Q&A: How do you compare schools for what they specialize in?

How do you compare schools for what they specialized the most in, or what type of medicine they offer the most experience in before graduation/residency? Which veterinary school offers the most for food animal medicine, for equine, for zoo medicine. Every school claims to be the best at one thing or another on their websites, but how do you know who will give you the best experience in the field you want to be in?




Hi HS –

You’ve asked some great questions! Unfortunately, the question of how to compare schools for their veterinary programs rather than internships and residencies is one that is hard to answer. While there are likely many views on how to compare schools, I would say that if I had to choose a way to compare it would be by caseload as it will tell you the number of cases in each department. It is possible to look up (or contact schools to find out) the caseload distribution across departments/species (small animal, food animal, equine, etc.).

Be sure, however, not to just judge schools by the numbers alone. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

What’s also important to compare vet schools is whether they require students to track by species or if students are required to get experience in all departments. If a school requires students to track, then the caseload will only tell you so much. You will also want to know how many students will be “sharing” the caseload.

For example, let’s take a student at a school with 100 students and the caseload is as follows: 10,000 small animal, 1,000 food animal, 2,000 equine. At a school where students are required to get experience in all departments, the student-to-patient ratio is as follows: 1:100 for small animal, 1:10 for food animal, 1:20 for equine. This means that there are roughly 100 small animal patients per student, 10 food animals per student, and 20 horses per student.

Now let’s compare the numbers from the above non-tracking school to a school that has tracking, and you’ll see the difference. Say there are 80% small animal students, 5% food animal students, and 15% equine students at this school. The caseload ratios are substantially different! Specifically, they are 1:125 for small animal, 1:200 for food animal, and 1:133 for equine. This means that there are 125 small animal patients per small animal student, 200 food animals per food animal student, and 133 horses per equine student. While both type of schools may seem to have a low food animal caseload, the school that has tracking is actually giving their students far more patients per student than the other departments. This means more hands-on learning per student!

On the other hand, however, I truly believe that veterinary school is the best time for an individual to get a solid foundation for medicine, regardless of species. I believe that if you are interested in specializing down the road, then you shouldn’t stress too much about which vet school to attend. After all, most vet students don’t have a choice of which school to attend. It seems that most people get accepted into and attend either their state school or the school their home-state contracts with. If you are interested in a residency program, consider veterinary school to be much like medical school, it’s about creating a foundation of knowledge, whereas the residency program is meant to make you an expert in a very specific area.

Something to consider is that when you are in your final clinical year, you will have opportunities to do externships outside of your veterinary school. You should take these opportunities to branch out into the area that you are most interested in and network so that you will have exposure, experience, and connections for whatever your next step in your career is after vet school.

Hope that helps! Good luck!