Are you considering a career as a vet tech or veterinarian, and want to know if the field is right for you? Or do you want to start your own business to help struggling animals? If you like being with animals of all shapes, sizes, and breeds, and you want to help improve their lives and quality of care, then you’re on the right track.
A vet tech performs a variety of tasks, just like a nurse for humans, to support a veterinarian help care for patients. This career can be achieved with an associates degree in college, so it’s quicker, and there are part-time options that can fit into your school schedule.
The veterinarian is an animal medical doctor who completes doctoral degrees from accredited schools of veterinary medicine. This is a four-year commitment beyond your undergraduate degree, and admission is highly competitive. There are 28 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, and fewer than 50% of applicants are accepted. There are ways to increase your chances, however.
First, complete your undergraduate degree, and make sure you’ve included basic courses in animal physiology and anatomy, biology, zoology, animal science, chemistry, and microbiology. During your junior and senior years, make sure you’ve contacted the accredited veterinary schools to comply with academic admission requirements.
Another way you can gain entrance is to acquire practical, hands-on experience that will prepare you for certification in a veterinary specialty, including surgery and internal medicine. You can find a volunteer animal clinic, or join a program overseas that puts you in contact with a variety of animals, helping you get in tune with their unique healthcare needs. For example, you can volunteer at a national park in South Africa and contribute to the conservation of exotic animals such as lions, elephants, cheetahs, and more. When you volunteer or intern abroad with animal care, your medical school application essay that discusses your ability to care for sick or diseased African Penguins, Vervet monkeys, or giant sea tortoises is impossible to ignore! Your letter of recommendation from a director of an international animal reserve in Africa or rehabilitation center in Costa Rica may go a lot further than your GPA.
Spending time learning how to help and heal exotic animals means you’ll bring that experience home with you, and your knowledge of penguins, parrots, tortoises, lizards, monkeys, and more becomes a valuable asset at veterinary school and when you graduate to private practice. You’ll be the exotic animal expert and helpline that other vets call upon when they don’t have the answer or need to refer patients to a specialist.
From fins to fur, to feathers, if you’re interested in learning how to medically treat ill or injured animals, you can find a short volunteer placement or a longer internship opportunity that benefits others while boosting your educational and career prospects! Even if you don’t have the prerequisite veterinarian skills to treat our friends with paws or tails, you can partake in wildlife conservation efforts to demonstrate your passion for caring for animals. One wildlife conservation project you will definitely want to check out is Agape Volunteers, which offers affordable volunteer programs throughout Africa!
Featured Volunteer and Intern Abroad Programs
International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), a responsible volunteer organization, connects thousands of travelers with opportunities overseas each year. Since 2007, IVHQ has placed more than 86,000 people on affordable projects – volunteers work alongside local organizations and NGOs in more than 40 countries worldwide. Its programs are designed to deliver sustainable value for the environment and the communities, and IVHQ keeps fees affordable while having a significant global impact.
In addition to many other volunteer opportunities, IVHQ offers international placements in the areas of animal care and wildlife conservation, from wild elephant conservation in Sri Lanka to sea turtle conservation in Bali. Learn how to protect natural landscapes and techniques for studying and monitoring native and endangered species on a veterinary volunteer placement or internship abroad. Choose to work in a shelter or volunteer animal clinic, providing support and feeding and caring for domestic animals, or focus on wildlife rehabilitation and release programs.
IVHQ supports internship placements as well for travelers studying to be veterinarians or vet techs – contact IVHQ’s Campus Support Team to learn more about their offerings. University groups and individuals may coordinate their plans with IVHQ for meaningful travel experiences that enable cross-cultural learning and develop important career competencies.
To learn more about the variety of IVHQ animal care programs abroad, select an option below:
- Bali – Ubud – On the Turtle Conservation project, you will work alongside a local team on the small island of Nusa Penida to help protect the endangered sea turtles of Indonesia.
- Cambodia – On the Animal Care project, you will provide support at an animal shelter for less fortunate paws: abandoned cats and dogs in Phnom Penh.
