When I was 14 years old, I decided I wanted to become a veterinarian. I liked animals. I had a horse, a dog, and my bedroom was home to eight aquariums. But there was something that deepened my passion—James Herriot. The books written about that fictional veterinarian told me that’s what I want to do.
I also had a passion for the sciences. I enjoyed learning about the body and how it worked. My drive to become a veterinarian was what defined me in my teens. Years later, I graduated, proud to be called a doctor.
If you want to work in an animal hospital, you could become a veterinarian, veterinary technician, or veterinary assistant. Which one is right for you?
A veterinarian is the doctor. Like all of these jobs, we see both men and women in this profession. In fact, women now make up over 80 percent of graduating classes.
Veterinarians figure out the problem and care the animal needs—what tests to do, what surgery or medication is needed, and even what vaccines to give.
Becoming a vet requires four years of university study, followed by four more years at a veterinary college. Competition is fierce and it takes dedication. For some, spending so many years at university just isn’t feasible. But there are other jobs in the field that call for less schooling.
Veterinary technicians work closely with the animals. After a two-year college program, they can administer anesthetics, take and analyze blood samples, perform dental procedures, take radiographs, and discuss follow-up care with clients.
Then, there is the growing field of the veterinary assistant. This person helps the tech or vet. Job duties are similar to those of a technician but the tech takes the reins as the one in charge, with direct responsibility for the patient care.
You can become a veterinary assistant through a six-month course, which can be taken in person or online. Some hospitals help by providing a mentorship while you are taking the course.
While you are in school, there are two things that you must do to prepare—take the right courses and get some experience. The sooner you start, the better.
The right courses are, of course, biology, chemistry, and math. You must excel at these subjects.
For the exact prerequisite courses to apply to any school, check out their websites for veterinary assistant, veterinary technician, and veterinarian. Find a college or program close to you in your state.
Second, you need experience. That was my focus when I was in high school. I volunteered with an equine (horse) veterinarian, going out on calls with him every weekend. I learned tons, saw what veterinarians do, and it put my learning into a practical perspective.
After that, I found work every Saturday cleaning kennels at a small-animal (dog and cat) veterinary hospital. This wasn’t a classy job, but I was inside the hospital, soaking up knowledge.
Experience like this helps you decide if you want to do this work. You can also put it on your college application. Most schools require minimum hours of life experience to even apply.
If you want to work with animals, pick your career and find out what you need to do now to get started. You can begin by taking an online class. You are never too young to start turning a love of animals into a calling that lasts a lifetime