Below are my answers to the most frequently asked questions that I receive. I hope that my answers can offer some guidance on your journey to becoming a vet student. Note: I am a veterinary student, and I am not able to answer medical questions about your pet's health, It is also illegal in most countries for vets to offer veterinary advice to your pets over social media. If your pet requires medical attention, it is best to take them into your local veterinarian, it is in the best interest of your pet to be assessed in person.
Vet School FAQ
1. What did you do in high school to prepare for/get into vet school?
Many people love animals, but do not realize that they need to have a passion for science as well to become a veterinarian. The road to becoming a vet is not easy and you need to have a genuine passion for both science and animals to get through. In my opinion, the best thing you can do in high school to prepare for college, and later vet school, would be to 1) take some science classes in high school (especially biology) and see if you like the material and 2) shadow veterinarians to see if you like the daily duties of the job.
There are several volunteer opportunities you can seek in high school that will give you animal handling experience. Such opportunities include working at a horse stables, shadowing a veterinarian, and volunteering at animal shelters, zoos, and wildlife sanctuaries. Veterinarians are part of a very supportive community, every vet that I have reached out to shadow has been very helpful, and shelters are always in dire need of volunteers.
Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy high school. I know that you may be nervous about grades, SATs, getting into college, etc., but you have many years of studying ahead of you and it's important to enjoy your high school years and not burn yourself out too early.
2. What did you do while obtaining your bachelor’s degree to prepare for/get into vet school?
Before starting the DVM program I completed a zoology degree in California. A degree in zoology, pre-veterinary medicine, animal science, and even general biology will all prepare you well for vet school.
To get more exposure/experience in animal handling I would recommend that you volunteer or get a position as a vet nurse. Most applicants have a lot of clinical volunteer/work hours to list on their application, I think what made me stand out as an applicant was my extensive research experience.
I completed two research projects while obtaining my undergraduate degree; one was a two-year project under the supervision of a professor at my university and the other was a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) summer internship that I completed in my last year (see next question for more details). I could show on my vet school applications that these research experiences have led to me to think critically, analytically and creatively, allowing me to uniquely contribute to and advance my program, school and profession.
Communication is an important skill to have in vet school (and the veterinary profession). The communication skills I developed while presenting my research include the ability to speak before large groups, convey complex information in plain language, as well as propose and persuade ideas to others.
3. How can I get myself connected with internships as an undergrad student and is there any specific types of internships that you think give us a better chance in the pool for graduate school?
Internships are a wonderful way to gain more animal handling or research experience meanwhile also boosting your resume and making you stand out as an applicant! There are many summer internships available so that you can ideally work at a vet clinic while taking classes, and then complete an internship, such as a zoo or research internship, while you’re on break from university.
I completed an REU during my last summer of my undergraduate degree, and I know that this internship strengthened my graduate school applications and contributed to my acceptance into some of the best universities in the world.
What is an REU? REU stands for Research Experiences for Undergraduates, and they are paid internships, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). My program in particular was also supported by Duke University and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP). These programs occur during the summer and are aimed at students who are interested in conducting scientific research at a graduate level.
REU Programs are offered around the United States, and in some cases (like mine) institutions will fund research outside the country. Each institution that hosts an REU program has the freedom to make the experience unique, however, there are many similarities across all of them. Each student works under the guidance of an advisor on a project that can be finished by the end of the summer (most programs last about 10 weeks). My Experience: My REU project was titled Social organization in day and night roosts of the Proboscis Bat (Rhynchonycteris naso). I was given the opportunity to spend a summer in the tropical rainforest of Costa Rica studying Bat behavior. Leaving the city of Los Angeles where buildings and cement surrounded me, and spending the summer in the forests of Costa Rica where you can see beautiful animals and plants everywhere you look made this a dream internship for a young zoologist like myself. This internship taught me so much about how to be a successful researcher and carry out a scientific experiment.
Benefits of an REU: Not only do REU Programs give you the chance to get to know students with similar interests from across the nation while living in a new city for a couple of months, they also give you insight into the life of graduate school. You will strengthen your research, team working, writing, and presentation skills. After completing the project, I presented our research at four national and regional conferences, providing me with further networking opportunities.
