On Getting Into Veterinary School and Other Impossible Dreams
I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was seven years old. This seems pretty typical if I’m to believe all the smarmy stories my vet friends tell of their first pets, first jobs, first loves, etc. (I tell those smarmy stories too).
Most of us were simultaneously encouraged by our families and goaded by life’s bystanders who told horrible stories about their children having to enter medical school when veterinary schools would not accept them. These are not sad stories to most, but to us it seemed like the end of the world, the potential end of our dreams, should such a tragedy befall us. It made us work harder to conquer those windmills in our paths.
But most of us still doubted. We studied hard, some of us even as early as grade school, to achieve the Impossible Dream of working with animals.
We dreamed of saving tigers from extinction with our knowledge of molecular biology, armed with an artificial insemination pipette. We dreamed of helping cows live better lives in their confinement, finally ending the slavery that is vealdom. We had visions of cats and dogs, looking into our eyes and knowing we were trying to help them.
These dreams, corny as they sound, mark the idealism most vets still cherish as our guiding principles.
Yes, of course, I know more than a few vets that have apparently become disillusioned and now see their work as a means to an end, their retirement never far from their field of vision (or the nearest golf course). But most of us still toil in the world of possibilities for helping animals and enjoying a pleasant life as guardians of their health and well-being.
Yes, of course it’s a worthwhile career we’re lucky to practice, especially in 2006, now that the concept of pets as family, animal rights, and saving the environment are making inroads into how we treat animals. The level of veterinary care has never been higher and so for those of us who truly love science and animals, our career is heaven.
Of course, many people’s first response when they learn I’m a vet is: You must be really smart. It’s impossible to get into vet school! Yet getting into vet school is not as hard as people make it out to be. The number of US programs is in the mid twenties. Each school accepts only about 100, but this still means that over 2,500 students make it into US schools each year—not to mention the many exceptional overseas programs that accept many qualified US students each year.
And these numbers are going up. New schools are being established. Programs across the country are growing. We need more good vets! And I believe the best recruitment stock is YOU, the devoted pet lovers who are mature enough to know what they want in life.
The best small animal vets were vet techs first. Consider technician certification coursework if you have commitment-phobia, or just want to see what life is really like in vet medicine. It’s a great place to begin your career. So many techs love their jobs so much they never feel the need to move on to vetdom.
But I worry: How many students are not preparing, not applying, for fear they won’t make the cut? You studied art in school and now want to become a vet? I majored in art history and I’m a vet. You can’t handle blood and guts? Everyone gets used to it. You have serious allergies to cats? No problem, lots of programs will accommodate non-clinical students. Your grades sucked? Oh well, go back and re-take your chemistry and biology. You’re too old? That’s the worst excuse of all. Unless you’re too old to sit in a chair for ten hours of lecture and study a day for four years this is not an excuse. You can’t afford it? Now that’s beginning to sound like a more realistic excuse…if you’re nearing retirement age.
I believe that all the cautionary tales and horror stories about getting into vet school are overblown and dangerous to the profession. It’s not the quixotic quest you might think it is. The reality is that we need more qualified, well-rounded individuals to join our ranks. Therefore, I strongly encourage anyone who loves the concept of a career in veterinary medicine (no matter their age) to work hard, get that basic coursework done, and APPLY!