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Pre-Veterinarian

Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) are not just small companion animal caregivers – they are teachers, laboratory researchers, disease specialists, and wildlife biologists.  They are actively involved in a wide range of wild and companion animal care, as well as public health concerns. Indeed, a recent (2009) study indicated that there is a shortage of veterinarians who specialize in public health (e.g., zoonotic disease outbreak [CDC], animal health inspection [USDA and APHIS]) – and non-companion animal veterinarians will be in greater demand in coming years.

About Veterinary School

In the U.S., veterinary school lasts for four years with at least one year being dedicated to clinical rotations. Upon completion of veterinary school, graduates must pass a national board examination before being eligible to practice veterinary medicine as a DVM plus a state board exam for the state in which they wish to practice.

Only 28 veterinary medical colleges exist in the United States – many fewer in existence than medical schools. Consequently, competition is quite intense. The average veterinary student has an undergraduate GPA of 3.5 or more and a GRE score of 1350.

Furthermore, state veterinary colleges are allowed to give priority to in-state residents for the few positions that do exist, leaving only a few spots for outstanding out-of-state applicants. Consequently, students at Radford University are strongly encouraged to apply to the veterinary school within their state of residence.

After Veterinary School

Some newly accredited veterinarians (about 40% in 2008) choose to pursue post-doctoral residencies in more specific fields before moving into private practice or other permanent jobs. Specialized programs are numerous, and might include: zoo and wildlife medicine, dentistry, chiropractic medicine, endocrinology, oncology, opthamology, and neurology. Given the acknowledged shortage of veterinarians working in government positions, these post-doctoral experiences are becoming more appealing to veterinary students in recent years.

In order to practice veterinary medicine, graduates in the DVM program also must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). Those who wish to go into private practice must also pass a state board examination for the state in which they plan to practice.

The average salary for new veterinary school graduates in 2012 was about $45,500 (decreasing over the last 5 years)– but this included those continuing on in post-doctorate advanced study programs. Those moving directly into a small animal veterinary practice made about $65,400 on average. Those starting their own business made slightly less. The type of animal practice also influences salary; those in large animal private practice made markedly less than those in small animal private practices. Further, those working as public or corporate veterinarians (e.g., working for a university or the federal/state government) might expect a higher salary than those in private practice.

One major consideration for vet school is cost. Average student debt upon completion of veterinary school was just over $150,000. The estimate for non-US-based schools (e.g., Caribbean schools like St. George's) is over $250,000 - suggesting that the choice of these non-US options might be financially crippling for years to come.  Additionally, employment at the time of graduation is not guaranteed. In 2012, about 61% of graduates seeking employment were offered jobs at the time of graduation (down from 78% in 2010). So, students are encouraged to truly consider long-term debt issues and future employment options before choosing this arduous route.

Pre-Veterinarian Advising at Radford University

Students at Radford University with an interest in veterinary medicine are encouraged to contact the pre-vet faculty advisor (Dr. Powers or Dr. O'Brien) early in their undergraduate career. This advisor works one-on-one with students to prepare the most competitive application possible – assisting with course selection, providing suggestions for research opportunities, and making the student aware of the rigors of veterinary medicine and the dedication necessary to attain this DVM degree.

Because most Radford University students are residents of Virginia, the information presented focuses on admission to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) located in Blacksburg, Virginia. This college currently accepts about 120 students per year: 50 Virginia residents, 30 Maryland residents, and 40 non-residents. Those students who are not residents of Virginia or Maryland, are encouraged to speak with admissions counselors at their respective state veterinary institution to understand the specific admissions requirements for that school.

The VMRCVM offers two veterinary programs – the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and a graduate degree (M.S. or Ph.D.) in Biomedical and Veterinary Services. The latter better prepares students for jobs focusing on research of veterinary medicine. Dual degrees (DVM/PhD) are offered, as well, to exceptional applicants. A new Master's in Public Health also is a viable route for those who are interested in animal and human care but might not meet the rigorous standards for vet school or might simply choose to follow a different career path.

The following information focuses on the DVM degree at VMRCVM. Students are encouraged to visit the VMRCVM web site to further explore career options, course requirements, and to answer other pertinent questions.

Major and Undergraduate Courses

A Radford University student’s choice of major is not the determining factor in the application process. However, VMRCVM lists a wealth of required and suggested courses to be completed as an undergraduate (Table 1). For this reason, those choosing to pursue a degree in a science field (biology, chemistry, etc.) might best accommodate the courses in Table 1. Most RU students currently pursuing veterinary medicine are pursuing a major in Biology – choosing the General Concentration – which accommodates all the courses listed in Table 1. VMRCVM regulations state that a “C-“ or better must be attained in all required undergraduate courses.