In summary, participating in a summer research program was a blast! I made memories and friendships with my fellow interns that I will forever cherish. Plus, I strengthened my academic and research skills, as well as my resume and graduate school application. For anyone looking for research experience in the field of ecology, I would highly recommend the REU through the Organisation for Tropical Studies at La Selva Biological Station. Field projects cover a wide range of topics including botany, invertebrate and vertebrate zoology, and behavioural ecology. The program is run incredibly well with mentors and a coordinator whom are passionate about helping students reach their full potential within the program.
4. Why did you choose to complete Vet School in Australia?
I chose to study internationally because as a US citizen, unless I went to an in-state public school, going out of the country would cost the same as attending school in another state or a private university within my state. Coming from California, I only had two in-state schools to choose from and I wasn't interested in either. Thus, I decided to consider schools elsewhere.
When applying to international schools my # 1 recommendation would be to apply to schools that are AVMA accredited if you plan to practice in the USA. I only applied to schools that were AVMA accredited because I did not want my options for jobs and/or internships to be limited after graduation.
Some of the things that I considered about going international were the additional costs (cost of living, travelling to and from home, etc.). Australia had a slightly higher cost of living, however the US dollar is about 30% stronger then the Australian dollar and it is predicted to stay that way for a while, so I think of everything (including my tuition) as being about 30% off. I worried that I would feel homesick being away, especially because vet school can be very tough, but I have some family friends here in Australia whom I visit on the holidays, and I decided to have roommates for company (having roommates also keeps housing costs down).
5. What is the admissions process like for Australian Vet Schools?
The universities in Australia have both a 6-year and a 4-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. If you have not completed an undergraduate degree, then you can apply to start it here and they offer an accelerated program where you can complete your DVM and undergrad degree in 6 years (rather than 8 like in the US). If you are already working on your undergrad, then you can apply just to the 4-year post graduate program.
I didn’t apply for any U.S. schools; however, I did work on an application and it seemed to mainly focus on detailing the classes you have taken and animal related work experience. Australian applications were very straight forward, each school varied a bit, but in general you submitted your undergraduate course work transcript, and a personal statement/what you have learned from your veterinary work experience that has prepared you for the program.
6. Can you offer any tips for my vet school application?
For your veterinary school application, I would suggest that you really play up to your strengths. What makes you unique? Nearly every pre-vet student has wanted to become a vet since they were kids because they love animals, and while that may be the case for you (as it was for me as well) the admissions office hears this same story all of the time and it doesn't make you stand out from the crowd. When applying to schools, I took a different approach to it; my personal statement focused on my biological research background because I knew that is something that many other applicants don't have, I described that veterinary medicine combines both my love for animals and passion for science. Find a unique story or angle to your application to make you stand out.
7. What are your study habits/tips?
My study habits have changed drastically from undergrad to vet school. In my undergrad, I had time to rewrite notes, make pretty flashcards, and revise, revise, revise. Now in vet school, there is so much material that I had to adjust my study habits. However, what works for me may not necessarily work for you, everyone studies a bit differently based on their learning style.
Above is a link to different learning styles; understanding how you learn will help guide you as to what study tips would be most helpful to you. I am a kinaesthetic learner; I benefit most from hands on learning. Understanding this has helped me use my time most proficiently. For example, I take a lot more away from labs than I do for lectures, so I make sure to be fully prepared before each dissection or lab session so that I can get the most out of it.
8. What inspires you to pursue a veterinary career?
Pets are invaluable members of the family; however, providing the appropriate level of health care for them becomes a challenge when resources and funding are limited. Coming from a socio-economically disadvantaged household, I personally understand the challenge of providing quality healthcare to your pets.
Taking care of a pet can nurture kindness, compassion, and personal responsibility in children. Having pets in our household enhanced my childhood; however, my family struggled with costs of vet bills. My local veterinarian had a passion for educating clients on the importance of animal health and inspired me to develop my communication skills to serve as a public health educator. I have experienced the impact that a veterinarian can make on a family’s well-being, and this has inspired me to pursue a career in veterinary medicine so that I can educate pet owners while saving their animal companions.
9. After graduation, what do you want to specialize in?
While I am passionate about conservation and wildlife, I am also interested in equine medicine and small animal welfare. I believe that my generation will play a pivotal role in rectifying some of the damage that climate change has had on the planet and I want to contribute to that cause.
