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Becoming a vet

vet operating

If you have a love of animals and are considering your career options or a career change you may have thought about becoming a vet.  Alternatively, you may be a pet owner who is otherwise interested in the work of vets and what goes into becoming one.  This brief article will provide you with some information and links to further materials either way.

Background to the profession
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the governing body of the veterinary profession in the UK.  Under the provisions of the Veterinary Surgeons Act (with only a few minor exceptions) only a registered veterinary surgeon is allowed to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses in animals.

To train to become a vet you must go to university and complete a veterinary degree.  The degree lasts 5 to 6 years depending on the university you attend.  The following universities offer a veterinary degree approved by the RCVS:  Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (Royal Veterinary College) and Nottingham.  A number of degrees obtained overseas are also RCVS approved.

Work in the veterinary profession is very rewarding, but also very demanding.  Anyone considering the career should bear in mind that emergencies can occur at anytime day and night 365 days a year.

Career options
Although the veterinary profession is relatively small in numbers (approx 20,000 members) the career options available are varied and include:

General Practice:  The veterinary surgeon is responsible for the prevention of disease and for the medical and surgical treatment of animals including household pets, zoo animals, farm animals and horses.  Opportunities exist in practices that specialise in small animals, food producing animals, equine work or in mixed practices dealing with both small and large animals.  Many veterinary surgeons working in practice choose to further their knowledge by studying for additional qualifications, such as the Certificates and Diplomas offered by the RCVS, and it is a requirement of RCVS that all veterinary surgeons keep their skills and knowledge up to date throughout their careers.

Veterinary teaching & research:  Veterinary researchers play a vital role in advancing our understanding of diseases. Research in veterinary sciences enhances the health, welfare and usefulness of both food producing and companion animals.  It safeguards the public from diseases spread from animals in food and by other means.  By comparative investigations, it helps us understand and manage human disease, for example in cancer, genetics, reproduction and infections.  Research is undertaken at the university veterinary schools and at research institutes, departments financed by Government, in laboratories and by private enterprise. Many careers in research span the interface between human and veterinary medicine.

Government departments and services:  Many opportunities exist within the public sector.  Veterinary surgeons are involved in protecting public health in government departments and agencies such as the State Veterinary Service, the Food Standards Agency, the Meat Hygiene Service, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.  The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) employs vets to monitor animal health and to prevent the spread of diseases.

Other options:  Other opportunities exist in commerce and industry such as in pharmaceutical companies, in international and overseas organisations and consultancies and charities such as the RSPCA and PDSA.  The veterinarian’s broad scientific training is also of value in areas such as wildlife and environmental conservation.

University entrance requirements
Entrance requirements will vary slightly by university and the best way to check these is by requesting a prospectus.  The RCVS has also prepared adocument detailing entrance requirements with input from the different vet schools.  For information on applying to attend university please visit the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) website.

Mature students
Mature students without a degree should hold good GCSE and A-Level passes in subjects including chemistry, biology and physics/maths – or be able to demonstrate evidence of knowledge via comparable exams.

Further information / links
Veterinary Science…for all walks of life
 (RCVS produced online brochure & DVD)
You Tube Vet Careers Channel 

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