The DVM Curriculum

The primary educational goal of the College of Veterinary Medicine is to prepare students for a lifetime of productive activity in the veterinary medical profession. The following eight outcomes define the focus of veterinary medical education at Cornell: the entry-level graduate veterinarian.

The DVM graduate will demonstrate:
1. An understanding of the scientific principles underlying veterinary medicine
2. The basic clinical skills and attitudes necessary to care for the common domestic animals and other species entrusted to our stewardship
3. Critical thinking as evidenced by successful problem solving
4. Sound clinical judgment and medical decision making skills
5. An understanding of the interactions animals, people, and the environment
6. A commitment to professionalism, includes a commitment to animal welfare and to following the best practices in relation to ethical, cultural, global, business management, and legal issues
7. Self-education and lifelong learning skills to promote professional growth
8.An understanding of the limits of one's knowledge and skills and the ability to address those limits through effective use of sources of information and expertise 

A Year-By-Year Summary of the DVM Curriculum
A complete list of Foundation and Distribution courses is listed here

Click here for a complete list of graduation requirements (log-in and vpn required)

Foundation and Elective (Distribution) Courses

Foundation Course are courses that all students must successfully complete to graduate. They cover material that has been determined to be essential for all veterinarians

Elective Courses (also called Distribution Courses) allow students to explore areas that they have not been exposed to and/or to develop a deeper understanding of areas of interest.

Click here for a complete list of Foundation and Elective courses.

Elective courses are designed to increase the student's understanding of the basic sciences and build upon his/her expanding clinical knowledge base. They represent the "structured choice" portion of the curriculum, allowing students to explore areas of interest or pursue specific topics in greater depth. The range of educational formats used is highly variable — lecture, discussion, independent project, laboratory, small-group tutorials. Faculty are encouraged to be creative and to experiment in the development of innovative formats. The number of students in each distribution course varies from fewer than six to more than eighty. Elective courses are grouped in sets according to their association with a Foundation course. Students are required to take a sufficient number of courses to satisfy the minimum number of credit requirements for each set.
Elective (distribution) Course Descriptions

Elective courses are scheduled during designated periods of each the four years of the curriculum. These courses are scheduled during two eight-week intervals (Periods A-B and Periods C-D). Period A-B starts in late January and ends in the middle of March. Period C-D starts in late March and ends in the middle of May. First second and third-year students enroll in the first Distribution period (Period A-B), and may not take Distribution courses offered in C-D period. Only,fourth-year students may enroll in C-D distribution courses. In general, students are not permitted to enroll in Distribution courses while they are enrolled in Foundation courses. There are a very small number of exceptions to this (e.g. Poisonous Plants; Senior Seminar).

Students are required to complete 31 credits from non-hospital based Distribution courses for the veterinary degree. This represents approximately 7 credits in year one, 7 in year two, and an average of 9 credits in year three and 8 in year four. Students must earn additional credits beyond the minimum for each set in order to meet the required number for graduation. Although enrollment in some courses is restricted to students in years three and four, many other courses are available to students in the last three years or in all four years of the curriculum. This allows students from different classes to take these courses simultaneously and to benefit from peer interaction. All students in the DVM Program must be enrolled as full-time students. Students must carry a minimum of 12 credits per semester to maintain their full-time status. There is a 23.5 credit limit per term.

Informational Meeting
To assist first-year students in choosing Distribution courses, an informational meeting is held in the fall that allows for questions and answers, and provides an opportunity for students to learn more about the range of courses from which to choose. Most students find talking with upperclassmen particularly helpful in making decisions about which courses to take; it is also useful to seek the advice of faculty. While it may seem daunting to complete 31 Distribution credits in four years, the vast majority of students have no trouble meeting the requirements for Distribution credits by the time they graduate. Because first-year students are enrolled in VTMED 5220: Neuroanatomy, a demanding 2-credit Foundation course, it is strongly recommended that they do not enroll in more than 7 Distribution credits. Generally, first-year students will also take a 3-credit Distribution course associated with The Animal Body (Set IR), which will further their understanding of anatomy in a species other than the dog. Students should choose their remaining Distribution courses carefully, to ensure that the workload is manageable.

