Becoming a Zoo/Wildlife Vet
doctoring the ark lucy spelman jaguarBefore qualifying for a job in this field, veterinarians study for years. Most of us spend at least a year and sometimes as many as five training in zoological medicine (abbreviated zoo med). And that's after four years of college and four years of veterinary school. For those who'd like to join our profession, here's an outline of the steps involved and some advice.

Academic Study
Academic study is the first step. The second is searching for or creating opportunities for specialized training. And don't worry about following a particular or predetermined path. Each of us finds our own way.

The basis of zoological medicine is the veterinary degree, commonly abbreviated to DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine). Other degrees include veterinary medicine doctorate (VMD), professor of veterinary medicine (Prof Med Vet), and Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc). Most of us complete a four-year college or university Bachelor of Arts or Science degree, followed by four years in veterinary school. Some programs combine the two courses of study into six- to eight-year programs.

The American Association of Veterinary Colleges (AAVMC) is an excellent resource for aspiring vets living in the USA.

Volunteer to Learn
Extrapolation is the rule rather than the exception in our profession: dog, cat, horse, cow and poultry medicine serve as the foundation for zoological medicine. But experiential learning about wild animals is also essential.

Most of us begin acquiring this experience very early, often while still in high school by volunteering our time at rehabilitation centers, zoos, aquaria and universities, or working as research assistants for field projects focused on endangered species conservation. Once in veterinary school, we compete for workshops, special rotations and summer training programs that offer the experience of working with wild animals.

Lucy Spelman cheetahPost-DVM Training
Veterinary degree in hand, some of us go on to post-doctoral training in zoological medicine, roughly equivalent to human medical residencies. Most are intensive two- to three-year programs that combine further academic training with clinical experience and applied research. In any given year, there may be no more than a dozen such opportunities worldwide, and the course of study tends to be intense and difficult. It's for this reason that our field remains small. It's also why those of us who succeed in acquiring specialized training tend to be highly-driven professionals who work more than they play.

The American College of Zoological Medicine (ACZM) offers specialty training and board certification in zoological medicine.

Many vets also achieve Masters or PhD degrees, some before, others after, receiving their doctorate in veterinary medicine, or DVM. Topics of study include reproductive physiology, nutrition, conservation biology, immunology, anesthesiology, and ecology.