Musings of a Veterinarian

What to Expect in Veterinary School

July 08, 2009 By: Dr. K Category: Veterinary School

You did it! You’re on your way to veterinary school. With this accomplishment comes a whole new list of concerns. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed with what I imagined veterinary school would be like.  What do people wear? Can I really do this? Will I have a life? Here’s the insider scoop on your next four years.

Reality Check

Veterinary school is academically grueling. Classes and laboratories typically fill a 9am to 5pm day. Then you have to study. Gross anatomy will most likely be the most overwhelming course you’ll ever take. It consists of hours of laboratory time coinciding with lectures. You will learn the anatomy of a dog, cat, horse, ruminant, bird, and fish. You’ll be expected to know everything. You also need to keep in mind the first 2 to 3 years of veterinary school you will rarely touch a live animal. You’ll wonder if this is really what you wanted to do with your life. It happens to everyone.

The Adjustment Period and Your Peers

Nearly every veterinary student approaches the beginning of  his/her first year of veterinary school worrying about how much studying and work the other students are doing. Veterinary school melds a vast array of people from all walks of life. The variety of personalities and age disparities can take you off guard.  It is not uncommon to share a classroom with people pursuing second careers or with people who have grown children.  The characters include:

  • The maniacal studier who makes every other student feel inadequate
  • The know-it-all who obviously knows it all
  • The nonchalant student who thinks he/she has it all together but will fail the anatomy practical
  • The party animal who hasn’t mentally left undergrad
  • The hoarder…err…”dog rescuer” you smell before you see
  • The drop-out…what was his name again?
  • The silent majority who nervously study, safely pass, and make great veterinarians

You’ll make friends, develop study groups, and cope together. Your classmates are your closest allies; Nobody else can understand what you’re going through like they can. Don’t be afraid to join clubs and extramural sports leagues. It takes about a semester to find a reasonable balance between life and vet school. You can have a life in vet school but you’ll need to really work for it. I’ve seen relationships thrive and relationships fail. Make time now so you still have a life after graduation.

Sleep and Clinical Rotations

You will sleep fairly well during your first several years of school except during exams. Several years of having your nose in the books leads to the beginning of clinical rotations. This is the transition year from student to doctor and you must approach it as such to ensure you are prepared at graduation. Everything you thought you learned you’ve forgotten. You’ll be embarrassed when a clinician asks a question and you have no answer. This is normal. EVERY VET STUDENT STRUGGLES AT SOME POINT. If you knew it all you’d be a vet already. Time commitments vary based on the individual rotation.  Rotations like anesthesia, surgery, and medicine will require long hours sometimes up to 80-90 hours a week. Other rotations, like dermatology and cardiology, have much friendlier hours. You need to make the best of your free-time and not forget about your life! Once you graduate, the world you left behind for four years welcomes you back!


Vet school life is casual. There are clubs and organizations you can join. Some schools provide social outings and I encourage you to attend. You’ll also need to be prepared for constant inundation of advertisements for pet adoptions. Daily emails, flyers, and the occasional “dump” in the emergency room will all need homes. It is important to remember you are making the biggest difference in pet overpopulation by becoming a veterinarian. In addition, you’ll need to be prepared for fatigue, stress, and a degree of academic uncertainty you may not have experienced before. These stresses necessitate a healthy routine of diet, sleep, and exercise. You need to work even harder to maintain your relationships outside of vet school.  Relationships can survive if you put forth the effort; I planned a wedding and was married during vet school.  You should make every attempt to embrace vet school instead of fearing it – your next four years will fly by if you do!

Veterinary school is a means to an end. And in the end you’ll be a veterinarian!

20 Comments to “What to Expect in Veterinary School”

  1. From your experience, would one be able to get through veterinary school without having to work on an animal that’s been killed expressly for the purpose of the class? I suppose the alternative would be to work on animals that were euthanized for other reasons whose bodies were then donated to the vet school. Do people do that?

  2. Oh and this is a wonderful article. I am a potential career-changer going from finance to vet school and it is extremely insightful to be able to read about what to expect. I like that you’ve written about it without making it sound worse than it is or sugar-coating; usually people tend to do one or the other. Thanks!

