Like most veterinarians who train in the United States, you must first get accepted into one of the 34 accredited veterinary medical schools here in North America. This often requires getting a bachelor's degree from a 4-year university or college and completing prerequisite for the veterinary schools to which you want to apply.
- If you are interested in exotic/wildlife species. Taking classes like zoology, evolution and ecology and wildlife science will be important. Taking animal science courses can be helpful too, but because these course focus on domestic species (cows, horses etc), it is ok to seek classes that give you a broader scope of species, their behavior and how they interact with their environment. Where you do your undergraduate degree does not matter as much as just finding a school that has a strong biology, ecology or animal science program. It is also very important to maintain a high GPA and get excellent scores on the GRE.
- While you are in college volunteer at places that care for exotic/zoo/wildlife species. This may mean volunteer at a zoo. But this could also be volunteer at a wildlife rehab/waystation. Or even working as a vet assistant in a clinic that treats pet exotic animals. Also, talk to your professors and find out if they are doing any research that explores some aspect of wild animal or zoo animal health. If you do end up attending undergrad at a school that also had a vet school, reach out to the vet school professors and clinicians to see if they need a lab or research assistant. Research experience looks really good on a vet school application, and your volunteer or research experience will give you the opportunity to make strong connections and relationships with your professors, and mentors in the field. You will need to have professionals who can write you strong letters of recommendations.
After vet school you will likely need to specialize. This means doing an internship (or two) and a residency. The preparation for landing an internship and then a residency begins in vet school. You will also need to decide if you want to pursue medicine for companion/pet exotics (i.e. rabbits, rodents, reptiles, and birds) or if you want to pursue medicine for captive wildlife (ie zoo animals) or free-ranging wildlife.
- While in vet school take as many elective courses as you are allowed to take learning about exotic animal medicine and husbandry. Some schools will allow you to "track" so that you can focus on primarily the species you want to eventually work with. Continue volunteering at places that care for zoo/exotic/wildlife species. And reach out to those vet school professors and clinicians who work with the species you want to work with. Do a research project!! and keep your grades up!!. Also, spend your vet school senior year externships at zoos or wildlife rehabilitation centers. Having excellent grades and excellent letters of reference will help you get accepted to the internship and residency of your choice.
It is never too late to start getting prepared. While in high school take classes in biology, chemistry, and physics, but also learning how to write and communicate well is important, so don't slack in your english and language classes. Start volunteering. Find places like wildlife rehabilitation centers, zoos/aquarium and other institutions at which you can volunteer.
Tania recommends the following next steps:
- Research the veterinary schools available and consider visiting and taking a tour: https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/Education/Accreditation/Colleges/Documents/colleges_accredited.pdf. Texas A&M has a good vet school with a decent exotics program, other schools (UC Davis, University of Florida, North Carolina State) have stronger zoo and exotics programs.
- Look at the prerequisites for vet schools and find an undergraduate program that will help you meet these requirements. https://www.aavmc.org/data/files/vmcas/prereqchart.pdf
- Look for online resource on how to become a vet: https://www.avma.org/public/Careers/Pages/vet-school-admission-101.aspx
- Meet veterinarians who do or students who want to do what you're pursuing and learn from their story: http://www.drlucyspelman.com/doctoring-the-ark/becoming-a-zoo-vet.htm | https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/on-the-job-zoo-veterinarian-40807533 | http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/how-i-got-vet-school-without-undergraduate-degree