Veterinarians, also known as veterinary surgeons, have a passion for animals and caring for them. They are animal experts who provide the appropriate medical care.
Being a veterinarian is an empathetic role, meeting various people, and working with other professionals and numerous animal types. Your job involves expert knowledge, a caring nature and determination to work hard.
What is a veterinarian?
A veterinarian provides medical care and maintains welfare to a range of animals from domestic pets to those in farm and zoo settings, livestock, as well as wild animals. You will offer treatment to sick and injured animals with diverse conditions.
For vet jobs, it’s essential to have a degree in veterinary science or medicine, accredited by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
As a veterinarian, your job is to safeguard animals. This is usually at a general practice, where you are responsible for the medical and surgical treatment of animals. Your knowledge of animal physiology, medicine, nutrition and practical skills are put into action to diagnose illnesses and perform surgeries. You will also work to help prevent disease and the spread of disease in animals.
Veterinarians can be employed across many settings including vets, farms, stables, zoos and animal sanctuaries.
As a vet, your sole responsibility is to care for the health and well-being of animals. These are the everyday responsibilities:
- Work in numerous animal settings such as farms, zoos and vet surgeries.
- Be able to carry out home visits when appropriate.
- Carry out tests such as blood samples, ultrasound scans and x-rays to help diagnose illness and injury.
- Handle, examine and treat many animal species including domestic, farm animals, zoo animals and horses.
- Perform operations, including the management of anaesthesia.
- Speak with and consult owners and carers of animals.
- Provide routine visits to farms and check the animals' health.
- Immunise many animal types.
- Provide advice to farmers about nutrition, breeding and herd health.
- Be on hand for emergency cases, working out-of-hours.
- Keep and maintain vet records of treatment.
- Collaborate with other health professionals in the industry.
- Provide regular health checkups for animals.
- Supervise veterinary nurses and other staff.
- Neuter animals to prevent them from breeding.
- Put terminally ill and severely injured animals to sleep.
- Research diseases, ensure you are following public health and hygiene laws and manage infection outbreaks.
As a significant medical role in society, the veterinarian surgeon's salary is based on experience and skill level. The average vet salary in the UK is £45,000. Junior vet salaries can be between £27,000-£34,000, depending on the location and type of vet role. For the most experienced vets, you can earn up to £60,000-£90,000.
In London, the vet surgeon's salary is significantly higher. The average veterinarian salary is around £77,000, whilst entry-level positions can begin at £54,000. For the most experienced veterinarians, you can earn up to £96,000+.
For vet jobs, it’s essential to have a degree in veterinary science or medicine, accredited by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). These courses are around five to six years in length. Entry requirements for these degrees can differ depending on the university, however, biology at A-level is essential, as well as one or two subjects of maths, physics and chemistry.
It may be possible to access this degree without A-levels if you have appropriate vocational qualifications such as a BTEC Diploma in Animal Science.
If you already have an undergraduate degree, it’s possible to take a four-year graduate entry veterinary degree course. Alternatively, you can also apply to join the Army Medical Service whilst completing your degree. If accepted, you can receive training to become a veterinary officer in the army.
To specialise in a certain area of veterinary science, you will need to gain further qualifications, including RCVS-approved postgraduate courses.
Training and development
Training is crucial during your degree and once you are a vet. During your undergraduate, it’s vital to participate in extra-mural studies (EMS). This includes 38 weeks of real-life, hands-on experience to enhance your university studies.
All universities are keen for applicants to have a passion for the subject and demonstrate experience.
Graduates will complete the RCVS professional development phase (PDP). This is designed to help you transition from student to professional veterinary surgeon. This phase is part of your registration to the college. As a member, you will need to renew your membership annually to remain on the RCVS Register of Members. It’s also expected to practise and keep a record of at least 35 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) per year. Keeping up to date with training and learning is essential for membership but also to grow your expertise further. You can also learn by attending events and seminars. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Small Animals Veterinary Association are two organisations that run these types of events.
Learning never stops as a vet and once you are practising as one, you can study further qualifications including RCVS certificates and diplomas.
Working across various settings and with both animals and people, you need to be a caring and approachable individual. These are all the required skills to be a veterinarian:
- Strong knowledge of animal medicine, dentistry and biology.
- A flexible approach to working and the role.
- Commitment and a passion for animal welfare.
- Great customer service and communication skills.
- The ability to communicate with various clients, especially in emotional circumstances.
- Have a caring and approachable nature to people and work.
- Great with organisation and attention to detail.
- The ability to remain patient and calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use the computer and its software effectively.
- The ability to work in a practical and unsentimental way with animals.
- Work well with your hands.
- Great with using your initiative and making confident decisions.
- Willingness and ambition to learn and develop.
All universities are keen for applicants to have a passion for the subject and demonstrate experience. This could be shown through volunteering within a veterinary practice, handling domestic animals and livestock, or volunteering for an animal charity.
During the degree, vet work experience is gained through placement during your EMS studies which provides you with hands-on experience and seeing how the role of a vet plays out.
Additionally to your degree, it’s also useful to gain other types of work experience, either in a paid or voluntary way. You can contact local stables, kennels, farms and catteries or work with animal charities such as the Blue Cross. Internships may also be available at your local vets or animal settings and it’s worth contacting them to see what is available. It’s a competitive career and any extra work experience you can gain will benefit you immensely in securing a vet job.
Newly qualified veterinarians begin as an assistant before reaching full-vet status. When you have gained your status, you have the option to specialise in specific areas. This could include small animal surgery or cardiology.
For more experienced vets, the opportunity can arise to become a partner or principal of a veterinary practice. This position requires significant responsibility and management of the practice.
A veterinarian provides medical care and maintains welfare to a range of animals from domestic pets to those in farm and zoo settings, livestock, as well as wild animals.
Further training can help you gain your RCVS Recognised Specialist Status which is usually held by those offering consultations in their chosen field.
For a more practical approach to work, you can work in a government service relating to veterinary medicines or work for an animal welfare society. Research and teaching opportunities are also widely available. You can work in research institutes, universities and pharmaceutical companies.