Veterinary Surgeons

  | James Innes

A Career as a Veterinary Surgeon


A Veterinary Surgeon, or Vet, not only treats sick or injured animals but is also responsible for administering inoculations and advising owners on how to ensure their animal’s health and well-being.  Vets based in general practice will usually work with domestic pets although those based in rural areas will also have to care for larger farm animals including cattle and horses.  Some Vets are also involved in the inspection of zoos, kennels, stables and pet shops on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in the control and prevention of animal diseases.  This type of work involves working directly for the Veterinary Field Service (VFS) or Veterinary Investigation Centres (VICs).

Vets based in general practice will usually carry out most of their work in the surgery while those in rural areas will be required to travel throughout the region to visit farms and other remote locations.  Rural and urban-based Vets will also be required to respond to emergency situations at any time of the day and night.

Above all, a Vet must be passionate about the care of animals while remaining focused on the importance of public health interests.  They are obliged to follow strict codes of professional conduct to ensure that the health and welfare of the animals they care for remains their primary consideration.  Communication skills are important, particularly when dealing with distressed pet owners.  They must also be able to make decisions relating to the treatment of animals which may be unpopular with the owners.

Entry requirements

Vets must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) before they can practise, membership of which is only possible upon completion of a veterinary degree from one of the six RCVS-approved universities at Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and London.  These degree courses last either five or six years and consist of both clinical and practical training.  Registration with the RCVS also requires demonstration of work experience in both veterinary practice and in the management of healthy animals.

Once registered with the RCVS, it is possible to undertake further training courses, to complete postgraduate qualifications or to specialise in specific areas of practice.  For example, Vets registered with the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) work specifically with horses.

Progression opportunities

Aside from general practice, where most Vets are self-employed and aim to progress to partner or owner of a surgery, Vets are also employed in zoos, pet food companies and animal welfare organisations as well as in research or education.  RCVS registration entitles a Vet to practice anywhere in the European Union although they may also require additional professional qualifications.

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