Q. My son wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up. What does he need to know?
A. Being a veterinarian is more than a job, it is a vocation. This is a term not used much anymore, but for those of us in this profession, it still applies. Currently, there is a shortage of veterinarians, but I will get into that later.
Most of us knew we wanted to be veterinarians at a very young age. This is helpful when planning our academic curriculum for middle and high school. This sounds silly, but the competition to get into vet school is very high. Have your son take as many science and math classes as he can to prepare him for college. He will need a minimum of a four-year college degree. Look for a college that will give him a strong foundation. When he is a junior in college, it is time to start looking at veterinary schools. Look for a school that matches his interests. Apply to 5 to 7 schools that fit his criteria. He will need to take an exam called the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) before applying to the schools.
Veterinary colleges want well rounded students besides looking at their academic records. Most schools require a minimum 3.5 grade average. Schools look at your animal and clinical experience. Volunteer in as many animal and veterinary related fields as he can. This will give your son the experience and knowledge, not only of the wide variety of opportunities the degree of veterinary medicine offers, but also make sure he really wants to be a veterinarian. To have a veterinary degree is to open doors in many different fields. There are veterinarians involved in commercial fisheries, teaching, pharmaceutical companies, research, state and national government, public health, and other industries in addition to being a companion and large animal veterinarian.
Being a veterinarian is more than playing with animals. We deal with the guardians of the pets and livestock. We are active in our communities. Having good people skills is just as important as our animal skills.
Currently, there is a shortage of veterinarians, partly because of the high cost of the education and the competition of higher paying careers. The student debt is being addressed by forgiveness programs being offered by different states. Maine is currently working on legislation to address this problem. Though the pay in rural states like Maine is not high, you can live a comfortable life.
Being a veterinarian is a rewarding and a draining career. Keeping a balance is the key. We are so dedicated to what we do that we forget about the rest of life’s offerings. Most successful veterinarians I know have wonderful lives outside of the office. They have families, hobbies, and a joy for life. Living and working in Maine makes this easier.
Besides studying hard in the academics, have your son enjoy life. Being involved in animal sports such as dog agility, pony club, 4-H, and other activities will give him experiences and knowledge school can’t teach him.
I have been a veterinarian for a very long time. It is a career that is always evolving. You never stop learning. I never tire of what I do, and I enjoy every bit of what life has to offer. Your son will find being a veterinarian a challenging and wonderful career with many doors to open.
Good luck to him and enjoy the journey.
Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH
Animal Wellness Center