A veterinary school should not be confused with a department of animal science. A department of animal science usually offers a pre-veterinary school curriculum, teaches the biomedical sciences (usually resulting in a Bachelor of Science degree or the equivalent), and provides graduate veterinary education in disciplines such as microbiology, virology, and molecular biology. The terminology can be confusing, as many veterinary schools outside North America use the title "Faculty of Veterinary Science" rather than "college of veterinary medicine" or "school of veterinary medicine," and some veterinary schools (particularly those in China, Japan and South Korea) use the term "department" rather than college or school.
The type of degree offered by a veterinary school can vary widely. For example: In the United States, schools award the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree (DVM), and the same degree is awarded in Bangladesh, Canada, Ethiopia, Hungary, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Tobago and Trinidad. Many countries offer a degree equivalent to the North American DVM. In the United Kingdom, and in many countries which have adopted the undergraduate system of higher education in which a bachelor's degree is equivalent to a DVM (albeit after six years of study, not four), the Bachelor of Veterinary Science degree is awarded. In Ireland, the Veterinary Medicine Programme at the University College Dublin awards the Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine (MVB) At the University of Edinburgh, the degree is the Bachelor's of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery (BVM&S). Some veterinary schools, however, offer a degree which enables the recipient to practice veterinary medicine in the home country but which does not permit the individual to even sit for a licensure exam in another nation. For example, veterinary schools in Afghanistan only offer the Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. Ethiopia awards the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, but the degree is not recognized in the U.S. or Western Europe due to the low quality of education provided by Ethiopian veterinary schools.
Nearly every country in the world requires an individual with a veterinary degree to be licensed prior to practicing in the profession. Most countries require a non-national who holds a veterinary degree to pass a separate licensure exam for foreign graduates prior to practicing veterinary medicine. In the U.S., for example, the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG) administers a four-step examination which is accepted by all American state and territorial veterinary licensing boards, the U.S. federal government, and the District of Columbia. In Europe, the Parliament of Europe, which has some jurisdiction over the member states of the European Union (EU), issued a directive on September 30, 2005, which provides for EU-wide standards for veterinary medical education and mutual recognition of veterinary degrees between member states meeting these standards. Licensure requirements are diverse, however. In South Africa, the Veterinary and Para-Veterinary Professions Act, Act 19 of 1982 provides for automatic licensure if an individual has graduated from one of several universities in South African, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom (as of 2008, these include the University of Pretoria, Medical University of South Africa, Massey University, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, University of Liverpool, and the University of London) or has passed the veterinary licensure examination administered by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. All other persons are required to pass an examination and register with the South African Veterinary Council. India has a similar system in which degrees awarded by certain schools are "deemed" to automatically qualify an individual to practice veterinary medicine, but has forgone an exam in favor of state tribunals which investigate credentials and can add a veterinarian to the register of licensed practitioners.
Accreditation systems vary widely in developing nations. In Mexico, El Consejo Nacional de Educación de la Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia (CONEVET) accredits veterinary medical colleges, although few schools are accredited. The accreditation system is poor or nonexistent in other developing nations. Ethiopia, for example, has focused on building veterinary medical colleges rather than accrediting existing schools to ensure quality. Subsequently, there is almost no accreditation system and the quality of veterinary education in the country is poor.
Admissions practices, requirements and difficult vary widely among veterinary schools, and from nation to nation. Generally speaking, gaining admission to a veterinary school is highly competitive, due to the small number of seats available. Most AVMA-accredited institutions in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States share a common, online application system, known as the Veterinary Medical College Application Service (VMCAS). Many colleges belonging to VMCAS have additional, individualized application requirements as well, and admissions standards are quite high. Admissions standards in Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa also vary widely. Many veterinary schools limit admission to students from their area, state or country. For example, 25 of the 28 veterinary schools in the U.S. are public universities, and by law may set aside relatively few seats for out-of-state residents. Other countries have similar schemes. For example, in India, federal law requires that each veterinary college set aside 15 percent of its seats for students coming from other parts of India. The Veterinary Council of India (a body of the federal government), conducts the All India Common Entrance Examination, and the top scorers on the exam are placed throughout India.
