What is a vet? Veterinary surgeons are medical professionals whose primary responsibility is protecting the health and welfare of animals and people.
Veterinary surgeons are medical professionals whose primary responsibility is protecting the health and welfare of animals and people.
Vets diagnose and control animal diseases, treat sick and injured animals, prevent the transmission of animal diseases (‘zoonoses’) to people and advise owners on proper care of pets and livestock. They help to ensure a safe food supply by maintaining the health of food animals. Vets are also involved in wildlife preservation and conservation and the public health of the human population.
Vets provide a variety of services in private clinical practice, teaching, research, government service, public health, military service and private industry.
In 2003 a newly graduated vet could expect to earn between £17,000 and £27,000. This may include a car and/or accommodation.
The median salary new graduates were paid in 2003 was £20,300.
Median starting salaries (2003)
Senior house officer (Medical doctor)
Individuals who are interested in veterinary medicine should have an enquiring mind and keen powers of observation. An aptitude for, and interest in the sciences are important.
As well as a fondness for animals, vets need a life-long interest in scientific learning. Vets should also be able to meet, talk and work with a wide variety of people.
Vets may have to euthanase (humanely kill) an animal that is very sick or severely injured and cannot get well. When an animal dies, the vet must deal with the owner's grief and loss and so must have excellent communication skills.
Like most professions, there are pluses and minuses to a veterinary career. The primary reward for all vets is the personal satisfaction of knowing that they are improving the quality of life for both animals and people.
Companion animal (small animal) vets, who own their practices, determine the nature of their practice and set their own working hours. They may be asked to treat a variety of animals such as llamas, catfish or ostriches, as well as cats, dogs, rabbits, gerbils and birds etc. Companion animal vets usually treat animals in hospitals or clinics.
Large animal (farm animal) vets practise out of well-equipped cars and may drive considerable distances from their practice base to farms. They work outdoors in all kinds of weather. The chief risk for vets is injury from animals; however, modern tranquillisers and technology have made it much easier for vets to work on animals.
Vets who are employed by government agencies, laboratories, colleges, and commercial firms often have responsibility for large health programmes and may manage large numbers of people.
Most vets work 50 or more hours a week; however, about a fifth work 40 hours a week. Those in private practice may work nights and weekends and are sometimes required to be on call. Large animal vets tend to work more irregular hours than do those in small animal practice, industry, or government.
Being a vet also involves large amounts of paperwork!
Vets in private clinical practice work to prevent disease and other health problems in their patients. They examine animal patients, vaccinate them against diseases, prevent the transmission of animal disease to people (‘zoonoses’) and advise owners on ways to keep pets and livestock well nourished and healthy. The provision of 24-hour service is mandatory.
When health problems develop, the vet must diagnose the problem and treat the patients. Accurate diagnosis frequently requires the use of laboratory tests, radiographs (x-rays) and specialised equipment. Treatments may involve a number of procedures including: emergency lifesaving measures; prescribing medication; setting a fracture; delivering a calf; performing surgery; or advising the owner on feeding and care of the patient.
Public health – vets in government and private laboratories provide diagnostic and testing services, help to prevent and control animal and human diseases and maintain the country’s health status. Veterinary pathologists advisegeneral practitioners on diseases, based on the results of scientific analysis on samples sent to them by the GP. Veterinary epidemiologists investigate animal and human disease outbreaks such as food-borne illness, BSE, food-and-mouth disease. They evaluate the safety of food processing plants and abattoirs.
Army – there is a small army vet corps, based in the Melton Mowbray area. A vet is usually enlisted at captain rank.
Politics – many vets become involved in veterinary politics, representing the profession through the BVA which helps to steer the profession’s future direction.
Companion – often sophisticated treatment of the individual patient be it a cat, dog, hamster, gerbil, budgie or other commonly kept pets.
Exotic – reptiles, snakes, rarer birds.Many vets do a little of this, few vets specialise in this field.
Farm animal – cattle, sheep, and pigs are the more common species treated, but vets are often asked to treat chickens and other domestic fowl, fish and other food producing animals. The job of the vet is more to ensure health of the herd and prevent disease than to treat individual animals.
Equine – treatment of horses, ponies and donkeys.
Referral – can do any of the above but has specialised in a certain field and usually will have additional qualifications
Mixed practice – treats more than one of the above categories, some mixed practices will treat all!
