As a Veterinary Surgeon (vet) you will diagnose and treat sick and injured animals. You'll also prevent disease and ill-health, eg, through immunisation and giving advice to owners. You might specialise, for example, in domestic pets, livestock, horses or zoo animals.
Also known as
- Surgeon, Veterinary
Video: - Michelle: Veterinary Surgeon
As a Veterinary Surgeon (Vet) you will diagnose and treat animals, using your scientific and medical knowledge, practical skills and a variety of tools and equipment. Your main concern is the welfare of the animal and the protection of public health.
Meeting the animal's owner is very important so that you can discuss the animal's symptoms or behaviour. You'll can also give them advice on any treatment that is needed, eg, medication and how to care for an animal after an operation.
To diagnose a disease, you can use a number of techniques, including physical examinations, test results (such as of blood and urine samples), X-ray images and ultrasound scans.
Having made a diagnosis, you'll need to decide on treatment. This could be, for example, cleaning and dressing wounds, operating, or prescribing medicine.
To operate on animals, you'll use practical hand skills, surgical tools and your knowledge of anaesthetics. You will work closely with one or more Veterinary Nurses during the operation.
Advice is also important in helping to prevent disease and illness. For example, you will discuss issues such as nutrition and exercise with owners. Another important part of preventive medicine is immunisation. This helps to keep the animals healthy, as well as preventing the spread of disease from animals to humans.
Sometimes you will have to 'put down' animals that are too sick or injured to be treated. You'll sometimes have to perform post-mortem examinations on dead animals to investigate the reasons for their death.
In a town or city general practice, you will spend most of your time treating domestic pets (mostly cats and dogs) while Vets in rural practices are more likely to treat livestock and horses.
If you choose to specialise in treating farm animals then you will oversee the welfare of livestock, give advice on maintaining the health of the herd, and ensure the safety of food produced from animals. You must certify that animals going for slaughter and export are free from disease and you must also oversee the welfare of these animals.
In general practice, there will usually be more than one Vet. You will usually be supported by Veterinary Nurses, and, sometimes, by Animal Care Assistants and clerical staff.
If you manage your own practice then you will have to run the business, including recruiting and supervising Nurses and other staff. You'll have to look after the practice's finances and market their services.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Veterinary Surgeon, you'll need:
- a love of animals and great concern for their welfare
- an interest in people as well and a desire to help them
- emotional strength; you must not be squeamish. You will be working with, and sometimes 'putting down', very sick animals
- problem-solving and decision-making skills
- an interest in science and medicine
- practical skills to carry out treatment
- communication skills to work with people such as pet owners, farmers and veterinary nurses. You must be able to explain things clearly and give understandable advice
- sympathy, understanding and tact
- the ability to calm and reassure people who are distressed
Many Vets in practice are self-employed, so you might require the skills needed to run your own business e.g accounting skills, marketing, and management.
A driving licence is desirable, and is often essential for Vets working in rural areas.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
Veterinary Surgeons can expect to earn in the following ranges:
- Starting: £30,500 - £32,000
- With experience: £35,000 - £40,000
- Senior Veterinary Surgeons earn £42,000
Hours of Work
As a Veterinary Surgeon you can expect to work around 43 hours a week. Late nights and weekend work are common.
Where could I work?
Veterinary Surgeons work in many different places, including:
- private veterinary general practices (Vets in general practice may also do some work for the government on a part-time basis)
- government departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and its agencies, such as the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency
- commercial firms doing research work with companies that make agricultural food and pharmaceutical products
- charities such as the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)
- universities, and research institutes such as the Animal Health Trust
There are also a few opportunities in zoos, safari parks and the armed forces.
Opportunities for Veterinary Surgeons occur in towns, cities and rural areas throughout the UK. There are also opportunities for Veterinary Surgeons to work in other countries.
As an experienced Veterinary Surgeon you can choose to 'buy in' to a practice, as a partner. Or you might start your own practice. However, this requires considerable financial investment.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in the Veterinary Record (available online), which is the official publication of the British Veterinary Association, on general and specialist job boards, in local newspapers and on veterinary employment agency websites.
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
To become a Veterinary Surgeon, you will need to complete a degree in veterinary science/medicine that is approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
These are available at the:
- University of Bristol
- University of Cambridge
- University of Edinburgh
- University of Glasgow
- University of Liverpool
- University of London (the Royal Veterinary College)
- University of Nottingham
- University of Surrey
Courses usually last five years (six at Cambridge). They are an intensive combination of academic study, practical and clinical experience, and examinations. Students must also spend 38 weeks during their course on various work experience placements in practices, farms and other animal-related areas.
Courses are available which are aimed at students who do not quite have the necessary entry requirements - this normally involves and exta year. Please check the university websites for detailed course descriptions and entry requirements.
Universities expect candidates to show evidence of their commitment to this career by having relevant work experience. This experience might include working alongside a vet in practice, dealing with animals on a farm, working in kennels, catteries or stables, or working in a research or medical laboratory, for example. Please check prospectuses carefully.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
After graduation, most people start in general practice. You usually begin as Assistants, working with senior Veterinary Surgeons. Many newly qualified Vets continue their studies.
Most Veterinary Surgeons start off as Assistants in a practice, working alongside senior colleagues. With experience, you might be invited to become partners in the practice. This means that you'd put money into the business and have greater control over the way that it's run. Veterinary Surgeons can set up their own practices.
It's possible to specialise, for example, in equine medicine (horses), zoo animals or livestock. Veterinary Surgeons can also move into areas such as scientific research, pathology, the pharmaceutical and animal nutrition industries, and lecturing. You could work for government departments and agencies.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
This career is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to.
This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
For entry to an approved degree course in veterinary science/medicine, the usual requirement is:
- 3 A levels including at least 2 science subjects. Chemistry and/or biology will usually be essential. You will usually need grades AAB. Some universities may ask for 3 science A levels. Please check prospectuses carefully.
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects.
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above, including maths and English. You might need any science subjects you don't have at A level; some universities specify physics.
If you apply for a place on the veterinary degree courses at Cambridge or the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), you will need to register for the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT).
As the entry requirements vary slightly between universities, you should check prospectuses carefully.
Equivalent qualifications, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma, can be acceptable for entry. Please check prospectuses carefully.
BTEC level 3 qualifications might also be acceptable for entry. However, some universities will accept these only alongside the specified academic A levels. Again, please check prospectuses carefully.
To be considered for an accelerated four-year degree course, you will need at least a 2:1 degree in a relevant biological science.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Universities expect candidates to show evidence of their commitment to this career by having relevant work experience. This experience might include working alongside a vet in practice, dealing with animals on a farm, working in kennels, catteries or stables, or working in a research or medical laboratory, for example.
Four-year accelerated degree courses are available at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal Veterinary College for graduates holding at least a 2:1 degree in a relevant biological science.
- 35% of veterinary surgeons are self-employed.
- 16% work part-time.
Skills for land-based and environmental industries
Address: Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 02476 696996
Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra)
Address: Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR
Tel: 0845 9335577
People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA)
Address: Whitechapel Way, Priorslee, Telford, Shropshire TF2 9PQ
Tel: 01952 290999
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)
Address: Belgravia House, 62-64 Horseferry Road, London SW1P 2AF
Tel: 020 7222 2001
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)
Address: Wilberforce Way, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex RH13 9RS
Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI)
Address: 53 Lansdowne Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
Tel: 01 6684402
Publisher: British Veterinary Association (BVA)
British Veterinary Association (BVA)
Address: 7 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NQ
Tel: 020 7636 6541
Getting into Veterinary School
Author: James Barton Publisher: Trotman