Questions about Veterinary Medicine

These questions have been answered by veterinary students attending the Ohio State University's Veterinary Program. Contact wth veterinary medical students was initiated by Dr. Morse from the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association and Irene Choi, a Ohio State veterinary medical student.

Question: Can you tell me about veterinary medicine as a career option.

Answer: I am a senior veterinary student at The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH.  I plan to work with exotic animals in private practice when I graduate.  However, I've spent a lot of time volunteering at various zoos and talking to various zoo veterinarians over the last 10 years. 

First of all, it doesn't really matter what your undergraduate degree is in as long as you take all the prerequisite course work for admission into a college of veterinary medicine.  This often means that you end up taking enough course credts for a major in biology/zoology/microbiology/ecology or some such field.  However, there are a number of students in my class who majored in some totally different field such as business, music, and computer engineering. 

The amount of money you can earn in this profession depends on what field you go into, on average the starting salary of a veterinarian right out of school is $55,000-65,000.  Although, some people earn more if they are paid on production.  Being paid on production means that whatever amount of money you generate for a practice, you get a percentage of that amount in your paycheck.  Currently, Lab Animal Veterinarians are paid the most right out of school, but Equine veterinarians often end up making more after they've worked int he field for over 5 years.  Zoo Vets usually get paid less since zoos often don't make much money and also most people who are zoo vets do it because they love the animals, not for the money.

If you want to pursue a career working in a zoo, it is best to start out by volunteering at a local zoo and getting your foot in the door by networking with the keepers and curators.  Also, when you are picking out what veterinary college to apply to; make sure the school you choose has an exotic animal medicine department.  Get well grounded in the basics of both large animal medicine and companion small animal medicine while in veterinary school. Pursue internships at a zoo during your summer breaks in Veterinary school.  Lastly, get a good internship/residency in zoo medicine after you graduate with your DVM.  If you do all that, you will probably be able to pursue a career in zoo medicine.  One other thing, If you want to get a good residency, it helps if you can get published while you are in college in a peer reviewed journal. 

Some things you can do before attending college and veterinary school would be to contact zoos (zoo veterinarians treat almost all exotic animal species), aquaria, and local veterinarians (find out which local vets treat exotic animal species) the yellow pages or internet are good resources for this. Some zoos and veterinary hospitals even have special summer volunteer programs. Once you make a list of some places that interest you, find out which of these places you can work or volunteer this experience will help you make more contacts with people to get you started and it will give you a first hand look of what it is like. The opportunities in this field are unlimited you can work in animal hospitals, zoos, aqauria, universities, safaris - the sky's the limit.

Question: As a high school junior what should I be doing to enhance my chances of being accepted into a pre-vet program in college ? I recently visited Ohio State and spoke with a student in the Animal Science program and she indicated that I should be getting exposure hours in the field as a volunteer or employee because those who get accepted at  Ohio State generally have 500 - 800 hours of service before applying to the program. Is this true in most programs ? I know it is very difficult to get into a program and want to do anything that I can to be better prepared. Any advice would be appreciated.

Answer: While getting into veterinary school is difficult, it is NOT impossible and it is GREAT that you are already focused and interested in the profession.  :)  Definitely the student you spoke with when you visited Ohio State is correct.  The admissions committees at all of the veterinary schools (including Ohio State) like to see and tend to accept students who are very dedicated to the field.  So, I would definitely recommend getting as much hands on veterinary experience that you can.  Since you will be applying to veterinary school in about 4-5 years, having a record of animal and veterinary experience for many years will definitely be beneficial. 

 When I was a junior in high school, I began by working in a kennel that was attached to a veterinary hospital.  Eventually, I was offered a job in the veterinary hospital working as a veterinary assistant.  My other recommendation to you is to try and seek out a diverse  range of animal and veterinary experiences.  For example, try to work for a small animal veterinarians, a horse veterinarian, work with a researcher, etc. 

Question: I want to know more about Zoo Medicine. 

Answer : The best way to look for a school that can help you become a zoo veterinarian is to first check and find out if they have an active exotic animal medicine program.  Call the veterinary school that you are interested in and ask them if they have an exotic animal medicine department, how many faculty members do they have in that department, do they work with the nearby/local zoos, how many exotic animal cases do they work with. 

The best program for learning about zoo medicine would probably be Kansas State University since that is where Dr. James Carpenter is a faculty member and runs the exotic animal medicine department.  He wrote the textbook on Zoo and Wildlife Medicine. Some other top schools to consider are UC Davis, University of Florida, and University of Tennessee. But this is just my opinion based on a number of conversations I've had with various zoo veterinarians. 

Question: How hard is it to get into vet school?

Answer: Not hard, if it's what you really want and are willing to work hard to get there. There are only 27 veterinary schools in the United States, but 2-3 X more than that in medical schools. So, yes, you are competing with a lot of people to get into one of those vet schools. But I truly feel that if you are committed to veterinary medicine, have gotten good grades, and have shown leadership potential and worked hard, then you will get in. It takes some people more than one try (more than one year of applying to get in) but I got in the first year. I think what made me a great candidate was the fact that I got a alot of experience in different fields of veterinary medicine before I applied to vet school. I gained experience by working as a technician, vet assistant and research assistant.

Q: What qualities would impress these schools?

Answer: Unfortunately, most schools select who they will interview based on their applications. So looking good on paper is a good thing-- by that I mean having a good college GPA (minimum 3.4). This also means being active in your community (clubs, etc) having leadership potential (i.e. organizing events, running for president/vice pres/treasurer of class or clubs, or being more than just a "member"--be active!) and volunteering (for example, I volunteered at a local animal shelter). Most importantly, your experience in the field (veterinary medicine or even human medicine) is critical. Start now by shadowing vets in your community, and not just one type of vet-- Large animal and small animal. Once you are in college, start doing research projects, and continue working for local vets to gain experience. Don't be intimidated to ask vets for a position (even if it's just volunteering)--they, too, once needed a place to gain experience and most are happy to give you the opportunity.

Question: How can I get financial assistance for these endeavors?

Answer : Good question! By the time you start veterinary school, costs will probably be about $200,000 for 4 years. But no worries--you are making an investment that will more than pay for itself. These costs are taken care of by Stafford loans, federal grants, work-study money and scholarships. Much of this has to be paid back, but over a very long time, AFTER you graduate, in monthly payments. For now, you can check out scholarship websites and start writing essays to win scholarship money--that's money you don't have to pay back!

Question: Why are many of the science prerequisites the same for veterinary schools, but many of the humanities differ?

Answer: This was frustrating for me, too, but I can only theorize. I think every vet school wants the same sort of candidate-- smart, dedicated, responsible, passionate about medicine, and well-rounded-- but every school has a different idea of what sorts of classes need to be taken to be "well-rounded". every School has its own reasons, and often good ones. for example, several require business classes, which is a good idea-- most veterinarians belong to private practices and need to have some sort of idea what is going on!



courtesy of Saint Michael's College
© 2006 Ventures In Education, Inc.