The extracurricular activities many of your peers prefer—competitive sports, music ensembles, and multicultural clubs—are the ones that let them forget about their intended careers for a while. You couldn’t be more different. Instead of looking for an escape, you seek experiences that will immerse you more fully in veterinary medicine.
As much as you’ve enjoyed participating in various pre-vet clubs, you know it’s time to start thinking more seriously about your future. You need to start gaining a clearer understanding of exactly how to become a vet in Canada.
If you’ve started looking into some basic information already, you may have noticed that the process of becoming a vet can differ from one person to the next. It can be a little overwhelming, which is why we created this comprehensive overview to give you a bit more guidance as you begin your career journey.
Join us as we explore the path to practicing veterinary medicine in Canada.
A blueprint of how to become a vet in Canada
1. Complete your undergraduate studies
Though you aren’t required to obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree prior to attending veterinary school, most programs have pretty strict course requirements. Be sure to review individual school websites to research their specific prerequisites.
Some applicants are veterinary technicians looking to advance their careers, and they often have a two-year associate’s degree. Dr. Alec Martin, former Program Manager at the Veterinary Skills, Training & Enhancement Program (VSTEP) and Director of Health Services at Neighbourhood Pet Clinic, says they may face some problems.
“I don't know how this is going to work, because their education—though strong in a practical sense—will be missing so many components,” Dr. Martin says. He adds these applicants may be missing out on subjects that are crucial for succeeding as a veterinarian, including organic chemistry, genetics, and statistics.
"A four-year science degree is more likely to ensure the necessary understanding of these key components."
The decision is ultimately up to you, but obtaining a bachelor’s degree is likely a good choice. “A four-year science degree is more likely to ensure the necessary understanding of these key components, but I think a three-year degree would also suffice,” Dr. Martin says.
2. Gather veterinary and animal experience
Gaining as much animal experience as you can, particularly under the supervision of a veterinarian, is going to be a huge help as you get closer to applying to vet school. Schools don’t specify a minimum number of hours applicants must complete, but many of them provide a general overview on their website.
Gathering experience isn’t just about demonstrating your abilities. It’s also the best way to ensure you’re dedicated to veterinary medicine. Seeing both the positive and negative parts of the job will help you make an informed decision about whether it’s the right career path for you.
3. Select schools and address specific admission requirements
Start researching programs well before applying, because each has slightly different admission requirements. These can include obtaining letters of recommendation, completing the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and meeting minimum grade expectations.
The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) has a helpful resource that allows you to compare programs, even schools in Canada and other international locations. But it’s a good idea to visit individual school websites to make sure you have all your bases covered. The Université de Montréal, for example, maintains strict French fluency requirements.
"If you want to save time and money, then go to an accredited school."
You should also be mindful of how a school’s accreditation status may affect your licensure process later on. “If you want to save time and money, then go to an accredited school,” Dr. Martin says. “I don't think it matters how many schools you apply to or where they are.”
Attending a fully accredited international program, such as St. George’s University, means you’ll be eligible to seek licensure in Canada—or the US—after passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). We’ll go into this in a bit more detail below.
4. Obtain your DVM
Once you gain an acceptance letter or two, it’s time to make your final decision and enroll at a veterinary school. Programs vary, but you should expect to spend four years completing basic sciences courses and gaining clinical experience.
Your final year of veterinary school will be dedicated to completing clinical rotations. These rotations are designed to provide you with the hands-on training you’ll need to begin practicing after you graduate with your doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) degree.
5. Determine how to receive your CQ
Every veterinary graduate must obtain a Certificate of Qualification (CQ) to become licensed, but this process can vary. Students who earn their DVM through an accredited program can obtain their CQ upon passing the NAVLE. Those who attend a non-accredited institution, on the other hand, need to pass the Basic and Clinical Sciences Examinations (BCSE), the Clinical Proficiency Examination (CPE), and the NAVLE.
"I would encourage people to sit the BCSE even as a trial—just to get a feel for the exam."
For students who need to complete the extra steps, preparation is key. “I would encourage people to sit the BCSE even as a trial—just to get a feel for the exam,” Dr. Martin says. “Then go home and study in earnest with a plan to pass it on the second sitting.” Just remember this strategy will not work for the NAVLE. In fact, grads who do not successfully pass the NAVLE within two attempts are required to then complete the CPE regardless of whether they attended an accredited program.
Practice is even more important for the CPE, because you really have to be comfortable with the techniques in order to pass. Dr. Martin stresses the need to repeat standard procedures. “If you didn't get enough of this in veterinary school, then you will need to spend time in a veterinary practice before attempting this exam,” he cautions.
6. Complete additional licensing requirements
You’ll need to address provincial licensing requirements after obtaining your CQ. You’ll have to pay a fee and fill out paperwork, but you could also be responsible for additional materials, since each province is different. You’ll need to provide contact information for three references to obtain a license in Alberta. To practice in Ontario, you’ll need to pass the Jurisprudence Exam.
It’s a good idea to seek licensure as soon as you can, particularly if you need to complete the CPE. “Because our system of licensure in North America is still based heavily on the generalist model, then it makes most sense to obtain licensing requirements soon after graduating from a generalist program,” Dr. Martin explains. He points out grads are likely going to be more familiar with procedures like spaying when they’re fresh out of veterinary school.
"It makes most sense to obtain licensing requirements soon after graduating from a generalist program."
7. Obtain additional training if you’d like to specialize
If there is a specialty area of veterinary medicine you would like to pursue, you’ll first need to complete a residency. You can research what opportunities are available by through the Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program.
It’s important to make sure you understand all province-specific licensure requirements before pursuing specialty training. Certain residency programs require that you meet the same prerequisites—some even specify you must already be licensed in that area. You may also have to complete a preliminary internship depending on your area of interest.
Though it makes the most sense to get licensed before obtaining specialty training under the current system, Dr. Martin hopes it will change in the future. “We must figure out a way to stop graduating generalists—largely a result of the NAVLE requirements—and teach better companion animal practitioners, food animal practitioners, and equine practitioners.” He adds that he’d like to see a separate NAVLE suited toward each of these practice areas as well as similarly restricted licenses.
"We must figure out a way to stop graduating generalists."
8. Begin your career
You’ll want to spend plenty of time researching different career options before you settle on what type of veterinarian you want to be, and then reach out to your network. This could include course instructors, but also vets you worked with while gaining school experience and those you met through professional organizations. You can also search classified ads from the Canadian Veterinary Journal (CVJ) to find job opportunities in Canada.
Embark on your veterinary expedition
You now have a better understanding of how to become a vet in Canada. Though not everyone is cut out for such a lengthy path, it’s a rewarding experience for those who are passionate about caring for animals.
If you’re feeling excited about working toward a career as a veterinarian, you may want to start getting ready for the application season. Part of preparing is giving plenty of thought to individual veterinary schools.
You don’t want to be too selective when applying, but it’s still a good idea to start evaluating programs to make sure you ultimately pursue a quality education. Learn more about what criteria you should compare by checking out our article, “6 Things the Top Veterinary Schools Have in Common.”
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