- Costa Rica – On the Turtle Conservation project, you can expect to work at one of four beach locations around Costa Rica: Ostional, Drake Bay, Junquillal (based on the Pacific Coast) and Parismina (based on the Caribbean Coast).
- Guatemala – Choose from a range of animal-focused placements, including a dog and cat shelter, a volunteer animal clinic, and an exotic animal refuge populated by crocodiles, snakes, lizards, and turtles.
- Jamaica – Work in a shelter for abandoned dogs in Jamaica, providing human company, medical treatment, and playtime to support their health and wellbeing.
- Mexico – Merida – Support the work on nonprofits providing proper care for abandoned dogs and cats, keeping them healthy and companionable, and working towards the goal of adoption.
- Peru – Cusco – Work at a small, university-operated zoo/rescue center or at a dog shelter, providing care and medical resources for a variety of animals. The zoo has different species from the jungle and the Andean highlands, including condors, eagles, tropical birds, monkeys, felines, bears, llamas, deer, and turtles.
- Portugal – Work in a conservation center focusing on wolf conservation, education, and also preserving the environment for wolves. The wolves that live at the conservation center arrive from zoos, illegal trapping, or illegal captivity, and are not able to be released into the wild.
- Romania – Support the welfare and protection of animals at a local dog shelter, providing companionship, medical treatment, and opportunities for play.
- Sri Lanka – On the Wild Elephant Conservation Project, you’ll assist in observing the behavior of wild elephants, and carry out research-related tasks within the Wasgamuwa region, in the Central Province of Sri Lanka.
- Tanzania – On the Animal Welfare project, you will have the opportunity to work alongside a local veterinarian for the treatment of various domestic animals, such as dogs, rabbits, chickens, cows, pigs, and other livestock. Travel around Arusha to assess the animals’ conditions and administer treatments.
- Victoria Falls – Gain hands-on experience in conservation management activities and assist with ongoing research in a private game reserve within Victoria Falls, home to a wealth of native wildlife, including ‘Big 5’ animals – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo.
Maximo Nivel is a leader in international education, study abroad, and travel programs, and operates four educational institutes in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Maximo Nivel trains and certifies world-class ESL teachers, and it offers Spanish language learning courses, internship opportunities, gap year programs, high school abroad, and more. Founded in 2003, Maximo Nivel has placed 25,000 students, volunteers, and other travelers to Latin America on high-quality, safe, and affordable programs, while enabling people to experience the world through education, adventure, and cultural travel.
An internship with Maximo Nivel helps you to develop a new set of professional skills with a global scope, ensuring your success and setting you apart. You can focus on the practical work experience you need with animals, develop your Spanish language skills, and build a network of international colleagues. Maximo Nivel offers four-week practicums and eight-week (or longer) internships. You’ll work with an international internship advisor who will meet with you for regularly scheduled meetings, or whenever you need to consult, and to review your work at the end of your program, making sure you’ve met university requirements and that your final project is complete.
Travel to Guatemala or Peru with Maximo Nivel and volunteer or intern with animals and wildlife. Choose a veterinary or animal care placement at a specialized rescue center in Cusco, Peru, providing love and medical assistance for abandoned dogs. Or, if you are interested in herpetology, join an amphibian and reptile rescue center in Guatemala. A third choice is a small university-run zoo in Peru.
Tasks you’ll perform at the Cusco Dog Shelter include providing medical treatment, grooming, love, and other daily care for the dogs. You’ll bathe, brush, and walk them, provide basic obedience training, and clean cages. Education is important to this program, and you’ll assist with public information campaigns and fundraising to pay for spay/neuter programs. There are more than 300 dogs and 100 cats in the Cusco shelter, and Maximo’s shelter in Guatemala houses more than 50 dogs.
Maximo’s Zoo in Peru cares for endangered species and operates a rehabilitation and release program. This placement is a great choice for zoology or biology students, with its academic setting. Work revolves around the day-to-day maintenance and operation of the zoo, including animal feeding, cage cleaning, light construction work, and conservation.
