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June 27, 2010 4:13 PM   Subscribe

I wanna be a vet when I grow what?

I'm about to be a senior in college, finishing a double major in physics and music. Even though I spent four years in it, I don't think pursuing physics any further is for me. I've (re)discovered a love for helping animals, and I'm trying to switch my focus and get into veterinary school. So far, I have a cumulative 3.7 and not all that many of the pre-reqs out of the way, but I have a fairly solid plan for making that happen over the next two years.

What I'm not sure about is getting practical experience, which every school says is absolutely vital to my getting accepted. I'm supposed to work directly under a professional veterinarian, in as many different veterinary fields as possible (small animal, large animal, exotics, etc.). I need a lot of hours (500 or above by the time I apply). How do I go about finding such a position? I live in St. Louis, Missouri; can I legally work in a vet's office without a vet tech degree, or will this need to be volunteer work? Where can I go near here to get large animal experience? Does anyone have ideas about whom to contact in any of these fields?

Other than that, ANY information about preparing/applying/attending vet school would be appreciated, beyond the stuff about requirements that I can find on the websites.

posted by hoperaiseshell to Education (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Just call your local vets and ask to help out. My ex did this during college when she wanted to be a vet (though ultimately become a doctor). N.B.: she worked for free, or next to free (maybe $20/day, if that).
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:26 PM on June 27, 2010

Start by volunteering at the Humane Society or ASPCA. It will be to learn about basic care, and shots, and all the other stuff that animal rescue missions do.

It will also you afford you a starting point for getting connected with the professional community in your area. Talk to the people running the rescue missions. Be a great volunteer, so they will recommend you to someone else.
posted by Flood at 4:28 PM on June 27, 2010

Call local vets, they are used to this and are open to working with high and college students. Pursue a vet tech certification if it's relatively easy in your state, that will help.

There are a lot of tricks to applying to vet school: residency is a big one, colleges take the majority of students from in-state and out of state fees tend to be insane. Another is that they take a set number of applicants in each of the specialties and by FAR the greatest number of people accepted declare that they want to do small animal work. Once you get in you can switch specialty so it's not a huge deal but it pays to be up on what the schools you are interested in are looking for. Some large animal and livestock oriented programs or organizations offer money to students who are looking to work in those areas so if you're interested in that maybe try to get hooked up with a vet or organization that does it as early as possible so you know about the opportunities.

The interview is also a big deal so talk to students at the schools you're interested in and get as much info as possible on how that process works.

Some schools, like davis value research experience highly so time spent interning in a lab or working as a research assistant is valuable when applying there.
posted by fshgrl at 4:35 PM on June 27, 2010

I am not a vet student, but I dated two and am friends with a large number more.

First, vet schools are incredibly competitive. A 3.7 is marginal for entry. I would see if you can do some courses in bio, biochem, OChem, etc. after graduating in order to get that knowledge and to bring your overall GPA up a bit. Many incoming vet students come in with a 3.9 or a 4.0. If academics are not your strong suit, quit while you're ahead. The first two years are grueling sweatshop reviews of things you already know, but in 300 times more detail, and the tests are impossible.

As far as getting the experience, there are several paths. There are different "cultural experiences" that you can go on to get experience. As an example, one of my ex-girlfriends went to Costa Rica for a month and spent the entire time working directly under a large animal vet as, for all intents and purposes, slave labor. However, she came out with 400 hours or so of large animal experience. Besides the aforementioned working in vet offices (And no, you don't need to be a certified vet tech, depending on the vet... talk to them, they'll tell you best), you can also work with large shelters that have their own veterinarians, zoos, and livestock breeding facilities.

Start talking to admissions people with the schools you want to go to. There aren't that many schools in the U.S... making contacts at them is essential before you apply. In fact, you should've been doing this for the past few years. If you have problems getting in to a school and are made of money, Ross U. in Jamaica will accept just about anyone ... ... but it's hideously expensive to go there, isn't a very safe place to be, and then you have to transfer to a school stateside to complete your final year.
posted by SpecialK at 4:38 PM on June 27, 2010

I know the vet at St.Clair Animal Hospital (Dr. Stanley) also teaches classes in St. Louis--although I don't remember at which college. (The clinic is in Fairview Heights). So she might be more familiar with recent educational requirements. I also know her and her staff are incredibly helpful with whatever crazy tangentially pet-related question I've called with in the past 20 years. (When I was ten I got the chicken pox and was scared that I would give them to my kittens...she ended up giving us more information about chicken pox than my pediatrician did!) I'm sure "I want to be a vet when I grow up! What do I do?" will be one of the least weird questions they've answered.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 4:45 PM on June 27, 2010

There are few vet schools in the US, and they are competitive and expensive. You might want to check out some schools in the Caribbean. (Based on talking to my vet-to-be friend.)
posted by domnit at 4:55 PM on June 27, 2010

My wife is a vet, and is actually starting back to school THIS MONTH, for her residency in internal medicine.

I will get her thoughts and either me-mail you or post them up on here tomorrow.

But, from what I know, having been with her through the entire thing, from applying to graduating and doing an internship, practicing in a clinic, and then deciding to go back to specialize, here's what I've seen.

