Veterinarians diagnose and treat pets, livestock, and even wildlife for illnesses and diseases. They also conduct research on animal function and health. Because the career entails work with many species, an extensive education is a necessary step for aspiring veterinarians. Prospective veterinarians must complete undergraduate course work and at least four years of doctoral-level course work. Upon graduating from a college of veterinary medicine, students pursue their licensure. Once licensed, they can legally practice as veterinarians. However, many students opt to embark on a year-long internship before practicing because doing so will open up more career opportunities in the long run. An additional step is board certification, which can be obtained after three to four years of residency.
Board certified specialists typically make more money, but this extra income comes with additional education and related costs beyond veterinary school, as well as a rigorous certification examination.
Dr. Elizabeth SabinAssistant Director of Education and Research Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association
Getting Veterinarian Licensure and Certification
It is illegal to practice veterinary medicine in the U.S. without a license. Across the nation, the requirements include a doctorate degree in veterinary medicine and the successful passing of the North American Veterinarian Licensing Exam. Beyond these requirements, licensing is determined by the individual state. According to Dr. Elizabeth Sabin, the assistant director of Education and Research Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association, "requirements for licensure are established by each state regulatory board." Most states require veterinarians to take an exam over state laws and regulations.
For instance, California has additional examinations established for potential veterinarians. "For a veterinarian [in California] to be eligible for full licensure, they would have to have a degree in veterinary medicince, pass the national veterinary examination, the California examination, the Veterinary Law examination, and gain FBI/DOJ fingerprint clearance," explained California Veterinary Medical Board representative Ethan Mathes.
Formal work experience in the field, while not a requirement for licensure, can open up excellent job opportunities. Informal work experience is not as advantageous, but it will still be taken into consideration by potential employers. Some states provide the opportunity for licensure through reciprocity and internship programs, according to Mathes. "California's requirements are quite detailed," he said.
Board certification is an optional step, but it can open up new career opportunities for veterinarians. To become board certified, students must complete a residency program that spans three to four years, during which they will be trained in a specific area of veterinary medicine. Potential areas include oncology, dentistry, and surgery. Depending on the specialization, veterinarians may be required to conduct and publish research to receive board certification.
"Board certified specialists typically make more money, but this extra income comes with additional education and related costs beyond veterinary school, as well as a rigorous certification examination," said Sabin.
Maintaining Veterinarian Licensure and Certification
As a field, veterinary medicine is always changing. With new technologies and new procedures, it is important for veterinarians to stay current on new trends and developments. The specific requirements for renewing a veterinary license vary across the states, however, "the vast majority of state boards require continuing education for relicensure," said Sabin.
By taking a certain number of classes and demonstrating knowledge of new concepts, veterinarians can keep their licenses active, thereby allowing for continuing practice. Today, the classes necessary for renewing a license can be completed via the Internet through an online program or school, making it easy to fit coursework into a veterinarian's otherwise very busy work schedule. "Many states have provisions for acceptance of online continuing education," Sabin said.
As with licensure, most board certified veterinarians must adhere to continuing recertification guidelines. Recertification is "dependent on the veterinary specialty organizations through which a veterinarian is board certified, [however] some of the 21 AVMA-recognized veterinary specialty organizations currently do require recertification," said Sabin. She continued to explain that recertification under the AVMA’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties is required every 10 years, and that continuing education online is one potential way for earning recertification credits.