Studying for med school

The conventional wisdom — especially among the veterinary set — would have you believe that it’s tougher to get into veterinary school than medical school. But inquiring minds want to know: Does it really take more mojo to make it into a veterinary doctorate program?

I feel compelled to offer you a two-part answer: Yes, of course, it’s harder! Yet, all things being equal, not really.

Let me explain.

What You Need to Apply to Veterinary School

No professional program demands more of its prospective students. Consider the requirements that I’ve roughly outlined below, courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They vary a bit from school to school, so it’s tough to be perfectly precise.

All veterinary schools require between 45 and 90 semester hours of undergraduate credits for application. For medical schools, 40 to 60 hours seems pretty standard.

Pre-veterinary coursework is fundamentally identical to medical school requirements, including general biology, genetics, cell biology, microbiology, calculus, organic and inorganic chemistry, physics, biochemistry and a mix of basic humanities courses. Depending on the program, prospective veterinarians are also tasked with coursework that includes animal biology, animal nutrition, food animal science, vertebrate embryology, zoology and physiology.

While medical schools require only the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), veterinary schools are all over the map on this. About 78 percent require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), 15 percent require the Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) and 7 percent accept the MCAT.

All veterinary programs require a certain number of direct-contact work hours with animals in a veterinary practice or a zoological, food animal or laboratory-based capacity. Many require hundreds of hours of experience before an applicant can qualify. By contrast, there's no such stipulation in human medicine, although it is undeniably and terrifically advantageous for applicants to offer similar credentials.

But here’s the thing: The acceptance statistics for medical school programs are impressive. According to U.S. News and World Report, only 9 percent of medical school applicants were accepted in 2010.

So how does that compare with the acceptance rate for veterinarians? There are 28 veterinary schools in the United States, and I was able to find 2010 acceptance rates for about 10 programs. Among them, the acceptance rates range from 6.8 percent to 34.9 percent, leaving me with the impression that the admissions rate is, on average, higher (and less competitive) for veterinary programs compared with medical programs.

What These Stats Mean for Our Debate

So are pre-med students in a tougher spot, based on these stats alone? Do they have a steeper slope to climb?

Well, it’s complicated. But I dipped my toe, so I might as well swim.

The age-old argument between vet school and med school is a specious one. It’s an apples to oranges comparison given that there’s precious little overlap between students who choose the veterinary path versus the medical path. After all, it’s an odd bird who gets caught up in both snares.

But if we’re going to make the comparison, let me suggest that veterinary program acceptance rates have never been properly compared with human medical program acceptance rates.

To do so, we’d need to quantify how many of the same students were applying to the 28 veterinary and 129 human programs during that particular year. Applying to multiple schools is typical for both groups of applicants, but medical candidates tend to apply to a larger number of schools than do veterinary hopefuls.

We’d also need to assess the final stats (test scores, GPAs, etc.) for those admitted. To my knowledge, not even U.S. News and World Report has ever turned a keen eye toward analyzing professional programs in this capacity.

So what’s the final take? Clear as mud, I say. But it’s pretty obvious that the entrance standards for human medical and veterinary programs are generally on par with one another. Yet it’s plain that pre-vet candidates have been trained to jump through more hoops, which kind of adds credence to the belief that it's harder to get into veterinary school.

While we may not have to be smarter, more compassionate or more prepared than our human medical brethren, we’ve effectively proven our dedication to veterinary medicine by acquiescing to all the annoyingly diverse demands of vet school entrance requirements.

Does it make us better people? Of course not. But veterinarians are just as smart, just as capable and just as dedicated as human physicians.

So here’s the final reply to my initial question:

Q. Is it easier to get into medical school versus veterinary school?

A. Of course. But why compare?

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