Veterinary Education: The Very Basics

I was a first-year vet student before I even heard of internships.   I was maybe a sophomore or junior before I learned about specialties.  I recently saw a post on the APVMA Facebook group asking some very basic questions about veterinary medicine.  This is probably not necessary for anyone who’s a senior vet student but, for those of you interested in veterinary medicine, I think you may learn something.

Caveat: Ask 10 veterinarians how they got to where they are and you’ll get 12 different answers.  There are options to come from homeschooling, doing graduate degrees, going to community college while working full time, going into practice before doing a residency, etc.  This description is the most ‘typical’ path, but many roads lead to Dublin.

High School – Take classes required for entry into college.  Get experience spending time in a vet clinic.  Work summers, volunteer at a clinic, etc.

College – Research the classes required for the vet schools you may be interested in and take those.  Almost all schools require science courses like organic chemistry, genetics, and biochemistry.  Realize that, during vet school, you will routinely take 20-22 credits/semester of mostly science courses.  Try to take at least 15 credits/semester and at least a few semesters with 2-3 heavy science courses during your undergraduate years.  Once you have met the course requirements, you may apply to vet school.  This may be as early as your sophomore year, but most people apply in their senior year.

Vet School – Most vet schools in the US have 4-year programs.  Each year consists of a typical academic year (either 2 semesters or 3 quarters) and a summer.  The summers between your 1st and 2nd years and between your 2nd and 3rd years are typically “free” for you to spend as you like.  The summer between your 3rd and 4th year is typically spent on clinic duty, which extends into your 4th year.  Some schools may have you in clinics before the 4th year.  The Caribbean schools and some others do not have breaks- you go continuously through so the total time for school is ~3.5 years (2.5 continuous pre-clinical years and 1 clinical year).  At some schools, your time on clinics is only 9 months long (the summer between 3rd and 4th year is off).

Once you graduate from vet school and pass the licensing exam, you are qualified to practice as a veterinarian.  You can work for a clinic, open your own practice, work for the government, do research, etc. etc.  You can be Done.  OR, if you are interested in acquiring greater mastery of a medical discipline, you can continue your education.

Rotating Internship – This is a single year spent in a species category (small animal, equine, or large animal) where you spend time working in a variety of disciplines (emergency, surgery, internal medicine, neurology, etc.).  Internships start one summer and end the next summer.  Most specialties require a rotating internship or equivalent.  After an internship, you can apply for a residency.  Residencies can be incredibly competitive– far more competitive than vet school.

Specialty Internship – This is a single year spent in your specific discipline (ophthalmology, surgery, oncology, etc.).  You may spend time in other disciplines, but the majority of time will be in your discipline.  This option is pursued if you are not selected for a residency.  See my article on specialty internships for more details.

Residency – This is 3 years (perhaps 2 or 4 years, depending on the discipline) in your specific discipline (cardiology, neurology, anesthesiology, etc.).  You typically have some time off clinic duty to  study and do research and rotations in other disciplines to supplement your training.  After a residency, you are qualified to take an exam to become a specialist.

Fellowship – These are rare but becoming more common in veterinary medicine.  If you want to become even more proficient in an area of your discipline, you can do a 1-2 year fellowship.

This is a very high-level view, and I have posts addressing most of these details throughout the blog.  Again, there are many professional paths you can take, and these are only the most common, basic options.  What do you want to know about veterinary medicine?

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