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 may provide welfare services for neglected animals, work in research or public health sectors. It’s a career that is often challenging, yet can be rewarding for animal-lovers.

In This Article:

Becoming a Veterinarian: How Long Does It Take?

When considering the process of how to become a veterinarian, you may be wondering, How long does it take to become a vet? Typically, a four-year undergraduate degree is earned before entering a veterinary medicine program. As a minimum, you must complete the prerequisite courses required by the specific veterinary schools. The pre-requisite courses vary but usually include general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics.

At a minimum, you must complete the prerequisite courses provided by veterinary schools. After completing veterinary school, graduates must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) to be eligible to complete state licensing exams. Once national and state licensing exams have been successfully passed, the veterinary graduate is ready to practice.

Explore this career guide to find out whether becoming a veterinarian could be right for you. You’ll explore the answers to common questions, like How long do veterinarians go to school? and What type of undergraduate degree should aspiring vets earn?

A Typical Veterinarian Job Description

A veterinary 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, including:

  • Companion animal veterinarians: Most veterinarians belong to this category. They specialize in the care of companion animals, such as cats and dogs.1
  • 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. Veterinarians are also involved in zoo, wildlife and aquatic animal medicine.1
  • 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 receiving them at the veterinary hospital.1
  • Public practice veterinarians: Veterinarians provide assistance with animal diseases that could affect public health. They also provide meat inspection services to ensure that meat products are safe for human consumption. Private companies employ veterinarians to help educate and develop pharmaceutical products 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.

Daily Tasks of a Private Practice Veterinarian

Every day looks a little different in the life of a private practice veterinarian. The 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’s job description and you have a better sense of whether this career is right for you, it’s time to 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

It’s a rather lengthy process because veterinarians must possess an in-depth knowledge of animal anatomy, diseases, treatments and preventive care.

Becoming a Veterinarian: Education Requirements

Generally, it takes eight years to become a veterinarian.2 Students typically complete four years of undergraduate education before entering veterinary school which takes four years to complete.

For example, a veterinary 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. Some specialty options in veterinary medicine include:

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

After becoming a veterinarian, professionals must 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 must complete to retain their 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 Before Earning Your Veterinary Medicine Degree

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

However, a biology degree with a pre-med emphasis or a biology degree with a pre-veterinary medicine degree can be a good choice. Whatever degree you choose, be sure it will allow you to meet the vet school prerequisites, which generally include the following:

  • General biology
  • General chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • Physics

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 that your chosen bachelor’s degree program will meet those requirements. In general, you can expect the prerequisites to consist of math and science courses.

Courses in the humanities can also be beneficial by providing an aspiring veterinarian with a well-rounded education. For example, communication skills are crucial for veterinarians, so when you’re selecting electives, you may wish to choose a communications class and perhaps some business classes if you are interested in private practice, as these courses will help you work effectively with your future clients.

Tips for Getting Into Veterinary School

Admission to veterinary 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 an important step 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. Additionally, it will be very important to get as much animal experience as possible through volunteering, shadowing or working with a veterinarian. Be sure to document your animal contact hours.

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? In addition to the help they can provide during your coursework, when you apply to veterinary school, you’ll be asked to provide letters of recommendation.

Testing Requirements: GRE

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is a standardized test and is designed to test your problem-solving abilities and analytical reasoning skills. You should plan to study for the GRE at least two to three months before your testing date.3

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

Veterinary school can be rigorous and challenging, requiring long hours of intensive studying. You’ll attend on a full-time basis. Veterinary 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.

Clinical Rotations

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 just 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.

Why Does Vet School Take So Long?

To become a veterinarian, you need much more than just a passion for animal welfare. You need in-depth knowledge about the anatomy, pathophysiology and medical conditions that affect a wide range of species.

Veterinary school takes a long time because it takes time to learn everything you need to know to successfully work with the animals performing surgeries, administering treatments and interacting with clients. Furthermore, a commitment to life-long learning is required to practice up-to-date medicine.

You’ll also need plenty of time to practice your clinical skills, including working with animals directly, performing surgeries, administering treatments, doing lab tests and interacting with clients. Furthermore, you won’t stop learning after you graduate. Any profession in the medical field requires a commitment to lifelong learning.

Obtaining National and State Licenses To Practice

After successfully graduating from veterinary school, it’s time to obtain 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.4 This exam is administered by the International Council for Veterinary Assessment (ICVA). It consists of 360 multiple-choice questions that test your clinical competencies.4

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 may not need a state license, although these represent only a small portion of the actively practicing veterinarians in the U.S.5

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 because 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 and continue your veterinary practice there.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers the STEM education that aspiring veterinarians need to gain admittance to veterinary school. Two popular degree options are the Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Medicine degree and the Bachelor in Biology With a Pre-Veterinary Medicine Degree Emphasis. Regardless of which degree you choose, you can anticipate graduating with strong competencies in math and science, as well as other important skills such as communication and ethical leadership. 

Fill out the form on this page to begin planning your future at GCU.


1 Sleepy Hollow Animal Hospital. (2023). Are There Different Types of Veterinarians? Retrieved May 5, 2023.

2 VIN Foundation. (n.d.). I Want To Be a Veterinarian. Retrieved May 5, 2023. 

3 The GRE® General Test. (n.d). ETS. Retrieved May 5, 2023. 

4 NAVLE. (n.d.). International Council of Veterinarian Assessment. Retrieved May 5, 2023. 

5 Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. (Feb 24, 2020). National Veterinary Accreditation Program. Retrieved June 7, 2023. 


Approved by a biology instructor on July 11, 2023.

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.