There are less than 40 vet schools in the US and alot of people wanting to be vets, so things are pretty competitive. She applied three times and finally got accepted, so if you are serious, apply to all of the schools you can, even if you don't want to go to that school

Yes, IT IS EXPENSIVE! INSANELY EXPENSIVE! Make sure you become a resident of the state you end up going to vet school in (sounds strange, but we're right on the border here and could easily live in a neighboring state, but can't or else we'll be paying out of state tuition).

The hands on hours are pretty insane, yes, but she worked full time as a tech and in a lab for science animals, which payed really well and gave her some pretty interesting experience. Don't just look at being a tech, but look at the local college in their agricultural department for jobs for hours. I would suggest also applying for a position at the university's vet school. Be very selective about the practice you work for, because not all vets are made the same (some practice better medicine and you'll want to learn from them!)

As I said, it is VERY EXPENSIVE- so look into any and all financial aid options. Check to see if you can get any sort of grant/scholarship or anything and between now and when you start, make sure you save every single penny you can to pay your way through school. Don't expect to work, you can, but you'll kill yourself.
posted by TheBones at 5:00 PM on June 27, 2010

Best answer: The joke at work is that first-year vet students see more of me than they do of their spouses and families. In fact, they know me so well that this effectively 'outs' me if any of them read this.

Start talking to specific admissions counselors at specific schools, because the people who are telling you 'YOU NEED X GPA TO GET IN' are only partly correct, and a 3.7 with a stellar GRE plus something extra in your background that makes you stand out and fantastic personally tailored recommendations from the 'right people' are more likely to get you the secondary application or an interview. You need experience and a hook for the admissions committee on your personal statement. Study for the GRE. Volunteer at a clinic. Do some large animal experience or public health or food safety, because that's where the deficit is, and vet schools are looking for them. Still, there's a reason people say 'plan on applying twice.'

Nationally, vet schools are increasing out-of-state acceptance because they are getting hit hard by budget crises and cuts, and they need to pay for new facilities. One example: over the course of the next few years, Auburn is increasing their class size by a third--I believe. 90 students to 120. Not sure how many will be out of state--this is what I've heard through the grapevine.

Ross...isn't in the greatest area, it's true. It is expensive. You have to study your butt off and pass an exam to be allowed to complete your clinical year in the States--which are contracted out with other veterinary schools here. If you clear that exam, the Ross students/interns/residents I've known have been in the same range of ability as their peers in state-side schools. But that is a hell of an exam. In my opinion, the Caribbean schools can get people where they need to go, so don't discount it. Ross students get internships and residencies, too.

Right now, however, the other huge problem is debt. Even with the new repayment regulations (I think it's 10% of your income, whatever that may be, for 20 years, and the rest is forgiven, unless you pay it all back earlier) you absolutely must consider what the amount of debt you would take on will do. Please do this. I'm not trying to talk you out of vet med. You simply should start planning now how you're going to minimize expenses at all levels if you really want this. You need to look at interest and what you want to do in the next several years. I am truly pleading with you on behalf of all of the well-intentioned, otherwise bright students encouraged by various people to 'max out' their loans who then walked into their exit financial counseling sessions and found out what that encouragement will cost them. Take a financial planning course of some sort if you don't have that background. Free, community-college, one of the non-profit adult-education offerings, whatever: get solid financial education so you don't get hosed by inexperience, the system, and the subconscious belief that this will all work out in the end when you have a job.

Several of my friends and ex-students have gone through periods of unemployment already, and others are looking at gaps between graduation/internship and finding work, and it's a hell of a burden when your loan payments are due. And these are qualified, capable veterinarians whom I'd hand my personal pets over to in a heartbeat. So far they've all eventually landed back on their feet, but even in a technical shortage of veterinarians, jobs that fit other criteria for your life--like in a region you'd prefer to live--are hard to match. People with solid jobs are keeping them, so the level of turnover/retirement is slower than predicted.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:25 PM on June 27, 2010

Echoing TheBones: please don't expect to hold a 'real job' in vet school. A few hours a week, maybe. Work during the summers, too. But during the year there are extra-curriculars you'll want to be involved in at some point (a few of which pay or give clinical experience). And studying. And long class days.

YOU DO NOT WANT TO HIT THE WEEK THREE/FOUR WALL UNPREPARED OR OVEREXTENDED. (The Week Three/Four Wall is when exams start first semester of first year, and suddenly all trace of undergrad-level ideas about what students think courses expect evaporate in the face of reality, and early in the next week, students show up in my office in tears, looking like the universe collapsed on them. I hate the Wall. Students who hit it hate the Wall.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:37 PM on June 27, 2010

Best answer: If you have a vet for your pets, start there. Ask if you can come in and observe, then show up at exactly the times you requested and don't leave early. Be a silent presence while in the exam room, save the questions for the back. Don't jump in and try to help with restraint, that opens the vet to insurance liability issues that are a huge headache.

