So You Want to Become an Equine Veterinarian!

Newsdate: Mon, 28 Nov 2011 - 07:38 am
Location: SAN DIEGO, California

Becoming an equine veterinarian is both challenging and rewarding. Veterinary medicine is an exciting career but it's not for everyone so if you are thinking about a career in vet medicine, it is important that you consider the requirements, the rewards, and the hurdles you will need to overcome to get where you want to be.

Becoming a veterinarian

Being a veterinarian is not for everyone, but it has its rewards.

Here's a list of pros and cons to consider before taking the plunge:


Being an equine vet can be an emotionally satisfying job for many. The daily rewards in terms of  support for your endeavors and the satisfaction of helping animals can be very powerful ongoing motivators.

In addition to practicing as a veterinarian, a variety of jobs are available including research, teaching, pathology, or government work, and in addition, a veterinarian can find work almost anywhere.

The flexibility of a professional work schedule is often cited as a major positive in favor of veterinary medicine. Many families find that it's a profession that quite readily accommodates child-rearing responsibilities.

Being a veterinarian can be moderately rewarding, financially. A comfortable lifestyle, though typically not opulent, is financially feasible for most veterinarians once student loans are paid off.

Vet work is challenging and interesting with no two days ever being the same.  


Becoming a veterinarian is a difficult goal to achieve. Veterinary school is notoriously difficult to enter and complete, and a person needs to focus on the requirements long before actually getting into a program. Study programs are often intense and time consuming.

Veterinary school can be very pricey. Depending on the school, graduates may complete their four years with mountainous debt.

Compared to similar professions, veterinary medicine offers limited financial rewards. This can often lead to frustration and job dissatisfaction if expectations are out of line with reality.

 A veterinarian has to be good both with people and with animals to build and maintain a practice.

Hours can be long and in some cases, there is no such thing as a "normal" work week especially at the start with on call duties at night and emergencies on holidays and at other inconvenient times.

Veterinary medicine can be a stressful career, similar to human doctoring since it is difficult to deal with the sickness and dying of patients in many cases.

Once you have decided that vet medicine is for you, several schools offer options for equine (horse) veterinarians, whether the desire is to work in a clinical practice or publish research on animal diseases. Most programs combine coursework and fieldwork.

Most vet schools offer a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree program. Depending on the school, students may be able to specialize in clinical sciences, large animal medicine or equine health.

The first two years of a 4-year DVM program usually consist of broader courses related to animal health, such as parasitology, pharmacology, anatomy and diagnostic imaging. In the second two years, students interested in equine medicine often take specialized classes in equine surgery and large animal diseases. They also focus on topics specific to horses, such as equine podiatry or ophthalmology.

A residency or internship gives aspiring veterinarians experience in a clinical practice or teaching hospital. Residencies often follow a DVM degree, but can be completed in combination with DVM, master's or Ph.D. degree programs. Interns and residents are given greater responsibility and often teach junior veterinary students.

Candidates for master's degrees and Ph.D.s in equine medicine generally narrow their focus to a unique area of research, and prepare for academic or government positions. Students who plan on pursuing advanced degrees might want to look for a research-oriented program.

A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree Program is often a prerequisite for other programs and internships. The DVM degree program generally lasts four years, and may offer specialties in equine health or large animal medicine. Students examine topics applicable to any veterinary practice, including toxicology, immunology, infectious diseases, theriogenology (animal reproduction) and anatomy.

A master's degree program focuses on giving students a background in research while preparing them for a clinical practice. Aspiring horse veterinarians will take the majority of their classes in equine science and surgery, but may rotate among different departments such as neurology, cardiology and radiology. Master's programs are often combined with internships or residencies. Students may be required to write a thesis, or assume teaching responsibilities.

Internships and residency programs are often non-degree programs and  are usually yearlong appointments in university clinics, and may not require formal coursework. Internships or residencies can be combined with a master's or Ph.D. degree program.

Residents may be required to have (or be working toward) a DVM degree. During their residencies, students of equine medicine focus almost exclusively on their field. They may study orthopedic and soft tissue surgery, digestive diseases, internal medicine and clinical pathology.

Often completed along with a residency or master's degree program, the Ph.D. prepares students for research and teaching in the field of equine medicine. Ph.D. candidates research specific topics, diseases and conditions in the large animal clinical sciences, and are usually required to present publications during their program.

  • Most veterinary schools require four years of undergraduate education before they'll accept your application. Some will consider you after three years if you've completed your prerequisites.
  • Check with each school you're considering, and make sure you know what their entrance requirements are. The most common requirements include: very specific science coursework; a minimum GPA; and either the VCAT (the veterinary version of the medical school entrance examination, the MCAT) or the GRE.
  • Good grades are essential. Excellent grades make things much easier but aren't strictly necessary.

Your work experience is becoming more of a factor for veterinary schools each year. Usually this includes a position at an animal hospital, another animal-related job or science/medical position. Not only does this demonstrate that you have an affinity for veterinary medicine or animal life, in general, but it speaks to your level of commitment to the field.


About the Author

Flossie Sellers

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying  up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere..