Pre-Veterinary Clinical Experience

One of the more critical experiences for prevet students is exposure to animals in a clinical setting.  This type of experience will allow you to ensure that you enjoy working with animals and their owners and that you are well suited for a career in medicine.  The veterinary medical colleges expect that you will have spent significant time working with animals, either as a volunteer or in a paid position.  While there is no set number of hours for this experience, many successful applicants have 1000-2000 hours of veterinary experience before they apply.  Not only are veterinary medical colleges looking for a large number of hours, they also prefer a wide range of experience with animals.  Be sure that you do not only have experience with one type of animals (for example dogs and cats) but that you have spent time with as many different animals as possible.  Listed below are a few of the types of clinical experiences you should consider.

Shadowing a Veterinarian
Shadowing involves following a veterinarian during his or her daily activities.  This type of experience will give you a realistic view of the career that you have chosen.  This is an opportunity to see how a medical team works together and to understand both the positive and negative aspects of the life of a veterinarian.  It is recommended that you shadow veterinarians in a number of specialties so that you can obtain exposure to many different fields.  It is also recommended that you shadow a number of different veterinarians to obtain different viewpoints on the profession. Be sure to consider not only the interactions with the animals, but how the veterinarian interacts with the animal’s owners and how the business of the vet practice works.  While shadowing is useful for the student to understand the career field, it is often limited in interaction with animals and their owners and therefore should not be the only type of clinical experience you gain before applying to veterinary medical college. 

Working in a Private Practice
Many veterinarians are willing to hire college students to assist in their clinics and this can be a wonderful way to gain clinical experience and exposure to the career field.  Some offices will hire inexperienced or untrained vet techs, but many will not.  If you cannot obtain a paid position, consider volunteering instead.  In this way you will still gain valuable “on-the-job” training and may then be able to qualify for a paid position later.

Volunteer/Internships at Zoological Parks or Governmental Agencies
Although a majority of veterinarians work in private practice, a large number can also be found in what is referred to as public practice.  This is working in for local, state or federal governments or in municipal zoos.  Many of these agencies offer formal internships for which you can obtain college credit.  They may also offer unpaid volunteer opportunities for students interested in veterinary medicine.  This is a great way to experience a wider range of animal types than you might see in a typical private practice.  The Association of Zoos and Aquariums ( will often have listings of these types of opportunities.  However, you can contact your local zoo or government agency at any time to inquire about volunteer or paid opportunities.

Research that involves animals is yet another way to gain clinical experience.  Many universities, zoos, and government agencies conduct research with animals.  Investigate your local area to see what types of research are being conducted and then contact those individuals to see if they are willing to accept volunteers or if paid opportunities are available.