The Best Age to Begin Job Shadowing a Veterinarian


If you have found this article, then you are likely interested in becoming a veterinarian. For many veterinarians, an interest in veterinary medicine starts young. And since one of the best ways to gain experience and learn more about veterinary medicine is to shadow a vet, the age requirements for job shadowing are a frequent question.

So how old do you have to be to shadow a vet? The common age to begin job shadowing is 16. However, there is no standard age limit that all veterinarians adhere to when deciding how old you have to be to job-shadow. Generally, most veterinarians prefer that job shadow students are high school-aged or older. The easiest way to find out what your local veterinarian’s requirements are is to send them an email. 

Keep reading to find out more about my personal experience with job shadowing at a veterinary clinic from both the side of the student and of the vet. I have also included links to some great resources chronicling veterinary job shadowing experiences in different states and options for those not yet old enough to job shadow. And finally, find some tips for logging hours spent job shadowing and how to ask to job shadow a veterinarian.  

Personal Experience

My earliest experiences at a veterinarians office came in the form of going with my mom whenever we needed to bring my family dog or cat into the veterinarian’s office. These visits were a great opportunity to learn more about what happens inside a veterinary clinic, but they were all from a client’s perspective. My earliest experience behind the scenes of a veterinary clinic came when I was offered the opportunity to shadow my great uncle. 

I was in middle school when my grandpa brought me to his brother’s clinic for a day of observing surgeries. My grandpa’s brother, Dr. Larry Pederson, graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in the 1950s. During my childhood years, he owned a mixed animal veterinary practice in Freidrich, WI.

Job shadowing in middle school was different than my experiences in high school, but it was still a great opportunity. And I highly recommend checking for local veterinary programs aimed towards middle school students if you are a young aspiring veterinarian.

In early high school, I participated in a Boy Scouts Explorer program at a local veterinary clinic. But it was during my senior year of high school that my true job shadowing experience started. When I was 17 years old, I participated in an externship type program, where I needed to accumulate hours at a local business. This is when I started getting repeat exposure into day to day veterinary life.

Now that I work as a general practice, small animal veterinarian, I get the opportunity to allow students to shadow me. The veterinary clinic that I work at does not have an official age at which students can begin job shadowing. However, I personally prefer students to be high-school age or older. 

Generally, we see students who just come in for one or two sessions of job shadowing. Typically we schedule them for half of a day the first time. And we try to space students who job shadow out so that we only have one every couple of weeks. This allows us to focus more on each student when they come in without a job shadow impacting the workflow. 

Keep in mind that summer is the busiest time at most veterinary clinics, and it is also when most students want to job shadow. Contact any clinic you are interested in shadowing at early for the best chance of finding time to job shadow that works for both you and your local veterinary clinic. 

Other Case Studies

While 16 is a common age to begin job shadowing, there are many others like me who have found job shadow opportunities before they turned 16. A great website for aspiring veterinarians is VetSetGo.com. Check out the stories of students of a variety of ages who have found job shadowing opportunities near them. 

Options for Those Too Young to Shadow a Veterinarian

If you contact your local veterinarian and find that you are too young to shadow at their veterinary clinic, don’t be discouraged. There are many other ways to gain good experience with animals. 

Considering joining a local 4H or FFA club. Contact your local humane society to ask about volunteering with the dogs and cats. If your parents are on board, look into fostering animals. Or look for volunteering opportunities at your local horse stables – there are always stalls to be mucked. 

Veterinary camps are also a great way to explore the veterinary industry. Find a veterinary camp in your state, at VetSetGo.com

Logging Hours Spent Job Shadowing

Whether you are job shadowing, volunteering or working with animals, make sure to log all of your hours. When it comes time to apply to veterinary school, you will be asked to list how many hours you have spent in 6 different types of experiences:

  • Veterinary (this includes job shadowing veterinarians)
  • Animal (which includes any non-veterinary work with animals)
  • Research
  • Employment
  • Honors and Awards
  • Community Activities

If you start a log of your hours early on, this part of your veterinary school application (known as VMCAS for Veterinary Medical College Application Service) will be much easier. 

A spiral-bound small notebook can be great for this. For each experience write a short description of what you did to go along with the hours logged. That way you won’t miss any of your experiences when you do fill out the VMCAS. 

For those that prefer computer records, start a Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets spreadsheet to easily keep track of your hours of veterinary, animal, or research experience. 

How many hours of veterinary experience are needed to apply to veterinary school?

Generally, you need 100+ hours of veterinary experience in order to successfully apply to veterinary school. The average successful veterinary school applicants have significantly more hours than this. Some even have more than 1000 hours. 

Personally, I had 209 hours of veterinary experience at the time of application. I also listed a veterinary externship scheduled for the semester during which the VMCAS was due. At that externship, I was scheduled to work 40 hrs/week for 2 months in a veterinary clinic in Switzerland. 

You can search the pre-veterinary forum of SDN (Student Doctor Network) for successful applicant data for more examples of successful veterinary school applicants.

Related Questions

How do I ask to job shadow a veterinarian? There is no right or wrong way to ask to job shadow a veterinarian. Just make sure you ask in a professional manner. You can show up at the clinic and ask at the front desk. If you don’t want to ask in person, consider a phone call or email. Emails are often preferred, as they can be answered quickly in between appointments. However, emails also have the chance to be forgotten. If it has been a week or two since you emailed and you have not received a response, don’t hesitate to send a polite follow-up email. 

How to format a veterinary job shadowing request? Use proper salutations (address the veterinarian respectfully) to start the email. Briefly introduce yourself in the first paragraph. Let the veterinarian know how old you are and why you are interested in shadowing a veterinarian. If you have a specific time requirement, add that to the second paragraph. However, be flexible, as your job shadow experience will need to fit into a busy veterinary clinic schedule. Finally, thank the veterinarian for their time in reading the email and let them know that you are looking forward to hearing back from them.

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