The Amphibian and Reptile Rescue Center in Guatemala places you alongside other volunteers supporting the treatment of injured or sick animals, including crocodiles and boa constrictors, and releasing healthy adult animals back into the wild. Each day you’ll help to maintain the center, feed animals, clean cages, perform conservation work, and greet visitors to the center.
You can expect to work four-hour shifts throughout the week. No experience is necessary to apply, but you must be at least 17 years of age, and flexible since tasks can be based upon season and project needs. Duration is one week or longer, with program fees starting at $645. Read more and register here.
Founded in 2011, Agape Volunteers is a registered UK charity that offers high-quality, low-cost travel experiences throughout Africa. This organization specializes in volunteering, tourism, and development work in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, and Maasai-land. Projects range from medical volunteering to teaching, to volunteering with wildlife, and program costs include registration and administration fees, as well as travel insurance, in total making Agape Volunteers the lowest-cost option if you want to volunteer in Africa.
If you’re wondering if working with wildlife is a career option for you, check out this animal conservation program in South Africa. Join renowned wildlife specialists and other researchers in Marakele National Park, home to big game such as lions, leopards, cheetahs, rhinos, elephants, water buffalos, and hyenas. The local animal protection staff have dedicated their lives to ensuring that the wildlife is afforded the care they need to survive. Gain valuable hands-on experience when you join them in the bush, assisting with game drives. Help to support these endangered species by monitoring animal movement and behavior, and then analyze the data you’ve collected. Accommodations are in a purpose-built farmhouse with dorm-style rooms. Work six days a week on the project, and relax on Sundays. Stay a minimum of two weeks with fees starting at £1,530. Read more and sign up here.
Naturally Africa Volunteers supports a small network of community-operated projects in Africa that are need-based, which means volunteer assistance is genuinely welcomed and required. A U.K. registered charity, Naturally Africa Volunteers strives to keep its project fees low while maintaining safety and comfort during your stay abroad. Its projects help communities achieve self-sufficiency, and volunteers help in areas where there is a lack of skill or knowledge, so no jobs are lost. In addition to placing volunteers on projects, Naturally Africa Volunteers oversees its own foundation that funds specific projects through donations, including educational support for schools, relief of poverty through training and healthcare projects, and the promotion of sustainable development.
Get hands-on experience with the South Africa Pre-Vet Wildlife Volunteer project in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. This opportunity through Naturally Africa Volunteers allows you to gain exposure to veterinary science, animal welfare, and animal management. Designed for students and young professionals looking to enter the fields of veterinary science, animal welfare, or animal management, you’ll work alongside professionals and receive theoretical and practical training with African wildlife, agricultural livestock, and domestic animals.
This program places you with a diverse range of animals, often including elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions, raptors, antelope, tortoises, snakes, monkeys, giraffe, bulls, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, dogs, cats, rats, mice, and more! Highlights of this project are:
- Studying and working with African wildlife in commercial and non-commercial game reserves
- Getting hands-on experience with a range of agricultural livestock
- Caring for and working with vulnerable and abused domestic animals in rural villages
Learn about South Africa’s animal welfare agencies, and understand the challenges faced by organizations like the SPCA. Volunteer fees are $1,450 for two weeks, with longer stays available. Learn more and register here.
A Broader View organizes humanitarian volunteer experiences overseas, and with 245 work- and study-abroad placements in 25 countries throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa, ABV’s mission is to provide volunteers with programs that aid the neediest communities in developing countries, and encourage cross-cultural appreciation and understanding. Founded in 2008 as a U.S. nonprofit, ABV’s affordable programs allow participants the opportunity to learn a new language and gain work experience. ABV volunteers have contributed more than $3 million in donations worldwide.
Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is home to a variety of wildlife, including sloths, marsupials, monkeys, turtles, and iguanas. These animals are threatened by human populations, often illegally hunted for food or income, or their habitats are destroyed by expansion and developments. Many are cared for by volunteers at the Escazu Monitoring Center, which specializes in rehabilitation research, particularly that of sloths, anteaters, raccoons, and sea turtle nesting behavior. Some of the facts you’ll learn about sloths include that they move slowly to avoid being spotted by harpy eagles, their biggest predator. Because they are inactive, they cultivate green algal gardens in their fur and blend in with the canopy of the rainforest. Some of the tasks you’ll perform with this placement include:
- Researching the populations of local mammals
- Participating in turtle conservation, including night walks and egg rescues
- Raising public awareness about wildlife care
- Connecting with professionals in other related areas of wildlife conservation
- Engaging the community through informative programs and volunteer activities
- Coordinating and conducting educational programs at the secondary school
This project connects the community’s youth with the conservation efforts of the Monitoring Center – and while you’re onsite, you can help them practice conversational English and promote eco-tourism! Spend free time exploring the area, shopping at markets, and traveling to beaches for weekend relaxation. There are national parks with beautiful scenery, from active volcanoes to rainforests. Fees for one week on this program start at $890. Click here to apply.
Join the staff at a municipal animal park in Guatemala, working with animal rescue and providing veterinary services for animals in need. The project site receives and educates about 500,000 visitors each year while providing assistance for 200 animals of 41 species. Most of the visitors are children on school trips, who visit the park as part of their elementary education. As a volunteer veterinarian or pre-veterinary student volunteer, you can get involved working directly with the local veterinarian, making rounds, administering medication, and creating a healthy environment for the animals. Tasks you may perform include:
- Preparing food and feeding the animals
- Cleaning cages
- Interacting with the animals
- Learning how to apply injected and oral vaccinations to animals
- Assisting with tours and conferences for groups
- Helping with park maintenance
- Building, painting and cleaning the facility
Free time can be spent enjoying the cafes and markets, experiencing the nightlife with other volunteers, and sightseeing around Quetzaltenango City. Stay from one to eight weeks on this program. Fees start at $895. Read on to learn more and to register.
Join other volunteers and interns to solve problems and make a difference through Abroadly. If you’re interested in working with animals, take a look at these exciting and exotic placements in South Africa and Latin America – find your perfect project and apply today!
Who can resist the appeal of the penguin? These adorable, chubby animals with their wobbly waddle, and their sleek, tuxedo-like feathers, are up there with bunnies, seals, pandas, and koalas as the cuddly critter we all want to hug. If you’re a fan of the flightless bird, check out Khaya Volunteer Projects at the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SANCCOB), a nonprofit organization in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, that operates the Cape Recife Nature Reserve for sick African Penguins and other marine birds. Volunteer with SANCCOB to treat penguins, as well as gannets, cormorants, and seagulls that wash up, are sick, hurt, or exhausted. There are only 25,000 breeding pairs of African Penguins in the world, and most are near the reserve, the only center of its kind. You’ll learn how to help treat diseases, give them a vitamin boost, fatten them up if they’re starving, and release them to Algoa Bay. Other tasks include:
- Welcoming visitors, answering phones and helping with general office duties
- Guiding and educating visitors and school groups through the center
- Helping at the coffee shop when needed
- Helping with rock pool and shipwreck lessons
- Looking after displays and educational materials
- Scrubbing and cleaning the bird hospital facilities
- Preparing food and medication
- Feeding the penguins and other birds
- Cleaning and caring for the birds that are brought in
- Joining the staff (when possible) at rescues in the Port Elizabeth area
Established in 2005, Khaya Volunteer Projects offers affordable volunteer and gap year projects in Africa with project areas including children, communities, sports development, healthcare, wildlife and conservation, and education. Fees for this program start at $1,385 for four weeks. Learn more and apply here.