Fall Semester Distribution Courses
First-year students should not enroll in any Distribution courses during the Fall term. Very few Distribution courses are offered in the Fall term. Second, third and fourth year students may enroll in them if their schedules permit. Students wishing to enroll must do so using the Student Service Center at by the stated add/drop deadline. Students with questions about adding or dropping a course should refer to the Add/Drop policy in the College and University Policies section (Chapter 4) of this Handbook or contact the College Registrar.

Spring Semester Distribution Courses
The college participates in online pre-enrollment for Spring semester courses. Once the list of available courses is posted (usually in mid- September), each student must login to Cornell’s student center and enter his or her course choices according to the instructions provided. The pre-enrollment dates change every year, but for the most part, start at the end of October and run through the first part of November. Each student is required to verify that his/her choice of courses and grade options (if a choice of grade option is offered) are correctly listed and clearly identify any errors (incorrect course or grade option, missing course, etc.) on the self-service website at:

It is imperative that students review and verify their enrollment information for accuracy and completeness. any corrections and errors must be promptly reported. No credit or grade will be given for courses a student attends without being properly enrolled and, conversely, a failing grade will be assigned to courses in which a student enrolls by subsequently neither attends or officially drops.

Clinical Rotations

All students must satisfactorily complete
  • VTMED 5612, Fourth year seminar
  • 26 credits of core clinical rotations
  • 14 credits of pathway clinical rotations
  • 6 credits of elective rotations 

A complete list of Foundation (Core) Clinical and Elective Rotations and Pathways is listed here

Opportunity Blocks

VTMED 6605 Special Opportunites in Veterinary Medicine (Opp Block) provides opportunities for students who have completed the prerequisites to explore professional areas of clinical interest not available in the regular curriculum. Detailed information and a searchable database of opportunity blocks is available here

Curriculum Milestones

The DVM program includes three Curriculum Milestones that each student must successfully complete before advancing to the next phase of the program. These exams assess students’ knowledge, technical ability, and clinical reasoning skills that develop across a number of required courses, and many aspects of the professional curriculum. The Milestones are clinical skills assessments held at key points during the preclinical portion of the curriculum. They help to document developmental steps, and ensure that students are competent in a number of fundamental skills before taking on more complex challenges as they progress through the program. As degree requirements, the milestones are not affiliated with a particular course. Rather, when successfully completed, the results are recorded on the student’s transcript. The Milestones are administered using the format of the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE). To help students track their progress, audits of their degree requirements include the Milestones.

The guidelines for the three Milestones examinations are:

First Year OSCE (Physical Examination) Second Year OSCE (Surgical Skills) Third Year OSCE (Clinical Skills)
1. Appropriate remediation and retesting will be conducted as needed for any student who does not pass.

2. If, after remediation, a student does not pass this exam, the Class Teachers will be convened, and a decision will be made by that group on how to handle the student’s technical or knowledge-based limitation(s), based upon the College’s Academic Standards and the Technical Skills guidelines.
1. Students are required to pass the Surgical Skills OSCE before participating in surgical exercises laboratories.

2. Appropriate remediation and retesting will be conducted as
needed for any student who does not pass this exam.

3. If, after remediation, a student does not pass the Surgical Skills OSCE, the Class Teachers will be convened, and a decision will be made by that group on how to handle the student’s technical or knowledge-based limitation(s), based upon the College’s Academic Standards and the Technical Skills guidelines.
1. A student who does not pass the Third Year OSCE will be permitted to work on their area(s) of weakness
during the clinical year of training.

2. Clinical rotations will be identified in which the
deficient skill(s) can be reassessed.

3. If those identified rotation(s) is/are successfully completed, the Milestone will be considered completed.

4. If a student does not pass the Third Year OSCE and then demonstrates deficiencies in one or more of the identified clinical rotations, or, in the rare case in which a student’s performance on the Third Year
OSCE is deemed extremely deficient (for instance, failing grades on all
portions of the OSCE), the Class Teachers will be convened to make
recommendations, based upon the College’s Academic Standards and
the Technical Skills guidelines.

Graduation Requirements 

To receive the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree, candidates must successfully complete curricular requirements, pay all fees, and be recommended for graduation by the faculty of the college. 

Graduation Requirements

Progress toward degree requirements may be accessed anytime at Student Essentials under "my requirements"

   Special Educational Opportunities