Many students interested in a career in veterinary medicine focus primarily on the challenges of getting accepted to veterinary school and imagining what life will be like working as a veterinarian. But what about those 4 years in between acceptance and graduation? Most aspiring veterinarians are aware of the difficulties of creating a successful veterinary school application, but what can you expect for difficulty during veterinary school?
Is Veterinary School Hard? The objective answer.
Compared to most undergraduate curriculums, veterinary school is hard. Most veterinary students take 25-30 credits per semester of rigorous science-based courses. This means that veterinary students can expect to be in a classroom or laboratory 35 to 40 hours per week, and will need to study several hours more.
If you compare this to most undergraduate programs that require 15-18 credits per semester you can clearly see that the course load is heavier during veterinary school. And as mentioned above, in veterinary school your courses will be primarily advanced science-based courses. This contrasts with undergraduate curriculums, where you often have a diverse array of courses that can include introductory-level courses and fillers like physical education requirements.
Another point to consider is that your classmates (on average) will be more academically minded than the average student at your undergraduate institution. The average GPA of students admitted to veterinary school ranges from 3.3 to 3.8 among the various veterinary schools in the United States. This means that some students used to being at the top of the curve in their classes may find themselves much more middle-average among their veterinary student peers.
That being said, how hard veterinary school is will vary wildly from person to person. So let’s get some individual perspectives for a more subjective answer to the question “is veterinary school hard?”
Veterinary School Reviews: The Subjective Answer
For me personally, veterinary school was difficult. I was used to being a straight A student. Except for an A- in an undergraduate Ice Skating Class and a B in my second semester of Honors Organic Chemistry, I maintained straight A’s while obtaining my bachelors degree. But my undergraduate institution was significantly less academically rigorous than veterinary school, and I found myself with a much more even mix of As and Bs during veterinary school.
Some of this was due to an increase in the difficulty of individual classes, but a lot of this had to do with the amount of curriculum material to cover with 25+ credits per semester. I found myself having to re-learn how to study adequately for so many courses. Especially in my second year of veterinary school, when we had the heaviest course load, I often felt short of time and had to push myself to keep up with everything.
As a result, I would answer that yes, veterinary school is hard.
But don’t just take my word for it. I reviewed some of the best answers online and consolidated them here. Links to the full posts are included after every quote.
Once you get to vet school, you will be surrounded by smart and capable students. Throughout my school life, I had always been one of the top achievers. When I got to university, I remember being quite shocked by just how many “special ones” there were. I had always worked very hard, but a lot of my new classmates were able to get the grades with very little effort and very little study. I remember finding this both very humbling and worrying. Be prepared for this feeling and remember to stay true to yourself. Try not to compare yourself with those around you.Dr. James Blanshard; https://www.scmp.com/yp/learn/career-advice/article/3069523/so-you-want-be-vet-realities-difficult-career-path
Know that becoming a veterinarian is going to take hard work. Becoming a good vet isn’t just about memorizing terminology or making the most precise incision. You need to take the time to really understand the material. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices with what you want to do during vet school, because it’s very time consuming,” Dr. Schott says. “But it’s worth it if this is what you want to do.”SGU.edu interview with Dr. Sarah Schott; https://www.sgu.edu/blog/veterinary/what-is-vet-school-like/
Experts on veterinary medical education emphasize that it is highly rigorous, but they say the vet school workload is manageable for hardworking, bright students. Dr. Carmen Fuentealba, dean of the Long Island University College of Veterinary Medicine in New York, says students who have done well in college and high school should not fear vet school since they have already proven themselves academically.Interviews by Ilana Kowarski; https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/how-to-apply-to-veterinary-school-and-become-a-veterinarian
So in summary, vet school is one of the toughest experiences you’ll ever go through …. That is, of course, until you start practicing – then the REAL challenges begin, and vet school won’t have seemed so bad compratively. Graduating from vet school is merely the beginning of a journey.Dr. Dan Shock; https://www.quora.com/How-difficult-is-veterinary-school
Want to read even more thoughts about the difficulties of veterinary school? Check out this thread on The Student Doctor Network for some more individual insights.
Veterinary School Isn’t All Hardship
But don’t let the fact that veterinary school is hard prevent you from applying. There are many aspects of veterinary school that are rewarding and wonderful. You will learn so much and often gain some great life-long friends in the process.
And remember, while you may be used to being one of the smartest students and obtaining perfect grades, your grades in veterinary school do not indicate your future success. There is a saying that Cs = degrees. Yes you need to pass each class, and yes you need a certain base of knowledge and skill to successfully practice as a veterinarian. But many a competent veterinarian graduates from veterinary school with far less than a 4.0.
And it is also important to remember that most students who start veterinary school, do end up graduating. On average, >95% of the students who start veterinary school end up graduating with their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree. I lost 3-4 classmates to grades and a couple more to the decision to change career plans. But out of a class of over 100, that’s not too bad.
My personal advice is to start veterinary school prepared for 4 years of long days (and some long nights). Accept that you will probably not be the smartest person in the room and that you do not need to achieve perfection in order to succeed in veterinary school or as a veterinarian. Also, be aware that you may fail to reach some of the goals that you set for yourself. And that is okay.
Failure doesn’t mean that you don’t have a great career ahead of you. It means that you tried something new and stretched yourself.
In the words of Dr. Greg Magnusson, learn that “mistakes are inevitable, change is inevitable, death is inevitable, failure is inevitable. And, if you’re brave, and you try hard enough, and are willing to accept the possibility that you might screw the whole thing up, even you can learn how to run a veterinary practice, or tie a quick-release knot.” Or whatever goal you are working to achieve.
And during your veterinary school journey keep eating well, exercising, and setting aside time to support yourself and maintain your mental health. Taking care of yourself will help you successfully navigate veterinary school and these habits will help in times of stress throughout the rest of your life.
For those of you just starting your journey to veterinary school, good luck! I wish all of you success.