Do you enjoy working with animals, people, and science? If you have a strong interest in science and want to work in the animal industry, a career in veterinary medicine might be for you.
There is a saying that veterinarians are medical doctors who are not limited to one species of animal. This is very true. In training to become a veterinarian, you will learn about cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, poultry, dogs, cats, and other animals, including wildlife.
So what is involved in the long road to becoming a veterinarian?
Your College Courses
Pre-veterinary medicine is not a degree program at UK, but rather a pre-professional program. Due to the high competition for veterinary school seats, we recommend that you take your pre-veterinary courses while completing a 4-year science related degree, such as in Animal Sciences, Food Science, Agricultural Biotechnology, or Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. However, you can have a major in any degree program and still complete the pre-veterinary courses.
Kentucky does not have a veterinary school; however, it does have contracts with Auburn and Tuskegee in Alabama for legal Kentucky residents.
Even if you are not a Kentucky resident, you can meet virtually all pre-vet course requirements for any of the 28 U.S. veterinary schools. The types of courses you will be completing to apply to veterinary school include:
- Biology - 2 semesters of basic Biology with laboratories plus advanced courses such as genetics, microbiology, and nutrition
- Chemistry - 2 semesters of basic Chemistry with laboratories, Organic Chemistry with laboratories, and Biochemistry
- Physics - 2 semesters of lectures with laboratories
- Math - Algebra and Pre-Calculus; trigonometry and/or Calculus are required at some schools
- English - 2 semesters of composition and speech
- Humanities & Social Sciences—Variable number of hours in literature, history, psychology, sociology, philosophy, etc.
- Animal Science - Animal Nutrition and Animal Husbandry are required by Tuskegee
In addition to the required courses, veterinary-related experience is required for a competitive application to veterinary school. Working with large and small animal veterinarians is ideal for the exposure to several animal species.
How do you gain veterinary experience? While you’re still in high school, begin by volunteering with local veterinarians in private practice, at local dog shows or livestock exhibitions, and humane shelters. Many UK pre-vet students find employment in Lexington area veterinary clinics working with small animals and horses. They also work in research centers and diagnostic laboratories.
Veterinary admissions committees also consider these to be important:
- extracurricular activities
- letters of recommendation
- community service
- leadership skills
The Path to Becoming a Veterinarian
One year prior to completing all of the required courses, you should apply for admission to veterinary schools. Approximately one in three students is accepted into veterinary schools as an in-state or contract student. Acceptance rates steeply drop and tuition fees steeply rise for out-of-state students. If you are accepted, you will have a rigorous four years of study ahead.
Veterinarians can plan careers in many areas:
- practice veterinary medicine in private clinics
- enter an internship or residency program to become a specialist in an area such as reproduction, surgery, or zoo animal medicine
- become a teacher or researcher, usually with an additional degree of Masters or Ph.D.
- work for private industry or public health departments or
- join the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps or the U.S. Air Force as veterinary officers
The UK Pre-Vet Club
The Pre-Vet Club is run totally by students, so it is an opportunity to become involved within the College of Agriculture. Monthly meetings feature speakers from all areas of veterinary medicine, such as: private practitioners, current veterinary students, industry veterinarians, animal welfare/animal rights speakers and many others. Additionally, members have gone on field trips to several local veterinary hospitals, the Cincinnati Zoo and Keeneland Racetrack.
Opportunities exist to attend an annual national pre-veterinary student conference held at one of the 28 veterinary schools in the U.S. as well as state and national veterinary conferences which are held in Lexington.
All of my experiences in the pre-vet program—my classes, the club opportunities, and my internship—have given me information. And the College of Agriculture has given me the tools to turn that information into knowledge and a career.
The UK faculty in veterinary science are the best! They exemplify what all students want – a combination of teacher, advisor and mentor, with the heart of a family member.
—Scott Nieves, DVM, Tuskegee