A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, or DVM, is a professional program that trains students in the care of domestic and exotic animals. Veterinary medicine programs may cover the care of farm animals or exotic animals in a zoo. Graduates may go on to work in veterinary hospitals, medical or research laboratories, or for colleges and universities. The main areas of the profession are in care for cattle, companion, and sporting animals, preventative medicine, and public health.
The practice of veterinary medicine is evolving as tools and practices advance. Due to the advancement of technology there are new and emerging fields veterinarians can explore besides the traditional or mainstream practices. These include environmental science, toxicology, wildlife and conservation medicine, genetic engineering, comparative medicine, biotechnology, cell biology, and human and animal nutrition. Since doctorate programs in veterinary medicine rely heavily on laboratory tools and clinical work, there aren't opportunities to fully study the degree online. However, some programs may offer select courses online.
About Online Doctorate Programs in Veterinary Medicine
Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees typically take about four years to complete, with the first three years consisting of lectures and laboratory work and the final year in clinical rotations. In the beginning, courses consist of didactic teaching and laboratory instruction focusing on the basic biomedical sciences. Students may also become versed in the pathophysiology of specific diseases and their treatment. For an idea of what types of classes to expect during a DMV, here are some currently offered by the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine:
- Veterinary Anatomy . This is the study of the basic structural and functional anatomy of carnivores, horses, and ruminants. Gross morphology is applied to clinical diagnosis, interpretation, surgical, and medical treatment.
- Veterinary Histology . This course is an introduction to basic histology and microscopic anatomy of animal organs. It is intended to provide a foundation in normal tissue and organ structure at the light microscopic level to support later courses in histopathology.
- Veterinary Physiology . This is the study of physiological functions in companion, food, fiber, laboratory, zoo, and wildlife animal species. The course emphasizes fundamentals and the overview of cellular, organ, and regulatory integration. Topics include cells, muscles, blood, respiration, circulation, environmental and regulatory physiology.
- Fundamentals of Veterinary Pharmacology. This course covers general principles of drug action, including dose response, contribution of chemical properties to pharmacokinetics, species differences in response, clinical effects of agonists and antagonists, adverse responses, and comparisons of pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics among subtypes of important drug classes.
- Veterinary Bacteriology and Mycology. Veterinary Microbiology and Mycology involves the study of important bacterial and fungal organisms that cause disease in companion and domestic animals. The course uses clinical cases and practical examples to explore the role of these microorganisms within the context of veterinary practice.
- Clinical Techniques. This course covers restraint techniques for various species of animals commonly seen by veterinarians are demonstrated and practiced. Routine diagnostic and therapeutic procedures are demonstrated and practiced for the major domestic animal species.
Unlike Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., programs, in which the focus is on conducting original research, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine is a professional program that consists of case-based and traditional lectures, laboratory work, and clinical rotations. Some programs may have the option to complete a voluntary thesis before they start their clinical rotation. This would consist of original research conducted in a clinical or laboratory science that contributes new knowledge in the field.
Value and Criticisms of a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinarians must have a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree and a state license to practice. Therefore, having a doctorate in veterinary medicine is the only way to work as a veterinarian. Additionally, students may want to pursue this degree for the opportunity to conduct original research. Veterinary medicine programs are also highly specialized, training doctors in a variety of fields, from companion care to research.
A possible disadvantage is that doctorate programs in veterinary medicine are highly competitive. According to the BLS, there are only 28 colleges that have accredited programs. Since there are limited seats in veterinary medicine programs, not everyone can pursue the degree. These programs can also be costly and can add additional debt on top of undergraduate student debt. They also demand a full-time commitment, which may limit opportunities to earn an income while you pursue the degree. Since there are limited opportunities to take online classes in veterinary medicine you may have to move to attend the school.
Applicants to a doctorate in veterinary medicine program must meet certain undergraduate prerequisites in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, genetics, biochemistry, and mathematics. Exact application documents will vary by program, although applicants can expect to submit an application, application fee, and their academic transcripts, as well as official GRE scores, three letters of evaluation, essays, and a list and description of school and community activities. Potential students may also be required to submit a description of their veterinary, animal, or health science experience in a veterinary, agricultural, research, human health, or biomedical setting.
Career Options&Job Market
More than 80% of veterinarians work in the veterinary services industry, according to the BLS. Others may find employment at colleges or universities, in medical or research laboratories, or in federal, state, or local government agencies. Graduates of a veterinary medicine program may care for companion animals, such as dogs and cats, food and fiber-producing animals, horses, exotic animals, captive aquatic animals, or wildlife species. The BLS expects, employment of veterinarians to grow by 36% from 2010 to 2020 due to the demands of a growing pet population. Since most veterinarians are drawn to companion pet care, making the field competitive, the best opportunities are in large animal practice, public health, and government. The median annual wage earned by veterinarians was $82,040 in May 2010.
Where to Find Information
- American Veterinary Medical Association: This association represents more than 82,500 veterinarians and provides resources on professional development, including a database of accredited veterinary colleges.
- Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges: This veterinary association provides resources for students on careers in veterinary medicine.
- U.S. News&World Report: The college guidebook publishes a list of the top veterinary medicine schools each year.
How to Get Funding
Four years of additional schooling on top of an undergraduate degree can do a number on your finances. Fortunately, there are several ways to receive aid to help you pay for your doctorate. These include federal and state-subsidized loans, as well as scholarships and fellowships which, unlike loans, you don't have to pay back. If you are applying for federal loans remember that you must be attending an accredited school to qualify, as well as fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the deadline.
- Federal Direct Stafford Loan. This aid program offers a low-interest loan with a fixed interest rate of 6.80% for up to $20,500 per academic year.
- Federal Perkins Loan. This low-interest loan awards an average of $3,500 per academic year with a fixed interest rate of 5.0%.
- Campus-Based Aid. Colleges and universities also offer scholarships and fellowship programs, so check with your schools financial aid office to see what you quality for.
- A doctorate in veterinary medicine is necessary for becoming a veterinarian, so it's not a question of whether or not to get the degree but when. Before you apply it's best to figure out how the degree will help you achieve your career goals and serve you in the long run before committing the time and money.
- All states require prospective veterinarians to have completed an accredited veterinary program and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. So when you're considering programs to apply to, it's necessary to apply to accredited programs so that you are eligible to become licensed. Additionally, few states accept licenses from other states, so consider where you'd like to practice once you complete your exam so that you are properly qualified.
- Make sure you give yourself enough time to apply. The application process can be quite involved, from letters of recommendation and personal statements to GRE test scores, so you want to leave enough time to meet all the deadlines. This is also a good idea for applying to any scholarships, fellowships, and federal aid programs.
- It's common for students to jump right from an undergraduate program to graduate school, especially if they're involved in medicine. But work experience can be beneficial. You can get a better sense of what area you'd like to work in, and what the need is in your area, before pursuing a degree. You can also take the time to fulfill any prerequisite courses you need to apply.