Join SAVE! Volunteering in Hartbeespoort, South Africa on a two-for-one program that combines wildlife preservation with a community project, helping wild and rescued animals, including monkeys, eagles, and vultures. This unique opportunity focuses on animal habitats and lets you improve living and environmental conditions. This is a hands-on, nurturing project that requires tenderness and respect for the vulnerable animals. Volunteers work at a variety of locations, including a monkey sanctuary, a cheetah sanctuary, an owl rescue center, and a nature reserve. You’ll also help with occasional animal capture, plus animal and bird transfer and release, and general maintenance and management of all facilities. Tasks may include:
- Feeding of and general interaction with animals
- Cleaning animal enclosures
- Animal behavior observation
- Patrolling for fence inspection
- Identifying snare and trap locations, and removal
- Controlling alien and invasive vegetation
Another aspect of the program is to provide welfare for abandoned, neglected and abused farm and wild animals through HAWS, a registered non-profit organization. You never know what kind of animals you’ll meet here, from wild to domestic, including tigers, lions, zebra, elephants, wildebeests, ostriches, pigs, cows, horses, donkeys, dogs, and even cats. Founded in 2006 by Cape Town local Carla Ferreira, SAVE Volunteering provides labor to assist under-resourced programs at schools and communities. The cost for this hands-on program is $616 for one week. Click here to learn more and to register.
Work with a variety of animals, from birds to mammals, to reptiles, with Free Wildlife, a rehabilitation center for indigenous wildlife based in Kyalami, north of Johannesburg. A great opportunity for anyone with vet-related studies, ecologists, natural biology, and environmental studies, this program by Awesome Work & Travel places you with a facility that caters to orphaned, injured, or sick animals, offering specialized care and rehabilitation until animals can be released back into the wild. You’ll be involved in the daily care and feeding of animals, help to administer medication, assist the vet on duty with medical cases, and go on animal rescue outings as needed. Other tasks are related to keeping the facility clean, and giving educational talks to children who visit the center.
Awesome Work & Travel provides youth and student travel in South Africa, with the intent to preserve wildlife heritage for future generations. Founded in 2002, the organization offers outbound programs, as well as countrywide tours. This organization promotes a responsible attitude to wildlife and the environment and develops educational programs for the public. Program fees begin at $1,012 for two weeks, and you can stay up to 12 weeks. Read more and register here.
Costa Rica, home to more than 500,000 species of animals, is one of the most biodiversity-rich countries in the world, and its wildlife faces continual threats from development, agriculture, illegal exotic animal trade, and contamination. Join INLEXCA in Costa Rica helping endangered species and working in animal rescue centers. As an animal hospital volunteer on this project, you’ll help both land and marine wildlife, including sea turtles. A few tasks you’ll assist with include:
- Taking care of the animals, including preparing food, feeding them, and cleaning their enclosures
- Building cages and shelters for the animals
- Helping with maintenance at the rescue center
- Educating visitors about the importance of wildlife conservation
INLEXCA offers safe and affordable travel opportunities for people to better understand the challenges faced by Latin American countries. It works towards sustainability in its projects and designs programs that promote cultural exchange. Founded in 2005 in Guatemala by former Peace Corps staff, its mission is to strengthen human resources in Central America through volunteer programs, educational tours, and internships. Fees for this program start at $853. Duration is two weeks, with longer stays available. Click here to learn more and to register.
Fronteering offers adventure trips that are far from ordinary. Founded in 2007, the organization’s philosophy is that when someone volunteers abroad, they should be experiencing the adventure of a lifetime. With this in mind, Fronteering combines unusual destinations and activities (sometimes extreme adventures) with sustainable projects and deserving communities. From survival trips to the jungle or a deserted island to riding fabled Arabian horses across the desert, Fronteering has imaginative, unforgettable travel opportunities to unspoiled places still wealthy in wildlife and native people. Its projects focus on helping wildlife, indigenous people, and the environment in cooperation with the local and indigenous communities. Fronteering also offers off-the-beaten-path adventure trips, some with an element of risk, to the world’s most unique locations, using local guides and transportations as sustainable tourism. If you have an intrepid spirit and a passion for nature and wildlife, a Fronteering experience may be exactly what you need.