Most veterinary students change their field of interest at least once throughout vet school, thus I am keeping my mind open to whatever prospects may come. The world is full of opportunities and I want to try as many as I possibly can.
10. What has been your favorite subject so far in vet school?
Anatomy has been my favorite subject so far in vet school. I am a kinesthetic learner, I learn best when I can touch and feel something so dissections and anatomy are subjects that are very tangible for me.
11. Is it hard knowing that you love animals, but will have to put them down?
Putting down animals will be extremely difficult; however seeing an animal suffering from unnecessary endless pain would be even more difficult. Veterinarians are compassionate, hard-working, good people; they pour their heart and soul into their work and would not reccomend euthanasia of your beloved companion unless it was necessary to prevent the animal from suffering any further pain.
I have heard from many veterinary professionals that one of the biggest frustrations of the job is knowing that there are medical options available to potentially save the animal, but the owners opts not to continue with treatment. Veterinary care can be expensive, but if your veterinarian is recommending a diagnostic test, treatment, or surgical option for your pet, they are doing so with your beloved animal companion's best interest in mind.
12. What is the most challenging part about becoming/being a veterinarian?
I always thought that getting into veterinary school would be the hardest thing that I had to do; it is extremely competitive and it’s difficult to achieve high marks in the pre-requisite classes while obtaining the years of clinical and animal handling experience that you need to have a competitive application for U.S. vet schools. But I was wrong! Vet school itself has been an incredibly challenging.
First year in vet school I took some really hard emotional blows. I didn't receive the marks I had expected on my exams. I had always excelled in school up until this point and it was incredibly challenging to face the fact that I was not the top of my class anymore, I felt like I was just barely scrapping by. I heard that many vet students face this same challenge; the university gathers a cohort of the best and the brightest all in one room and then sets a new curve. Even though I knew this was a common phenomenon in vet school, I somehow thought that I would be unaffected by it. I thought that I didn't care what marks I received, so long as I was learning what I needed to become a great vet, but over time my confidence began to quiver and my exam anxiety rose.
It's really hard to work your butt off for a subject, going through each lecture several times, staying up late and waking up early to study each day, give up your social life and not seeing a single soul outside of vet school for months, and then have all of that effort be reduced down to a minimal pass or even fail really breaks your confidence. However, what I have learned is that my performance on a few exams does not represent the type of veterinarian that I will be. I know the material, and I know that I will be a compassionate and well educated veterinarian. I have learned that I can't gain my confidence from my university marks as I used to, but instead by recognizing how much I have learned and grown as a student.
13. What is the most difficult challenge that you have faced?
Vet school has been a bunch of highs and lows. I can only speak from my experience, but there are times were you have so much to study that you don't literally don't go outside besides walking between classes for weeks, and there are times were you're so overwhelmed and stressed that you don't think you're going to make it through the semester. I think that stress occurs at every school. however, at every school you also grow an incredible bond with your class mates because they are walking through the fire with you and no matter where you go, you will always have the support of your family and friends.
There have been times were I've called my best friend whom I haven't spoken to in months to cry and vent and she was just there for me, to encourage me to stick with it because "pressure makes diamonds" and "tough times don't last, but tough people do." Vet school is tough and there is no denying that, but in the big scheme of things, it is only a few tough years that will set you up for a wonderful career.
That being said, some schools do offer a better student experience than others. What I wish I had done before choosing a school was have lunch with a few different vet students from each school and ask them what their experiences were like, if they liked their faculty, what support the faculty offers students, etc. Truth be told, if I had done that, I probably wouldn't be at the university I am now. I was too focused on the rankings and not on student happiness.
The support that your receive from the faculty plays a large role in student happiness. If I could turn back the clock, I would've investigated my university better.
Some things i think are important to enquire about are:
What are the teacher to student ratio in labs? In some of my labs there are 130 students to two professors which makes it really difficult to ask questions.
What sort of support and counselling systems are available for students? Vet school can be very stressful and your university should recognize this and offer some sort of support for their students.
Does the university help you find external placements? Some universities really help their students apply for externships by telling them where and when they can apply, while others leave it totally up to the student. It was disappointing to hear that I had missed out on applying for a competitive zoo final year externship because the deadline was mid-year first year. I didn't even know to start looking for externships that early, and I had only heard that I missed the opportunity from friends at another university where they informed their students and gave them the information on how to apply.
