Step-by-Step Guide: How to Become a Vet in Canada
If you ask a group of individuals what they wanted to be when they grew up, chances are at least a few will list “veterinarian” as their top choice. Many people want to become veterinarians, but do you know where to start? And are the requirements different for Canadian students versus U.S. students?
If you’ve started looking into some basic information already, you may have noticed that the process on how to become a vet in Canada or the U.S. can differ from one person to the next. The process can be overwhelming, so we’ve enlisted a few experts to help guide you through the process. Rubina Gilani, Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (Ross Vet) Associate Director of Admissions for Canada and International Students and Ross Vet alumni Dr. Jazmeen Suleman ’20, DVM and Dr. Jessica Cusmariu ’14, DVM weigh in on their experiences of how to become veterinarians and work in Canada. Dr. Suleman works for Medicine Hat, a veterinary practice located in Alberta. Dr. Cusmariu works for the Ontario-based Clarkson Village Animal Hospital.
What Do You Need to Be a Veterinarian in Canada
- Step One: Research your school(s) of choice
When it comes to applying to vet schools in Canada, there are some unique challenges. The biggest one is the fact that there are only five veterinary medical colleges. According to Ruby Gilani, “Canadian Veterinary schools get about 600 applicants a year, and typically they can only take 100. The competition has always been tough, but now that they are accepting international applicants, there are even fewer seats available to Canadians.”
It’s this competition for seats that can make Ross Vet attractive to aspiring vets from Canada. “We are accredited by the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA)[i],” says Gilani, “which means graduates with their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree are eligible to practice anywhere in the United States and Canada. Ross Vet grads can return to Canada and apply for jobs without having to take any additional exams or clinical practice beyond the clinical training they get through the University.” She adds, “We also offer an accelerated program of 3.25 years. Ross Vet operates three semesters per year with no summer break. Students can complete the program faster and be ready to enter the job market, where veterinarian demand in Canada and the U.S. is robust.
So, how did you alumna Dr. Jessica Cusmariu choose Ros Vet? “I heard about the school from a family friend when I was still an undergrad. I attended one of the Ross Vet information sessions, and besides wanting to be a vet, I had a lot of hours accumulated working with animals. As an undergrad, I worked at an animal clinic, and I’d also done a few years at zoo camp. This was a very special place. We had lions and tigers, lemurs, leopards, jaguars, rescue bears, and their cubs and smaller animals like spider monkeys.
- Step Two: Veterinary School Admissions Requirements
Once you’ve researched where you want to apply to, you need to know the requirements for acceptance. Says Gilani, “At Ross Vet, we require two years of completed university courses in biology, physics, organic chemistry, biochemistry and either cellular biology or genetics. And there’s a math requirement — calculus or statistics. Finally, an English course is a prerequisite. Students must have either a bachelor’s degree or have successfully completed at least two years of university courses before applying.” Other requirements include electives in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, business communications, medical terminology, nutrition, and a language course.
“The first thing we look for is a passion for the field of veterinary medicine and drive to become a veterinarian.” Says Gilani. “Without that, a career in this field can be daunting. The demands – both academically, physically, and emotionally - are great. And on top of being a talented clinician, for those who choose to run a practice, you have to have a good head for business. Veterinary medicine isn’t for everyone, but it is truly one of the most rewarding fields for people who love animals, communicate well with people, and are not intimidated by workdays that can be interrupted by emergencies and are as varied as the species you’re treating.”
- Step Three: Complete your Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program
To become a vet in the U.S. or Canada, you must earn your DVM. Says Gilani, “Ross Vet is an AVMA-accredited school located in St. Kitts. The opportunities we offer on the island are unique. We have grants for research on viruses such as Zika and other mosquito-borne illnesses. In addition to classroom and hands-on learning, Ross Vet students can take part in sea turtle conservation and dolphin research. And we offer more than 25 clubs that focus on everything from surgery, aquatics and birds, to research, pathology, veterinary business management and more.”
Dr. Jazmeen Suleman adds, “I thought about applying to schools in Canada, but it’s hard to even get an interview. I spoke with a young woman who went to Ross Vet and she had great things to say about it. I loved that it provides the same accreditation I’d get from a Canadian vet college. Plus, the accelerated 3-semester model offers the same education, but you finish faster.”
Dr. Suleman also notes the variety of training she received while at Ross Vet. “Ross Vet has Ross University Veterinary Clinic (RUVC), so we get trained in clinical work which is mostly small animals, farm animals, turtles, and other exotics. For those interested in working with zoo animals and other wildlife, Ross [Vet] offers a great pathway to those specialties through affiliate schools.”
- Step Four: Complete your licensing requirements
Passing the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE)® is your next step to becoming a vet in Canada and a requirement to practice veterinary medicine in the U.S. and Canada. It is a computer-based, multiple-choice examination administered by the International Council for Veterinary Assessment(ICVA). The exam is offered throughout North America and at certain overseas sites at designated computer testing centers. Says Dr. Suleman “At Ross Vet you sit for the NAVLE® in your clinical year, you earn your DVM, and you’re ready to practice.”
- Step 5: Obtain additional training if you’re interested in specializing
If there is a specialty area of veterinary medicine you would like to pursue, you need to complete additional training through internships or residency programs. You can research your available opportunities through the Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program.
Dr. Cusmariu states, “Have a drive to learn and be able to study on your own. Learning never stops, even after you graduate. After a first job in one type of veterinary medicine, you may decide to switch to a specialty, so having that always-learning mindset will serve you well.”
- Step 6: Begin your career
First, you may want to explore where you want to work. Spend time researching your different career options. Do you have a specific geographic location in mind? The average salary of a veterinarian in Canada may depend on where you work in addition to what kind of work you specialize in. Says Gilani, “Canada has a pressing need right now for large animal vets. This shortage represents a huge opportunity. Plus, there’s a growing demand for those with specialties.” Do your research where veterinarians are most in-demand and follow your journey for becoming a vet in Canada there. Then begin to reach out to your network. Contact your peers, instructors, and other vets you worked with while gaining school experience to get started. Or join a professional organization and connect.
So, is veterinary medicine different in Canada than in the U.S.?
According to Dr. Cusmariu, there’s not much difference. “But diseases can be prominent in some areas and not even seen in others. For instance, Florida is endemic for heartworm and we rarely see it in Canada. But Lime Disease is prevalent in Southern Ontario and the North East U.S. However, it doesn’t exist in Alberta or Saskatoon. Veterinarians follow these outbreaks closely, especially in light of the animal to human transfer of pathogens.”
See yourself as a veterinarian at Ross Vet?
iRoss University School of Veterinary Medicine confers a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, which is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA COE), 1931 N. Meacham Road, Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173, Tel: 800.248.2862. For more information please visit https://www.avma.org/education/accreditation-veterinary-colleges.