Join Fronteering down under at Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo, and learn how to rescue and rehabilitate native wildlife at the world’s largest and busiest facility of its kind! The hospital has treated more than 70,000 animals since opening in 2004, thanks to its dedicated staff of wildlife professionals who are dedicated to animal wellness. This hospital provides first-class care for sick, injured, and orphaned animals that are admitted each week. You’ll work alongside experienced animal keepers, lending a hand with the husbandry and care related to these animals, as well as guest-related activities. This project gives you hands-on experience behind the scenes, learning how to be supportive of the hospital and vet’s needs, so there is minimal to no contact allowed with the rehabilitating animals. This allows the animals, from koalas to crocodiles, be released safely into their natural habitat. Responsibilities may include:
- Preparing Koala paste feeds
- Counting Koalas on the plantation
- Gardening and general maintenance at the hospital
- Assisting with feeding
- Watching/observing vets and nurses in treatment rooms
- Cleaning the treatment and triage areas
- Sitting with koalas as they soak up the sun
- Collecting flowers for bird enrichment area
While you’re in Australia, visit the outback, learn about bushwalking, and embrace the beach lifestyle. This is the country of kangaroos, wombats, platypus, dingoes, and Tasmanian devils, so tour zoos and animal facilities so you can to learn more about the unique wildlife here. Fees for this world-renowned program start at $1,995 for four weeks. More information is available here.
Journey to Orlando with Fronteering, and help exotic animals rehabilitate and get back to being their strongest selves! A great volunteer program for veterinary students and professionals, your main responsibility is caring for, nurturing, and rehabbing abandoned and abused wildlife, such as tigers, monkeys, leopards, bears, and wolves. Daily tasks include cleaning cages and enclosures, preparing food, building and working on habitats, and administering medical treatments. Depending on your education and experience, you may be able to get more involved with medical treatments for the animals.
When you’re not volunteering to help the animals, check out Orlando, a city known for its world-class amusement parks (Disney, anyone?) and cultural attractions, like the Orlando Science Center. Sound like the right veterinary volunteer program for you? Fees begin at $1,995 for four weeks, with stays up to 12 weeks available. Get even more info here!
Make the trip to British Columbia, where you can improve animal wellness by helping to rescue and rehabilitate native North American wildlife. If you’re an aspiring veterinarian in school, this is a wonderful program because you’ll get to feed and care for black bears and eagles, as well as educate the public about what’s needed to ensure they survive and thrive in the local environment. You will also have the chance to get involved in administering medical treatment. How hands-on your role is will depend on your education and experience. Additional duties include building and maintaining habitats, general cleaning, and assisting with captures and releases (yes, that part is both fun and heartwarming!).
During free time, have a blast on Vancouver Island. Do everything from kayak and bike to whale watch and fish. Sound like a wonderful veterinary volunteer program? Fees begin at just $1,295 for eight weeks. There are 16-week positions available if you want to start in May (eight-week program starts in June). Get even more info here!
Challenge Yourself to Be More
It’s not a short path to becoming a veterinarian, but it is a satisfying one, and salaries are increasing. Also, there are fewer insurance woes compared to a physician for humans. One of the best reasons to be a veterinarian is because you’re a “jack-of-all-trades,” with the ability to be a “radiologist, an anesthesiologist, a surgeon, a dermatologist, an ophthalmologist, or an endocrinologist all in the same day.”
Life as a vet could be the perfect calling for you if you like variety, but it isn’t for the faint of heart. Loving animals isn’t enough, because you won’t always be snuggling with kittens and puppies. You’ll be called upon to perform a variety of difficult tasks at inconvenient hours.
As a veterinarian, you can do more, and be more, for vulnerable animals. You can help reduce stray populations and educate people on the importance of caring for pets before they get sick. But how do you know it’s the right path for you?
Challenge yourself and your dream of helping animals by joining a responsible, humane conservation program, whether it’s for one week or more, and find out what makes you smile.