Dear Pet Docs,
Did you always know you wanted to be a veterinarian? I am a second year computer sciences major but am seriously considering a change to a pre-veterinary program. Becoming a vet is, actually, my dream career, but I worry about not being accepted to vet school at first, or at all. I am told its harder than medical school to get in. Then I’d be left with a degree that may not help me much in other fields. What would you advise?
Your question is very reasonable. Should you risk pursuing a degree for the sole purpose of gaining admission to veterinary school, when the odds of acceptance are low. The risk is failure and a missed educational opportunity. The reward is achieving your life’s dream.
Although reasonable, your concerns may not be completely supported by the facts. For example, there is an often-repeated myth that getting into vet school is harder than getting into medical school. Statistically, 50 percent of vet school applicants eventually gain admission, which is approximately the same rate of acceptance as medical school. There are currently 30 veterinary colleges in the United States, which graduate approximately 3,000 students every year.
You are not required to have a pre-veterinary degree, but you do have to complete prerequisite courses, which include math and sciences, regardless of your actual degree. You can visit the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges website, aavmc.org for more specific information.
I (Henri Bianucci) earned a bachelor’s degree in Business and Administration. Like you, I always dreamed of being a veterinarian, but as I completed high school, my parents were divorcing, and my father’s business was evaporating. Given our family financial situation, I could hardly imagine spending the next eight years in pursuit of a veterinary degree.
To my 18-year-old mind, spending nearly half of the time I had been alive, in school, and not helping out my family was hard to imagine. I, too, was concerned about investing all of that time studying and, possibly, not even being admitted to a vet program. So, I folded. I took the safer, quicker route. I decided I would get a business degree and begin earning money as fast as possible.
After graduation, I went straight to work. I began as an executive trainee for a mid-size, very successful manufacturing firm. I loved my employer, the money was good and my future prospects were great. The problem was that I felt no satisfaction from the work. I was doing it purely for the money.
Two years later, I was at the family lake house of my future wife, Susan. It was a classic large and crowded summer dinner table. They had guests in from France, and one was a boy who was about to begin college. Someone asked, “What are you going to study?” He answered that he wanted to become a veterinarian. That pleased the group and they asked him many more questions and made encouraging comments.
Then someone said, “Henri used to want to do that.” Someone then joked that another guest had wanted to be a brain surgeon. To this, Susan’s dad, Bob, responded, “Yes, but the difference is that Henri could have been a vet.”
That statement hit me like a ton of bricks. It was as if my dream of being a veterinarian, was finally pronounced dead.
I was always the center of any discussion of becoming a veterinarian. Everyone I ever knew, growing up, expected that of me. When I would say what I studied, or what my job was, people who knew me would say, “Hmm, I always thought you would have been a vet.”
Somewhere, deep down I still believed that it could somehow happen. But Bob’s statement slapped me with the reality that I was letting my dream slip away.
The next night, I was talking with my mom. I told her I was really considering whether to take all of the science courses I would need, so that I would qualify to apply to vet school. She could barely contain her enthusiasm for this, which she also knew was my destiny. I told her it would take two years to complete my requirements. Then, if I was accepted on the first try, it would be four years of vet school.
I exclaimed “I will be 30 when I graduate.” Her calm reply was, “Henri, you will turn 30 whether you like it or not. The only question is; what will you be doing with your life when you are 30?”
The next discussion was with my employer, Nick. Nick was about the only one who did not see me as a vet. He saw me as his protege, and he had great plans for me in his firm. So, I was nervous when I told him what I was thinking.
Nick said, “What do you see yourself doing, ideally, five years from now?”
My answer was, “Practicing as a vet?”
It was not really what he wanted to hear, but he replied, “Then that’s what you have to pursue. You may be very successful working here. But if you don’t love it, you will be miserable despite the money.”
He told me to shape my schedule around school and gave me a job until I was accepted to vet school two years later.
Sometimes it takes the wisdom of others to prod you in the direction you already know you should follow. If this is truly your dream, don’t let your fears derail it.
Work hard, get good grades, and remember; you at least have a 50/50 shot of realizing it. If you never try, the odds are 100 percent that you will not.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.