Thinking about a career in veterinary medicine or as a veterinary technician?
Compiled by Melissa Kaplan
Does It Take To Be A Vet?
A student studying to become a doctor for humans just has to learn one body with two variations: human male and human female. While they are still in medical school, students decide upon their area of specialty: very young humans (pediatrics), very old humans (geriatrics), musculoskeletal system (orthopedics), chest (thoracics), feet (podiatry), etc.
Contrast this with veterinary students. They have to learn two versions of many species: dogs, cats, cows, pigs, goats, hedgehogs, ferrets, birds, mice, rabbits, sugar gliders, snakes, lizards, amphibians, aquatic chelonians, terrestrial chelonians, arachnids, raptors, marsupials, crocodilians, species found in zoos and wildlife parks). True, not all vets opt to take the extra studies required to specialize in exotics or wildlife medicine (reptiles, birds, arachnids, etc.), but they are expected to pass tests on large and small domestic animals, large and small pet mammals and birds, and have a passing familiarity with birds and reptiles and whatever other exotics may be covered in the short unit they are required to take on exotic medicine.
Not only do vet students have to learn all of these species, but they have to learn how each species functions, responds to available medications, basic behaviors, basic care requirements, common and not-so-common diseases and parasites, zoonoses, grooming, and more. They have to learn how to apply what they have learned every time they deal with a patient. Human doctors can talk to their patients (most of them, anyway) and always have access to other humans they can talk to about their patients. Veterinarians' patients, on the other hand, can't tell the vet what is wrong, what hurts, whether they are nauseous, have trouble seeing, that there is something stuck deep inside their ear, etc.
Their client's humans are often unable to give much help, by unhelpfully and inappropriately anthropomorphosing behaviors and motivations, or being unable to provide a detailed history and description of recent care and activities, or being too emotional to be able to succinctly communicate the problems and issues to the vet.
So, through careful physical examination, lab tests, x-rays, fecal tests, and other testing procedures, vets slowly piece together a clinical picture of the animal's health status and medical problem. A busy vet who works with various exotic species may have dozens of patients of many different species to examine and treat every day. Many vets use their early morning, lunch and after-hours time to perform surgical procedures and follow-up exams of hospitalized patients, leaving their office hours time free to see clients and their animals. Contrast this with human doctors, most of whom do not do any surgeries other than very minor ones in their office, and who, if they do not have any hospitalized patients to see, often head home far earlier than do their veterinarian counterparts.
So, the next time you see a vet, remember that he or she is a highly trained medical professional. Remember, too, that the cost of your pet will likely be far less than what it will cost to care for him properly - and that includes ensuring your pet gets proper veterinary diagnosis and treatment when he is sick or injured or when you suspect an illness or injury.
Note: Just as not all human doctors are competent and some shouldn't be allowed to continue working as doctors, you will occasionally find the same situation with a vet. In some cases, it is a vet who is working outside his or her scope of training - accepting some or all exotic species without truly having been thoroughly trained in those species; in other cases, the vet shouldn't be working as a vet. The same is true about individuals in all professions, not just human or veterinary medicine.
Many of these web sites, such as the University of California, Davis, have extensive information about the curriculum, including the courses and practicums offered. Others do not have as much information. If there is a school that interests you, contact them and request their catalog (you may have to buy it through the student bookstore, which can be done by mail). The catalog will not only have all the required and elective courses for the vet med program, it will have the prerequisites for the courses. The catalog and admissions materials can also provide information on what the school looks for in undergraduate emphasis and grades - and scholarships and student loans!
If you are concerned about getting into a four-year college or university right out of high school, many junior colleges, especially those in more agricultural/rural areas, have animal health care programs (where veterinary technicians receive their formal training). Some may have arrangements with the veterinary medical school at the university wherein the completion of certain of these courses at the J.C. level are considered "pre-vet". If you are uncertain whether you can stand the sight of blood, going this route may help you find that out while still getting some of your undergraduate course requirements out of the way. If you decide that is what you indeed want to to, you can transfer into a four-year institution to complete your B.A. or B.S. degree and apply to a veterinary medical program.
Technician/Animal Health Technician Programs
Those interested in studying to be veterinary technician (animal health technician) have it a bit easier - there are far more junior colleges offering VT/AHT programs than there are vet schools. If you live in a rural or semi-rural area, your chances are even better than if you live in a major metropolitan area. Check out NETVET Vet Tech/AHT Programs for more information.
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