Want to Be a Vet?

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Zoo InternQuest is a career exploration program for high school students. Read the Zoo InternQuest Journal and view the Zoo InternQuest Photo Journal.

When I first entered the Paul Harter Veterinary Medical Center, also called Harter Hospital, the first thing I noticed was how modern it was. In fact, we learned just how state of the art the building really is, thanks to our first presenter, Hospital Manager Jeanette Fuller. Ms. Fuller was a vet tech for more than 20 years before she became the manager at the hospital. She showed us how everything is under one roof; the surgery room is next to the laboratory, for example, which is next to the quarantine rooms. In certain rooms the walls can even move around to transport or accommodate sick or injured animals. If that doesn’t work, there’s a track running along the ceiling of the building that the vets and keepers can attach an animal to with a harness. The track runs throughout almost all the rooms of the building, so the animal can be carried along from its temporary enclosure to the surgery room. These things, among other technological advances, such as a portable x-ray machine and cameras in every room, are the innovations that the vets at Harter Hospital use.

While I was still in awe of the building’s ingenuity, we met up with Amanda White, Veterinary Resident at the Safari Park, who explained the processes of how one should go about becoming a vet and working in Harter Hospital. Her first step was to get into vet school. Most vet schools require three years or more of undergraduate coursework, along with other requirements such as letters of recommendation and work experience. However, Ms. White remarked that grades are most important; some schools won’t even look at the rest of an application if the student has a GPA lower than 3.5.

After being accepted into veterinary school, Ms. White says it’s important to have fun, despite the fact that vet school is very rigorous. To be a vet at the Zoo, you’ll need to get a solid foundation in different practices; Ms. White recommended becoming well rounded in the animal specialties and taking zoo classes if they are offered at the school.

Once the student graduates vet school, he/she can enter a private practice as a vet, or continue by pursuing an advanced degree and work towards becoming a vet at a zoo, as Ms. White did. There are one-year internships available for different animal specialties, such as small animals (dogs and cats) or large animals (food animals like cows and goats, or equines). Ms. White herself did an internship on a dairy farm handling large food animals. She explained that it was a great opportunity because that was her weakest area of vet knowledge, and the experience helped tremendously for working at the Zoo. When treating the exotic animals at the Zoo, like giraffes and gazelles, Ms. White told us that it was very similar to treating a cow or a goat as she learned at the internship.

Ms. White is currently a resident at the Safari Park. A residency is an additional training program for a vet, and the one Ms. White is involved in spends a year in the Sacramento Zoo and the University of California, Davis, the second year at the San Diego Zoo, and the final year, which Ms. White is in, at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

All of Ms. White’s rigorous training added up to a total of 13 years of preparation after high school– that’s a lot of time spent learning to become a zoo vet. But if being a vet is something you’re serious about doing, then time is a small price to pay for achieving a goal.

Amanda, Careers Team