Many children list veterinarian among their desired careers, because they envision playing with puppies and kittens. The patients do make becoming a veterinarian appealing; anyone who grew up with pets knows that they're often considered beloved members of the family. Despite that draw, however, few people actually follow that dream, because the career path is so demanding.
Yes, veterinarians get to work with animals, but the circumstances are often unpleasant. Some animals visit a vet to receive medication to treat an illness. Some pets are so sick or so badly injured that they must be euthanized. If you're considering a career as a veterinarian, be prepared for the challenges. Being a veterinarian requires education, experience and a combination of difficult-to-find personality traits.
Veterinarians require an extensive education. As an undergraduate, you don't have to major in pre-veterinary medicine, but you do need to cover the prerequisites for admittance to a veterinary program. All vet programs look for solid foundations in math and science. Beyond the basics of chemistry, physics and biology, you'll need to cover anatomy and physiology, microbiology, zoology and animal behavior. As with most fields, maintaining good grades and participating in community and leadership roles are important.
Many veterinary schools require you to take an exam with your application. They may require the Graduate Record Exam, a veterinary aptitude test or the Medical College Admission Test. Students spend an average of four years in a vet school before receiving a doctorate of veterinary medicine. After vet school, another set of exams awaits you in order to secure your board certification in the state in which you want to practice.
As a child, you may have owned a dog or cat, but as an aspiring veterinarian you must gain experience in working with different animals. Caring for a kitten is much different from working on a farm with livestock. Successful veterinary candidates find ways to build experience by pursuing different resources, and vet schools look for that.
To gain that experience, volunteer at an animal shelter, find office work at a veterinary clinic or become involved in a local 4-H organization. Not only does this kind of experience give you a better working knowledge of animals, it will also give you a sense of what kind of veterinarian you want to be. Working with the local 4-H may reveal that you have a fondness for working with large animals and not household pets.
A veterinarian's day-to-day work can be emotionally and physically challenging. It's hard to tell someone that his beloved companion will need to be put down or to restrain a 90-pound dog for a shot. As a veterinarian, you'll encounter demanding situations that require compassion and authority.
That requires solid communication skills and the ability to work well with others. Emergency situations are bound to arise, and a successful veterinarian must be able to communicate effectively with colleagues and support staff. Although you will be caring for animals, you'll also be working closely with their owners. Maintaining a professional and caring bedside manner is an essential part of the job.
Beyond the challenges inherent of becoming a veterinarian, the positives are endless. You will have the chance to care for pets and help their owners.
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