Zoos – specialised general practitioners treatand improve the productivity of zoo animals. Often involves some research in order to understand wild animals, ultimately to improve their survival and reproduction rates in the zoo habitat.
In addition to teaching, veterinary school faculty members conduct basic and clinical research, contribute to scientific publications and may see clinical cases.
Vets involved in research seek better ways to prevent and solve animal and human health problems. Many problems, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, are studied through the use of laboratory animals, which are carefully bred, raised, and maintained under the supervision of vets.
In addition to developing ways to reduce or eliminate the threat of animal diseases, vets involved in research have made many direct contributions to human health. Vets were the first to isolate Salmonella species. They also helped conquer malaria and defined and developed surgical techniques for humans, such as hip-joint replacement and limb and organ transplants.
Vets working in pharmaceutical and biomedical research firms develop, test, and supervise the production of drugs, chemicals, and biological products.
These vets usually have specialised training in pharmacology, virology, bacteriology, pathology, parasitology, toxicology, nutrition, endocrinology, or laboratory animal medicine.
Vets are also employed in management, technical sales and services, and marketing in agribusinesses, pet food companies and pharmaceutical companies.
There are six vet schools in the UK, in the following cities:
It is possible to study abroad should you have difficulty getting into a UK vet school, or simply wish to travel and experience a different culture whilst you study. To study abroad you will probably have to pay full tuition fees, and if you are considering this option the best thing to do is to contact the universities in which you have an interest.
The veterinary degree lasts five years (six years at Cambridge) and is extremely demanding. Subjects covered include basic sciences for the first couple of years eg physiology, biochemistry and then becomes more practical in the clinical years.
In the holidays students are expected to complete extra mural studies (EMS). This consists of 12 weeks on farms. Students are expected to complete 26 weeks of EMS in different veterinary practices, including one week at an abattoir and one week at a veterinary laboratory agency.
At present, on completing the veterinary degree you will qualify as an omni competent vet, no matter what your final plans are. This means that even if you have no interest in it in the future, you will have to learn about all areas of veterinary medicine, from rectal examinations, post mortems, dissections, and abattoir visits, to small animal surgery. It is essential that you only apply to veterinary school if you are prepared to do all of this.
On the lighter side vet students are renowned for their wild parties (eg events organised by the Association of Veterinary Students) and the ability to ‘work hard, play hard’.
These vary slightly from one vet school to another, but realistically you need to have or be predicted to achieve straight As at A-level or AAABB grades for SCE Highers and high grades (mostly A*/ As) at GCSE.
Admissions boards also require candidates to have carried out work experience within various aspects of the veterinary and animal industries. This may involve ‘seeing practice’ at your local veterinary surgery or working at stables, farms, kennels/catteries, zoos or abattoirs. Don't forget to get references from your placements.
The vet schools are looking for well balanced candidates so evidence of other hobbies and interests is extremely valuable in applying to veterinary medicine.
At the moment students pay £1,125 a year towards their tuition fees, this is reduced for students coming from families with incomes under £32,000.
The maximum loan that you can apply for in 2004/05 is:
• £4,095 for students living away from home
• £5,050 for students in London and living away from home
• £3,240 for students living at home
All students are eligible for 75 per cent of the loan; whether you are offered the rest depends on your family’s income.
Fees at the Scottish universities: No ‘up-front’ tuition fees. Graduate endowment payable after graduation (£2,092) for 2003-04. Therefore very similar situation to that in England once top up fees are introduced.
The government’s proposals for ‘top-up’ fees will come into action in 2006.
Q: Can I take a gap year?
A: Opinions on deferred entrants varies between vet schools, so it is best to contact the individual schools.
Q: What happens if I don’t get in first time?
A: If you are really set upon becoming a vet, take a gap year, get some more work experience and reapply the next year. If you still don’t get in, then it is possible to do a related degree and reapply to vet school as a graduate student or alternatively apply to vet schools abroad. However, if you do this you will have to pay the full tuition fees (about £12,000 a year) for your veterinary degree.
Q: What is the optimum amount of work experience I can do?
A: When considering applicants, vet schools are looking for people with a genuine interest in veterinary medicine, who understand all areas of the veterinary profession and who are willing to get involved practically. Therefore the greater your range of work experience the better, eg a day in an abattoir and working in a laboratory will show that you are aware of and have explored the range of jobs available to vets.