  3. Anagha: It would be pretty difficult to get through something like gross anatomy without having a tangible model to study from but veterinary schools do provide models for students who object. Cornell is one school I know that has a library stocked full of models, computerized programs, etc. I can tell you, though, from personal experience that until you feel it in real life you’ll be at a disadvantage while learning surgeries. I *think* few veterinary schools practice euthanizing surgery patients following the procedure. My experience at Penn was students spayed/neutered dogs from the local animal shelter as part of a shelter medicine program. The animals were brought to the veterinary school, housed for a week, had one to two surgeries performed on them, and then were either adopted and returned to the adoption floor at the shelter.

    You can also see if you can participate with the school’s pathology department while they do necropsies. These are people’s pets who are being medically examined so you’ll have very limited access to handle tissue but you will at least know the animal wasn’t euthanized expressly for your learning.

  4. Hi, I’m a 15 year old teen wanting to be a veterinarian, but I don’t know where to start. I feel like I’m a bit young right now to even be asking the questions I will be asking. I was wondering what I would need to do right now to help myself be a veterinarian in the future, ( as in classes in school and things like helping at shelters, maybe ). Im not sure what to study, or where to look, and from what you have written, it seems like I would be asking an expert. Please, help!

  5. Hi M!

    In high school, take as many science courses as you can and stay involved in extracurricular activities. Colleges and veterinary schools want well-rounded applicants, not just people buried in books and only exposed to veterinary medicine.

    At your age, your best bet is to volunteer at a shelter, kennel, or veterinary hospital to get as much exposure to the profession as possible. At first you will most likely clean kennels and feed animals but you can glean so much information just by keeping your eyes and ears open. As you age, look for a veterinary assistant position and you will get a much better understanding of the field. If you are interested in large animal work, of course work with 4-H, a farm, a stable, etc!

    You can do whatever you set your mind to and you have a blank canvas ahead of you to write your own history! Best wishes!

  6. Hi I’m 16 years old and I know I want to be a vet when I grow up. As far as school goes what direction should I take in regards to applying to an university. what is the school process? what should i major in? which schools offer the best?

    Celeste, the process for applying to veterinary schools is outlined in other blog posts on VMDiva.com. The process of applying to undergraduate schools is something you need to talk to your guidance counselor about as every school is different.

    Pick a major you enjoy that fulfills veterinary school requirements. Generally any science major will work but there are plenty of liberal arts students who fulfill the reqs while also taking lots of arts and humanities courses.

    Which schools for undergrad? That’s your homework! Which schools for veterinary school? Any in the US.

  7. Hi my name is Kim I’m 12 and think to be vet but I not sure how long and courses would i need to be vet and would it be difficult to become a vet. My dream is being a vet . I need some in advice . 🙂

    Doing research is the right first step to becoming a vet! Veterinary school will take you to 25 or 26 years old, typically, if you do all of your schooling without a break. Take science courses in middle and high school and make sure you love science. That’s a great foundation to starting a collegiate education in biology, chemistry, or veterinary science.

  8. Alexandra says:

    Hello Dr. K, I am currently a senior in my undergraduate degree and I am planning to graduate with a B.S in Biology Fall 2014. Around my sophomore year I realized I wanted to be a vet but along with helping myself pay for school I have been working as a chemistry tutor and cashier at Nike and have barely gotten my foot in the door. I have volunteered at only some veterinary clinics but I know I do not have enough experience. I have tried getting a job as a vet assistant and have gotten calls back until I gave them only my school schedule and they had said I was too busy for them. I am constantly looking for a job in the field and I know this summer I will volunteer more. My question is how many hours of veterinary experience do you need to get into vet school? I was thinking after I graduate to take a year and a half off to get as much experience as I can. I am also getting married so I don’t want to go to vet school right after I graduate. Would this look bad to vet schools that I had taken time off? I know I need to be versatile and get experience in many aspects of veterinary science. I was thinking I should get a certificate in clinical lab science at my school while I wait. What would you reccomend? Thank you so much!!

  9. Alexandra says:

    Also, I know clinical lab science isn’t directly related to vet school but it’s the only program that my university offers that I think would help me.

  10. 1000 hours is expected. Taking time off to work or fulfill prereqs is fine. Taking time off to sunbathe and hike Europe may be frowned upon.