Table 1. Required and suggested courses for admission to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. To fulfill these requirements, appropriate courses currently offered at Radford University are listed.

Required Courses

Required Courses Radford University Courses
General Biology (8 credit hours) BIOL 131, 132
Organic Chemistry (8 credit hours) CHEM 301, 302
Physics (8 credit hours) PHYS 111, 112 or
PHYS 221, 222
Biochemistry (3 credit hours) BIOL/CHEM 471
English (6 credit hours) CORE 101, 102, 103, 201
Math (Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus or Statistics; 6 credits) MATH 137 or greater; STAT 200 or STAT 219
Humanities/Social Sciences (6 credits) Many Core Curriculum courses

Suggested Courses

Suggested Courses Radford University Courses
Cellular Biology                                          
BIOL 132
Comparative Anatomy BIOL 410:411
Genetics BIOL 231
Microbiology BIOL 408
Nutrition NUTR 214
Physiology BIOL 351 OR
BIOL 410:411

How to be a Competitive Applicant

VMRCVM suggest that the most competitive applications have these qualities:

  1. Cumulative GPA of 3.5
  2. “Competitive” GRE score
  3. Wide variety of large and small animal experience
  4. 400-600 documented hours working for a practicing veterinarian
  5. Laboratory research experience working with animals

GPA
A cumulative GPA of 3.5 in college is considered competitive for admission to VMRCVM. This college also considers an applicant’s GPA for the required science courses (Table 1) and the applicant’s GPA for the last 45 credit hours completed.


GRE
Although VMRCVM does not list a cut-off score for the General Exam GRE, they did report averages for the accepted applicants of Fall 2012.

  • For GRE exams taken before August 1, 2011: 1215 for verbal + quantitative, 4.5 for analytical writing section.
  • For GRE exams taken after August 1, 2011: Verbal: 157, Quantitative: 155, 4.5 for analytical writing section.

Note that obtaining the average does not guarantee you an acceptance letter, and that these averages can change dramatically from year to year. Nationwide, the average score for successful applicants is 1350 (combined score for verbal and quantitative sections) using the old scoring system.  

Wide variety of large and small animal experience

VMRCVM suggests completion of a minimum of 400 hours– working directly with a veterinarian. This includes shadowing a vet or any work in which animal handling is a primary task in a vet clinic. Receptionist work at a vet clinic DOES NOT COUNT towards these 400 hours.

Students are encouraged to keep a journal throughout these 400+ hours – not only to log in the hours completed, but also to document procedures in which they assisted, techniques learned, lists of animal species that they handled, etc. Although it is probably easier to obtain a wealth of small companion animal experience, the best candidates also have gained experience working with larger animals, as well – whether they be companion (horses), farm (cows, sheep), or wild animals.

Research experience

The most competitive applicants have accumulated out-of-classroom experiences with animals. Fortunately, a large number of faculty members at Radford University work with vertebrate animals in a laboratory or field setting. Students are STRONGLY encouraged to visit the web pages of biology faculty members to determine which projects most interest them. Multiple semesters working independently with faculty on animal-related projects is encouraged.

Application Process

The current deadline for applications is October 1 for admission into VMRCVM the following August. Application materials are scored out of 100 possible points, and this is a two-phase process. The first phase accounts for 75 points:  

  • Standard application (VMCAS)
  • VMRCVM supplemental application
  • Three letters of recommendation from employers and professors
  • GRE scores (reported no later than November 1)

Exceptional student applicants will be invited to VMRCVM for the second phase of the application process – the personal interview. This interview will account for the remaining 25% or 25 points of the applicant’s score. Letters of acceptance are mailed in March of each year.

Suggested Timeline/Activities

Freshman year

  • Meet with pre-vet advisor to gauge interest and academic ability in pursuing a veterinary degree.
  • Join the pre-health listserv. Send an email (subject and body don't matter) to: pre-med-info-subscribe-request@radford.edu. The listserv is used to communicate a variety of information to pre-health students (guest speakers, field trips, other opportunities).

Freshman through Junior years

  • Complete most/all of the required and suggested coursework
  • Begin independent study research with a biology faculty member (minimum of 1 semester – more semesters make for a stronger application).
  • Gain large and small animal experience at veterinary clinics, research facilities, zoos, farms.
  • Get to know the faculty of the department outside of class. They will provide those necessary letters of recommendation at application time.

Senior Year

  • August/September – Complete the General GRE (have scores sent directly to your veterinary college of choice).
  • October 1 – VMCAS application and additional materials due to VMRCVM.
  • January/February – VMRCVM interviews granted to the strongest applicants (Mock interviews are set up 1-2 times per year to prepare the student for this portion of the application process).