Veterinary medicine is an extremely popular career choice in the animal industry, even though it requires a challenging, demanding education. It can be difficult to get accepted to vet school, but it can be well worth the effort in the long term. If you are considering attending veterinary school, it's important to know the many factors that could affect your decision.
Students have some options to attend vet school for free or, in some cases, have significant chunks of their student loans paid off, but, of course, there are strings are attached.
If you're willing to serve in the Army as a veterinarian, you'll receive full tuition while you are in school. The Army will also pay you a $2,000 monthly stipend for incidentals and living expenses (a huge perk for poor vet students). If you have already graduated before signing up with the Army, there is a loan repayment program that pays up to $50,000 over three years towards student debt. Both active duty and reserve options are available with the Army.
For those with student debt looking for veterinary work outside the Army, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers a Veterinary Medical Loan Repayment Program. The program pays up to $25,000 per year for vet students willing to work for three years in an area with a shortage of practitioners. The $75,000 maximum payout can go a long way towards eliminating student loan debt.
States Without Schools
The Regional Contract Program allows students in states without a veterinary program to pursue a veterinary degree at designated out-of-state institutions while paying in-state tuition rates.
Spaces in these programs are limited, but veterinary schools do reserve a specific number of seats for vet students from the partner state in return for compensation. For instance, Kentucky lacks a veterinary college but contracts with Alabama’s Auburn University, which reserves a third of its spots each year for Kentucky vet students.
It's true that most vet school applicants are in their early 20s (about 73% as of 2013), but a significant portion of them (about 16%) are in the 25- to 30-year-old age range and another 4% are 31 or older.
Many major vet schools post the age ranges of their students online. The 2019 class at UC Davis, for example, had students as old as 42. The University of Minnesota’s class of 2019 had students as old as 44. It isn’t common for vet students to be in their 30s or 40s, but it certainly happens. So you're never too old to consider vet school.
Career Path Choices
A veterinary degree requires a broad course of study where you learn about all the species you will encounter as a practitioner. You can’t decide, “I want to be a horse vet” and then only learn about equine medicine. You will, however, have the chance to focus on your area of interest when choosing your internships and residencies. You can also go on to pursue board certification as a specialist in a particular field.
Vet school enrollment statistics show considerably more female students than male. According to data collected by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), as of 2019, the gender split in veterinary colleges is about 80% female, 20% male.
This growing gender gap is also being reflected in the pool of practicing veterinarians. In 2018, the AVMA found that, of the 90,288 practicing vets that provided data, 36,758 were male and 53,530 were female. Veterinary medicine is no longer a male-dominated profession, though men do still hold a majority in specific fields (such as food animal medicine, where men hold 77% of positions).
New Vet Schools
As of late 2019, 30 U.S. veterinary programs have been accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. This list includes two newer additions: Midwestern University in Arizona and Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee both opened their doors in 2014. Two additional veterinary programs—the University of Arizona and Long Island University—are actively seeking AVMA approval.
Tuition and Debt Concerns
According to the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, the average annual tuition is about $50,000 for out of state students and $24,000 for in-state students as of late 2019.
Since vet school tuition is expensive, many students have to take out substantial student loans. This problem is compounded by the fact that vet students are often unable to bring in any income during their education because of the long hours of study required. According to the AVMA, as of 2016, the average debt for a vet student at graduation was $143,758.
Stress and Depression
A 2018 UC Davis study found that 38.9% of first-year vet students showed symptoms of depression in their first year of study, and the rate of depression only grew in the second and third year of vet school. In comparison, depression is only seen in a quarter of medical students who study humans.
There are international schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and graduates of those schools do not face any additional hassles to practice in the United States. Graduates of non-accredited schools must deal with expenses and testing before they can become eligible to practice in the United States.
It can take several months or more to fulfill the equivalency requirements. Two equivalency exams can make a graduate of a non-accredited program eligible for U.S. licensing procedures: the Program for the Assessment of Veterinary Education Equivalence (PAVE) and the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG) certification program.
There is a lot to consider when weighing whether to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. But the rewards in terms of helping animals—and those who love them—can be well worth it.