Veterinary Surgeon

    If you are wondering how to become a veterinary surgeon, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning vet careers in this area of working with animals or agriculture, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Veterinary surgeons (usually known as vets) look after the health and welfare of animals. Most work in general practice, with domestic pets, farm and zoo animals.

    Typical responsibilities:

    diagnose and treat sick and injured animals
    help animals to stay healthy by doing regular health checks, giving vaccinations and advising owners on care and diet
    operate on ill or injured animals
    carry out x-rays, laboratory tests and ultrasound scans
    provide on-going care for in-patients
    check farm animals and advise on how to stop diseases spreading
    neuter animals to stop them breeding
    carry out euthanasia of terminally ill, severely injured or unwanted animals
    supervise veterinary nurses and support staff
    keep records of the treatments you carry out.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of vets include:

    commitment to doing lengthy and continual training
    a high level of scientific ability
    willingness to work long and irregular hours
    an interest in the welfare of animals without being too sentimental
    physical fitness, manual dexterity and good powers of observation
    the ability to make difficult or unpopular decisions
    an assertive nature to enforce public health and hygiene laws
    a patient, sensitive and sympathetic approach with animal owners
    the management and business skills to run a practice.

    How to become a vet
    To practise as a vet you must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the UK regulatory body for the profession.

    To register you must have a veterinary degree from veterinary schools at one of the UK universities approved by RCVS, or an equivalent overseas qualification recognised by RCVS. Visit the RCVS website for details of approved courses.

    Your degree will last for five years (six at Cambridge), and include both clinical and practical training.

    To get onto a degree course you will need:

    five GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths, chemistry, biology and physics (or combined science, double award); and
    at least three A levels (AAB) including chemistry and one or two from biology, physics or maths
    Check with universities for exact entry requirements.

    You will also need some work experience in a veterinary practice, and in handling healthy animals on livestock farms or other animal establishments.

    If you have a first or upper second class honours degree in a science-related subject you may be exempt from part of the course, but could still be charged fees at full cost.

    You will usually need a driving licence.

    Training and Development
    The first year or so after you qualify as a vet is known as the Professional Development Phase, during which you will be expected to develop your professional and clinical skills. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) has developed a set of Year One Competences so that you can structure and record your development.

    After this stage you will be expected to continue to keep your knowledge and skills up to date by continuing professional development (CPD). This could include:

    attending courses and seminars arranged by universities, veterinary associations and commercial training providers
    taking part in informal networks of colleagues (sometimes known as ‘learning sets’)
    in-house training
    secondment or mentoring arrangements
    distance learning involving on line tutors and study groups
    private self-directed learning such as keeping up to date with veterinary journals
    working towards further qualifications such as RCVS certificates and diplomas and university postgraduate degrees.
    You could focus on treating particular animals, or other specialisms such as dermatology or cardiology by taking RCVS-approved postgraduate qualifications.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Newly qualified veterinary surgeons can earn around £30,000 a year.
    Experienced veterinary surgeons can earn around £48,000.
    Senior partners may earn over £50,000 depending on the size of their practice.

    Job Prospects
    Over half work the registered vets in the UK work in general practice and are usually self-employed. You are likely to start as an assistant in a private practice, be promoted to senior assistant in two to three years and later buy a share in the practice or set up on your own.

    There are increasing opportunities for work in public health.

    As a RCVS-registered vet you will be able to practise elsewhere in the European Union.

    You may find opportunities in other countries, but professional requirements vary. You may be able to work in developing countries with charities such as the International Development Administration (IDA) or the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

    Useful resources:
    Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)
    Belgravia House
    62-64 Horseferry Road
    SW1P 2AF
    Tel: 020 7222 2001

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