Do you love animals? Does the idea of putting your hand inside a cow seem normal? Do you want to be the next Debbye Turner or Doctor Dolittle? If you answered ‘yes’ to all of these questions, then you’re definitely in the right place.
Just to warn you though, if you become a veterinary surgeon, you won’t spend your entire professional life investigating the internal anatomy of bovine animals in a particularly ‘hands-on’ manner. Furthermore, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get your own slot on an American breakfast TV show or start talking to the animals in your care. We just wanted to clear that up!
Essentially, veterinary science is all about managing the health and welfare of animals and diagnosing and treating a variety of illnesses, diseases and disorders. Veterinary doctors or surgeons (a.k.a. veterinarians or vets) have a wide range of responsibilities, and dedicate their time to treating all kinds of animals – from dogs, cats and other pets, to horses, pigs and other farmyard animals. Some may even get the opportunity to work with tropical animals and other rare species.
If you enter this profession, you’ll be working in veterinary surgeries, zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, stables or farms, administering treatments, vaccinations and medicines to aid the prevention of disease. Moreover, you’ll be diagnosing and treating common ailments, viral and bacterial infections, orthopaedic problems, muscular disorders and chronic and congenital diseases and defects.
From time to time, you’ll also be required to carry out periodic activities, such as immunisation, health and hygiene checks and advising pet owners and farmers on the fitness, health, nutrition and general care of animals. Furthermore, you’ll be performing minor and major surgical procedures and euthanizing old, terminally ill and seriously-injured animals that cannot be saved.
Many vets are employed by government agencies, local authorities, charities and voluntary organisations such as the RSPCA, while others may be employed directly by zoos, parks, animal sanctuaries and rural estates.
Salary & benefits
Annual salaries for vets in the early stages of their careers tend to be between £17,500 and £21,000, although they may also receive other benefits, such as housing and transport, as part of the package.
Trained and experienced vets can earn between £29,000 and £40,000, while those with more than 10 years’ experience may earn around £44,000 to £50,000 per annum.
Standard working hours are not applicable in the veterinary profession, with work schedules facilitating the provision of veterinary care on a 24/7 basis.
Salaried personnel work in shifts, covering different parts of the day, while private practitioners set their own working hours.
Responding to late night emergency calls is also a common occurrence.
The minimum entry requirements for vets are: strong grades at GCSE and A-level, especially in biology and any combination of chemistry, physics and maths, followed by a degree in veterinary medicine or veterinary science (2:1 minimum). You’ll also need to register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
Getting onto a veterinary degree course without science A-levels is possible. However, the course is likely to last a year longer, as your first year of study will focus on bringing you up to speed.
To enter this profession, it’s advisable to gain relevant work experience, so that you can demonstrate a keen interest in working with animals, as well as with veterinary sciences in general.
High standards of health and physical fitness are also essential, especially when dealing with large or wild animals.
Training & progression
The degree programme is usually five or six years, depending on the university and the A-levels you choose. Once you have qualified, you can also gain further professional qualifications, which are administered by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
For veterinary surgeons not keen on salaried positions or opening their own practice, there are alternative avenues for career progression. Some vets specialise in certain areas, such as equine or livestock medicine, while others focus on advanced research and academic work in higher education institutions or advanced research and development centres. Other still even choose to work for pharmaceutical companies that develop veterinary medicines.
Alternatively, you could end up working for an animal welfare agency or a local authority, which focuses on inspection, health and safety and disease control and prevention.