Do the professors offer office hours, and if so, does your schedule allow you the time to meet with them? My schedule during my first two years of vet school consisted of classes or labs from 9am-5pm everyday with an hour off for lunch. The work week of most professors in Australia overlap with that schedule and I found it really difficult to schedule meetings with my professors.
But I don't want to just focus on the negatives, I have also had some absolutely wonderful experiences in school, most of which have come from my class mates and external placements.
14. Where are you from?
I grew up in the small mountain town in California. I would wake up to the whistles of blue jays in the morning, and fall asleep to the bellows of coyotes at night. While opportunities were very limited, growing up in a small town surrounded by forest, I learned to appreciate nature.
15. What is your favorite animal?
I truly love all animals, but I would have to say that my favorite domestic animal is the dog. Dogs truly are man’s best friend. I love coming home to a dog's wagging tail and excitement.
16. What made you want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine?
I grew up caring for many different types of pets and can’t think of a more satisfying career than to be saving animals lives on a daily basis. Veterinary medicine combines my love for animals with my passion for science. By shadowing physicians, I discovered that one of the aspects of the profession that entices me most is the wide range of activities and responsibilities that a veterinarian performs. Within a day a veterinarian can work on a wide range of cases varying from cancer, to general illness, to injury, to births. Every day serves new mysteries and challenges.
17. What is something in the field of veterinary science that I wish I could change?
I'm proud of my Mexican-American heritage and I am grateful for my family and the challenges and adversity that they had to overcome to provide me with the opportunities I have today. Only 5% of veterinary medicine students are Latino, despite the fact that Latinos account for over 16% of the overall population according to the 2010 US Census Bureau.I hope to see an increased number of minority people in the field of veterinary medicine in the future.
Amongst increasing the amount of diversity in the field of veterinary medicine, I also hope that the stereotype of women in the field changes. While women make up the majority of students in veterinary school, after telling people that I am a vet student, I often get responses such as “you don’t look like a vet student”, “do you only work with cats and dogs...because you need to be a strong man to work with the larger animals”? I hope that in the future the title veterinarian will not be associated with people of any color or gender. I hope that being being a hispanic feminine veterinarian will not be a surprise.
18. Where did you complete your bachelor’s degree?
Before starting Vet School, I completed a bachelor’s degree in Zoology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (also known as Cal Poly Pomona or simply CPP). The classes I took for my undergraduate degree prepared me for graduate studies and a career in medicine. I benefitted from the small class sizes at CPP and the hands-on learning approach that the science faculty implemented. The school motto of CPP was “Learn By Doing” and they offered more laboratory units per class than most other universities.
At CPP, I was selected to become a Ronald E. McNair Scholar for which I completed a research project which focused on the geographic variation of sexual dimorphism amongst populations of the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea). The Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program aims to increase the number of first generation, low-income and/or underrepresented students in graduate programs by providing them with faculty mentorship, and a series of skill building workshops. Becoming a McNair Scholar opened many doors for me; I am extremely grateful and indebted to the program.
19. What did you get your bachelor’s degree in?
I obtained a bachelor’s degree in Zoology; however, there are other degrees which you can pursue that will equally prepare you for graduate course work in veterinary medicine such as general biology, and animal science. For any student who is interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, I would recommend that you consider the pre-requisite course work (aka. courses that you need to have taken before applying to the university) from a few schools that you are interested in attending in the future and see what major offered at your undergraduate institution best matches those courses. You can also consult with an academic counselor at your undergraduate institution for assistance.
Each vet school will differ slightly in their pre-requisites, so it’s good to do your research well before starting your application to ensure that you don’t miss anything. For example, most vet schools do not require you to take a course in animal nutrition prior to admission, however, the University of Austin Texas does. So, if you want to apply there you must make sure that you have taken that extra course beforehand. You don’t want to find out that you can’t apply to a university that you were interested in just because you are missing one little requirement.
20. Is it difficult studying in another country away from your family and friends?
I miss my family and friends from back home so much, but I am extremely grateful for Skype, Facetime, and a cheap international calling plan that enables me to speak to them often. Talking to them over the phone isn’t the same as being with them in person of course, but I truly believe that distance means so little when someone means so much. When there is a will, there is a way and while it’s tough being away from loved ones, it will all be worth it in the end and I am incredibly lucky to have a network of people who understand that and support me.