly 360 multiple-choice questions that test your clinical competencies.2

In addition to passing this exam and obtaining national licensure, you will need a state license. Certain veterinarians employed by federal or state governmental agencies might not need a state license, although these represent only a small portion of the actively practicing veterinarians in the U.S.

You will need to follow the licensing procedures established by the licensing board for the state in which you plan to practice. In general, you can expect to take another licensing exam, as well as submit proof of your eligibility to take the test. Be aware that since few states have reciprocal agreements with other states for veterinary licenses, you will likely need to take another licensing exam if you decide to move to another state.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers the rigorous STEM education that aspiring veterinarians need to gain admittance to veterinary school. Two of our popular degree programs are the Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Medicine degree and the Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program. Regardless of which degree you choose, you can expect to graduate with strong competencies in math and science, as well as other important skills such as communication and ethical leadership. 

Click on Request Info at the top of your screen and begin planning your future at GCU.


Retrieved from:

1 EST GRE, About the GRE® Subject Tests, in October 2021 

2 International Council of Veterinarian Assessment, NAVLE, in October 2021 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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