Variety is key, try to get hours in several practices. My hours were split between a cat hospital, a small animal general clinic, a humane society, a race track, a large animal traveling vet and (this was HUGE during my interview) some food animal quality assurance observation. The field needs more people who will work with food animals, so that will give you a great edge.

Getting into a program is going to be incredibly competitive, there are some things you can do to increase your chances. Any grad work in the biology is helpful. Getting great letters helps, you will get your reference letters from the vets you shadow, but please only ask vets that you worked with more than a few hours. I found that being a 4.0 student with a double major in bio and chem put me in the middle of the pack, it was by no means a guarantee for admission. A solid math background is also expected, everyone I went to school with had at least two semesters of calc and two semesters of stats, which you will be grateful for second year.

I wouldn't waste time getting a vet tech certificate, as you it doesn't allow you to do much more than an assistant. If you can get hours as an assistant, thats great, just be mindful that the hospital's first priority is going to be you as an employee, not you as a potential vet school applicant.

Good Luck! Feel free to contact me if you have further questions!
posted by Nickel Pickle at 5:39 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Another note: some of those veterinarians are taking the university/academic jobs as 'lab/research technicians,' jobs that in other economies would be filled by LVTs or people with a bachelor's in a biological/health science and some hands-on experience. The opportunities in academia that were available several years ago to get your foot in the door are no longer there. In all honesty, I would be under-qualified in this economy to get my current job. Whenever I leave, I expect they will look for someone with a completed master's degree, post-bac certification in health education, or an LVT/BS in conjunction with one of the above programs in progress. Because right now they can get them.

That's why I suggest volunteering, because you can find that and work it around a job that pays your bills.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:54 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your GPA is fine. Anytime you hear someone say if you don't have a 3.9 or 4.0 then you won't get in, ignore it. I just completed a program where people were being told if you didn't have a 4.0 then you would never be accepted. Yet, at least 3 of my classmates had 3.3-3.5 GPAs. If your GPA meets or exceeds the minimum requirement of the *school* (not what people are just telling you) then apply. Right now focus on doing really well in your remaining prereqs and making contacts to give you stellar recommendation letters for academics/hands-on experience.

As far as someone's advice to quit while you're ahead if academics aren't your strong suit I'd like to share a story of a guy that went to my University. He had been out of school for a while and failed the entrance exam miserably. He had to take remedial EVERYthing. But he kept at it and eventually earned his undergrad degree with an average GPA. He applied to Texas A&M Vet School. He was waitlisted due to his less than stellar GPA. After a while he was taken off the waitlist and admitted. He absolutely loved the program and did well. Graduated in the top 10 (might have been top 5, can't remember for sure) in his class. He's now a vet in my old hometown.

If being a vet is something you're passionate about, DO IT! Good luck to you.
posted by GlowWyrm at 7:40 PM on June 27, 2010

A friend of mine did this - majored in something else in college, then decided she wanted to be a vet so she had to go back and do the science pre-req courses. She's now a vet in her first job. Two points about vet school:

1. She is one of the most organized, conscientious, academically intense people I know. She is the person who had her papers done weeks before they were due in college. Even she found vet school to be at the limits of what she could handle, in terms of the volume of material you have to learn in a short time. To get through it you will need to be a very good student in all the traditional ways - organized notes, flash cards, spend a ton of time studying then study some more, use your time effectively, etc. If you have coasted on your wits during college, you will not be able to do that in vet school.

2. She has no free time. Hasn't had free time since she started vet school; she works alll the time. Fortunately she loves the work. But be aware of this - vet school is like med school, in terms of the time commitment during school and the next few years out with very intense post-degree placements that are like residencies and whatnot.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:18 PM on June 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone.

Flood: I have already been volunteering at the APA (animal protective agency). I work there as an animal care assistant, but I need more hours to start volunteering in the small animal clinic there, and I'm not sure if that would be good enough to count as vet experience, I'll have to see.

fshgrl: I will have three years' worth of research experience by the time I graduate, but it will have been in a physics lab doing NMR work with metal hydrides. If they're looking for bio research, I may be out of luck, since I'd be getting a lot of my pre-reqs out of the way at a school that doesn't do much research. Any ideas on how to get that onto my resume?

GlowWyrm: Thanks for the support. I'm planning on blowing the pre-req courses I'm taking out of the water, since I've finally found something that I'm not just ho-hum about. I'd also like to defend my honor by saying that I got the 3.7 while taking upper level physics courses at a very hard school, so hopefully that will also count for something.

Also, some general questions, if anyone checks back here. As far as the grades and tests go, and not to say that I won't be just as neurotic about my grades as anyone, but do your grades in individual classes in vet school matter, or do people mostly pay attention to how you do on the overall test at the end?

Also, if anyone has any suggestions about paying for the education, I'm all ears. Grants, scholarships, loans, etc, any way that I can do this without completely screwing myself.
posted by hoperaiseshell at 10:16 AM on June 28, 2010

Yeah I didn't mean to imply that a 3.7 is a bad gpa. It's not. And a 3.7 in physics more than trumps 3.7 gpas in say...English or Psychology. You're not going to have a problem keeping up in vet school at all.
posted by GlowWyrm at 6:22 PM on June 28, 2010

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