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How to Become a Veterinarian

Ok, University. This is where things get messy so let us start at the very beginning. There are 5 veterinary schools in Canada….

  • Atlantic College in PEI
  • University of Montreal at St-Hyacinthe
  • Ontario College in Guelph
  • Western College in Saskatoon
  • University of Calgary

The University of Calgary opened a large animal exclusive veterinary program in 2008 for Alberta residence only. The bracketed numbers are regional allocations; so overall there are just under 300 spots available per year for veterinarians. This makes it the hardest program to get into in Canada and for every successful applicant there are 700 to 1000 rejected. This makes for harsh unforgiving standards and nasty competition.
Here is my advice. Make a list of the 3 things you most want to do other than veterinary medicine. Generally they will be somewhat related. For me I knew I loved science and writing. My second choice would have been science journalism, then neuroscience and ecology.

To get into the Veterinary Colleges, you have to have 14 to 16 prerequisites. Find out what these are before you start university. If you’re incredibly bright you can take all of them in your first two years and then go straight to veterinary school. However, there are some drawbacks to this approach. The first is that there is no leeway. You are never allowed to take them or a similar course again, so you have to do it right the first time. By spacing them out over the span of a degree it not only gives you some breathing room but it also gives you time to consider your life plan and back up options. You do a lot of growing in those first three or four years and undisputed that growth and life experience will make you a better vet.

I started my veterinary training in New Zealand where you go right from high school. You compete in your first semester in Chemistry, Biology, Biochemistry, Physics and 700 people compete for 30 spots. It is nasty. There is sabotage, cheating and razor blades on seats. Although I made it through, I took a long look at myself at the end of this and I would have been a doctor by the age of 21. I thought to myself, what do I know at 21! This is ridiculous and so I declined the position. I finished my undergrad, did a lot of growing and reapplied at the tender age of 23 with a lot more life under my belt.

So whatever you choose. Those prerequisite courses start day one and study hard. The average entry grade for my graduating class was an A+. There is not time to mess around.

Apart from those grades, some schools need the SAT’s, some don’t. Also there is an interview. During the interview they are really assessing a couple of things; your public relations skill, your sociability, and your knowledge. One of my friends was asked to name and describe 4 different types of milking systems common in dairy farming! This is where your experience takes over.

Now, there are some pre-vet streams you can take; one at University of Guelph and one at the Nova Scotia school of Agriculture. These programs are designed to fulfill the requirements to get into veterinary schools. Yes, this is an easy way to get what you need, but remember that everyone in that class is trying to get into vet. The teacher can only give out so many A+ (generally 1 to 2 per class) so you are in actuality decreasing your chances of getting in. You are also really limiting your options in the future. Through luck of the draw, I ended up taking a pasture management course as one of my pre-reqs to get into vet (still one of my favourite courses!). I was the only student to show up with a pen. It was pretty easy to become top in my class in that one and I have the nicest lawn on my street!

So that leads me to one final point. If at first you don’t succeed, look a little further! I have attended 4 veterinary colleges in my training, in three different countries. I met lots of Canadians who resorted to going overseas for their training and who then come back and write their Canadian board exams and are excellent doctors. Scotland, Australia, St. Kits, St. Barts and many others offer this option. It is far more costly but a dream is a dream!