  11. Hi! I’m 14 years old and I am volunteering at my local vet clinic. The vet techs and veternarians. Are amazing. They allow me to shadow them when they are in the check-up rooms, I can pull vaccines with ease, perform the 4 point test, (working on) the urine test and blood test and a lot more! I understand that becoming a vet isn’t all puppies and kitties (a common phrase at the clinic) I have experienced around 3-4 uthizations. However I know this what I want and I will do everything to become a vet. I recently read a book that said no vet school will take you serously unless you have volunteered or worked at some time of larger animal job like a farm. Is this true? And also I was wondering the type of courses I should take on high school I think I need to take bio, chemistry, and something called bio-chemistry. I also heard that I needed to take physics? I am taking that right now (8th grade course) but would that meet the requirement? Sorry for all the questions but thank you very much for answering them!

  12. You should get some experience in large animal medicine before applying. At 14, you have plenty of time to make it happen.

    Your HS courses won’t matter at all for vet school applications, however, if you want to be prepared for college courses like chemistry, biochemistry, biology, and anatomy and physiology – then you will want to take those types of courses in HS. Make sure you take classes you like, though, as enjoying school and diversifying your course load. It will make you a better student.

  13. Baxter Martin says:

    Hello there! I am 15 years old and was previously considering a veterinary career, but after watching some videos of surgery I am not sure I could handle it. I know that you can eventually specialize but I know that I would have to be exposed to surgery and stuff in school. Do you get used to that?

  14. You get used to all sorts of gross and smelly things as time goes on! Get experience and see how you handle it well before you choose medicine as your career path.

  15. Kathryn says:

    Hi, I just finished my second year of pre vet studies and minor in equine studies. I am getting A’s and B’s except Org 1 I got a C and just saw my Org 2 class I got a D which I will retake. Intetook calculus because I got a D but on retake Ingot an A. My GPA slid because of these few grades to a 2.8. I have logged a variety of pet care hours already and will have well over 500 hr of vet care hours both large and small before my senior year of applying to vet school. I plan on doing a online GRE study course this summer to prepare for the exam. I am hoping with the balance of my two years left I will get B’s or better. Is there any hope for me to get into vet school when I graduate? I am also certified in artificial incrimination of cows, belong to clubs and hold seats in two of them and also work at a kennel.

  16. I’m in my mid 30’s and want to be a large animal farm/food production vet. Just finished my A.S., working on my B.S. and halfway through my vet tech certification courses. What are your thoughts on taking pre-vet courses, what is the benefits to this or is there one, I don’t want to waste time or money while in school, also I’m married to an active duty military member and have young 3 boys. Is it possible to go to vet school when you have a family, is it still possible to continue working while in vet school.

  17. Hey, I’m not sure if you still answer on this post, but I hope you do! I’m in 8th grade right now, and I’m really hoping I can become a vet, but I’m not really sure what to expect and if I’m smart enough. Right now, my family doesn’t own pets and I’m allergic to cats and some long haired dogs. My uncle used to own a farm where he kept cows, but all we did was feed them. I have just now started taking general science, and I know I still probably have to take biology, physical science and a lot more. A lot of my friends around me have talked about how they’re in honors physics, or AP classes and stuff like that, and I don’t think I can “compete” with them. I know I’m hard working and I study as much as possible, but I will sometimes freeze up on tests and second guess myself. I really hope you can help!!

    (By the way, in college what do you recommend majoring in, and is animal biology, zoology, or animal science better for becoming a vet?)
    Thanks so much for reading all this if you have, I know I pretty much put my whole life story haha sorry.

  18. Hi I’m 16 years old (junior in high school) and I have a HUGE love for animals and want to become a veterinarian. I know now that I will have no problem putting animals down (when needed) and other gruesome routines that will come along the way. My biggest concern is though, I’m currently in an AP Biology class and I’m maintaining a B average but it’s very challenging for me as I do well on the quizzes and labs but I always get an F on the tests. I’m afraid that when I get to college and want to ideally major in a science that I’ll do poorly and have to reconsider my whole future goal. What happens if I end up doing terribly in college and won’t even make it to vet school? Is doing poorly on testing in my AP Bio class a sign that a science field just isn’t for me?

  19. precious says:

    Hi im 14 years old and i really want to be a vet. Im in 9th grade and im taking a class called vet tech. Im in vet 1 beacuse im all new to this stuff but im planning on taking vet 2,3, and 4 in the next few years in high school. Im really nervous about going to college to become one because i might fail to be smart enough. I absolutly adore animals but im trying hard while i can now and while im still young. Any suggestions?

  20. Hi! I read online that it’s not required to have a bachelors degree to go to Vet school. Is that true? If so, would you recommend obtaining that degree or can I just go to Vet school after high school graduation?


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