The cost of attending veterinary school also varies tremendously. The value of the national currency, the cost of veterinary school relative to the cost of living or median national income, the existence and amount of governmental education subsidies, the existence and amount of financial aid to students (from public or private sources), and a number of other factors combine to influence the cost of attending veterinary school. Because a veterinary degree is considered a professional degree, many governments do not subsidize veterinary school attendance to the degree that they do an undergraduate college education. In the United States, the average tuition was US$15,676 for residents in the 2006-2007 school year, and $28,861 a year for non-residents. Average cost during the same period of fees was $3,482 (residents) and $4,452 (non-residents), room and board $8,964 (residents and non-residents), and books and equipment $2,043 (residents and non-residents). In Canada during the same time period, average resident tuition was C$5,651 and average non-resident tuition $32,942. Resident and non-resident fees were C$719, resident and non-resident room and board C$6,493, and resident and non-resident books and equipment C$1,712.
Veterinary medical school curricula are not standardized. Programs may last anywhere from three to six years. In the United States and Canada, for example, the program is generally four years long. In the first three years, students are taught basic science (such as anatomy, physiology, histology, neuroanatomy, pharmacology, immunology, bacteriology, virology, pathology, parasitology, toxicology) in the classroom, as well as other basic courses such as herd health (also called population health), nutrition, radiography, and epidemiology. During the third year, students are exposed to clinical topics like anesthesiology, therapeutic medicine, diagnostics, surgery, ophthalmology, orthopedics, and dentistry. The fourth year is often 12 (not nine) months long, during which students work in a clinical setting delivering care to a wide range of animals. A focus on clinical education is an aspect of most veterinary school curricula worldwide. In 2005, for the first time in its 104-year-history, the Veterinary Medicine Programme at the University College Dublin instituted a lecture-free final year focusing on clinical training. The Institute of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Zurich recently developed and implemented a new curriculum for teaching pathology which includes an extensive clinical component. Veterinary schools in Israel, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia also focus heavily on clinical training.
The level of participation in clinical training can be quite limited in some schools and countries, however. In Japan, students are not permitted to engage in clinical education until they have studied for six years. For example, in Sri Lanka, the public owned relatively few companion animals until recently, and veterinary medical education focused on herd health—with the result that veterinary schools focused little attention on clinical skills. As recently as 2004, this had not changed. In Ethiopia, few schools have clinical training facilities, and the government has placed a priority on opening more schools rather than improving the existing colleges. Even in the United States, there is some concern that clinical training may suffer because many veterinary teaching hospitals are in deep financial trouble.
Most veterinary schools do not permit students to engage in "species specialization"; that is, students must be expert in veterinary medicine covering a wide range of species rather than just one or two (such as dogs, cows, or reptiles). Most veterinary programs do, however, allow students to take electives which will permit them to specialize upon graduation. Many veterinary schools in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States do engage in "tracking," whereby students are asked which branch of veterinary medicine they intend to practice (companion animal, bovine, equine, food supply, avian, wildlife, public health, etc.). Although tracking has proven to be contentious among some educators, about 60 percent of U.S. and Canadian veterinary schools engage in full or partial tracking of students—and there are increased calls for full tracking by some North American veterinary medical education organizations. Some scholars and thinkers have argued that enhanced tracking should be linked to "limited licensure," or granting veterinarians to practice veterinary medicine only in the species or specialty in which they were trained.
Unlike human medicine, almost no veterinary medical education regimes require students to enroll in an internship and/or residency upon graduation. However, internships and residencies are often required for veterinarians seeking board certification in Canada, Europe and the U.S.
Lecture and rote learning are two of the most common teaching methods used in veterinary medical education. To a lesser degree, outcome-based education and discovery learning are also common pedagogical approaches. Inquiry-based learning is also sometimes used. In the last two decades, problem-based learning has been adopted in most veterinary schools in developed countries, especially those in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, and Western Europe.