Skip to main content

Veterinarian (DVM)

Veterinarian (DVM)


What do veterinarians do?

Veterinarians provide health care to animals, performing physical examinations, ordering and interpreting tests, making diagnoses, prescribing medications and performing surgical, reproductive, and other procedures. Veterinarians often practice in their own clinics but can also be associated with larger animal hospitals including ones at a veterinary college. They also work with governmental agencies such as the USDA. Veterinarians may choose to specialize (requires additional residency training) or to restrict their practice only to certain species. The trend is for more to choose companion animal medicine, often in urban areas, while there is an ever-growing need for additional practitioners to treat large animals in more rural areas.

What training is required to become a veterinarian?

Veterinarians must complete a four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in an accredited program. There are currently 32 accredited programs in the US, almost all at public, land-grant universities. Few states have more than one vet college and those without one generally contract with a program in a neighboring state to take a certain number of residents of their state. For example, Iowa State University contracts with both Nebraska (for the final 2 years) and North Dakota (for entire program). The programs include both didactic training (classroom) and clinical rotations. Graduates must then pass the NAVLE (North American Veterinary Licensure Exam) before being licensed to practice. An internship may be required in some states and residency training will be required for certain for specialization.

How do I best prepare for admission to a veterinary program?

Coursework: The requirements for the Genetics major include all of the prerequisites for admission to a DVM program provided you include some anatomy and physiology coursework. The Biomedical Sciences (B M S) department in the College of Veterinary Medicine offers a good preparatory course, B M S 329 (Anatomy and Physiology of Domestic Animals) open to undergraduates or you could take BIOL 335 (Physiology of Humans and Other Animals) and BIOL 351 (Comparative Anatomy) to meet these requirements. We strongly encourage you to add courses in the Animal Sciences department, possibly earning an Animal Sciences minor. Several AN S courses can be used to fulfill the advanced science electives in the Genetics major: AN S 331 (Domestic Animal Reproduction), 332 (Laboratory Methods in Animal Reproduction), 333 (Embryo Transfer and Related Technologies), 345 (Growth and Development of Domestic Animals), and 352 (Genetic Improvement of Domestic Animals) as can the 300 level BIOL classes. Because many veterinarians manage their own practices, coursework or a minor in General Business is also a good option. Also note that some programs, including Iowa State’s DVM, require only that a student has earned 90 credits and completed all of the prerequisite coursework. However, if the Genetics degree has not been completed prior to entrance, it is very difficult to complete. (Students given early admission can generally instead earn a BS in Biology provided all the general education coursework was previously completed, that is, DVM courses can be used to meet the advanced Biology electives.) You should strive to earn a GPA higher than 3.5 in order to be competitive for admission to a DVM program.

Other Recommendations: It is imperative to get hands on experience through job shadowing, working in a veterinary clinic, or working in a lab in the Animal Sciences Department or in the College of Veterinary Medicine. We are also fortunate to have the National Animal Disease Center (NADC, equivalent to the CDC for human health), located here in Ames. Investigators there do research on infectious, genetic, and metabolic diseases in animals; several Genetics students have worked in NADC labs. You should consider joining the Pre-Veterinary Club whose members regularly volunteer at local animal shelters. As with other intended careers, research or teaching experience can be beneficial and helpful in garnering individualized and meaningful letters of recommendation from supervisors.

The Application Process: While in the past DVM programs have required the GRE or MCAT exam, some schools, notably Iowa State University, are no longer requiring these. (See more for information on preparing to take the MCAT on our Physician page.) Applications are made through VMCAS (Veterinary Medicine Colleges Admissions Services) coordinated by the Association of American Veterinary Colleges or AAVMC, with supplemental applications to the schools you are considering. Keep in mind that the deadline for applying to ISU’s DVM program is very early (September 15, 2020 for Fall 2021 entrance). Two or more letters of recommendation and an interview are also required. More advice can be found here


Dr. Michael Khan

Education: BS Genetics, ISU, 2012; DVM, University of Florida, 2019

Current Position: Postdoc/Resident, University of North Carolina

Dr. Michael Khan

After my residency I plan to stay in academics at a veterinary institution as their behaviorist. The genetics program gave me a great scientific background to explore my interests and exposed me to a wealth of topics. I feel like I can bring a unique view point to my area of medicine because of my undergraduate course work, and has been a great talking point during the many interviews I've had during my career.