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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Strategies for Success for New Veterinary Students

Donald F. Smith and Jennifer K. Morrissey '13 (Cornell University)
Posted August 9, 2011.

When the members of the Veterinary Classes of 2015 arrive on campus during August, they should be aware that they could be facing a challenging market climate for jobs when they graduate in four years. Because of the continuing national economic slowdown, some veterinary practices have been reticent to take on new graduates to replace retiring veterinarians, and are even more hesitant to expand their staff.

But that is only part of the picture. The number of DVMs entering the market is also increasing as most colleges are expanding their class size and more veterinarians from newly-accredited foreign schools compete for slots traditionally held by graduates of the U.S. colleges. Based upon projected enrollment estimates for fall 2011, the number of students starting their DVM education this year is about 2,950, almost 25% higher than a decade ago. More than 300 additional students are enrolling in the Caribbean schools, and most will return to the U.S. to practice.

What advice do we have for veterinary students in this challenging climate?

Keep an eye on the profession as you learn how to become a veterinarian. Don’t become so immersed in your classes that you lose track of the major market forces affecting the veterinary profession. Have two sets of mentors: the faculty who teach you AND those mentors outside academia who piqued your interest in becoming a veterinarian. It is always best to be aware of both the academic and the clinical sides of the issue, and the differing opinions you hear may help you plan your future.

One of the best web sites on the latest issues affecting the profession is The AVMA’s website is also a great source of information at If you have a particular species of interest, joining the correlating club at your veterinary college can be very informative—often your membership includes subscriptions to helpful industry-related magazines and websites.

Use your summers wisely. The most important learning experience for first- and second-year students is often what they do during the summers. Start now to plan your summer of 2012. Use it to establish contacts, learn new skills including business management, discern the emerging trends in the profession, and if possible, earn money. Avoid the easy and comfortable job, venture into new territories to expand your vision of the profession. Instead of taking a routine job at your college, start looking this fall into the possibility for jobs in good private practices, in corporate veterinary medicine, in public health agencies, or at other veterinary colleges. Peruse your state Veterinary Medical Association’s web site, and also the AVMA’s veterinary career center.

Establish connections. Being successful requires not only professional competence but also making connections and marketing yourself in a proactive, sincere and honest manner. Take advantage of student trips to industry-related conferences and be sure to make your presence known when you attend—scout out different lecturers, introduce yourself to private practitioners, and visit the info booths where clinics may present information about externships or internships.

Help at your college’s reunions or tours so that you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to alumni and visitors. Subscribe and check websites that allow you to network with veterinarians from different areas of the country. These individuals can act as mentors and advise you during your academic career. If a guest practitioner or resident teaches a class or lab in which you have a particular interest, introduce yourself and ask them how they got to where they are today. And if you create a bond with a practitioner or mentor, be sure to send them a thank you note and stay in touch with them.

Be frugal and don’t put off thinking about your accruing educational debt. For the 90% of students who take out loans to finance their veterinary education, the tendency is often to put off thinking about the realities of pay back until closer to graduation:  the number can be so large that it begins to feel ‘unreal’. However, the better you understand the specifics of your debt as you proceed through your four years of education, the more likely you will be frugal because you know the future compounding impact of a dollar saved today on specialty coffee, or a dollar earned through a part-time job.

Enjoy the ride. Despite the realities described above, keep things in perspective. You are embarking on an educational dream of your lifetime and you are on track to fulfill these dreams. Just keep your eyes open to the greater world of veterinary medicine, as you work hard to master the academic courses and professional skills needed to earn your DVM. 

Dr. Smith and Ms. Morrissey invite comments at and, respectively.