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A veterinary surgeon looks after the welfare and health of animals. This can involve giving vaccinations and carrying out check-ups, castrating or spaying animals, taking x-rays, mending broken bones, carrying out other surgery as it is required, giving advice on the care of animals, putting old and terminally ill animals down and helping with the birth of animals.
As a vet’s patients are unable to talk, there is an investigative element to their treatment, having to work out whether a dog’s limp may just be a strain, something in its paw, or something more serious such as cancer.
It can be a stressful career, with long hours, and despite being a medical profession, the pay doesn’t usually equal that of a doctor or dentist. However, it is often a rewarding career, with the opportunity to work with patients you feel passionately about.
Vets can work in surgeries and in zoos. They can travel to farms and riding stables or work with animal charities such as the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or Battersea Dogs and Cats Home. They can also work in advising government bodies.
An interest in animals and science is a must, and good communication skills can be helpful in dealing with animal’s owners. If you plan on setting up your own practice in the future, a certain level of business acumen is needed to do such things as organise finances and order medication.
How to become a veterinary surgeon
The process in becoming a qualified veterinary surgeon is a long and expensive one. Vets who want to practice in the UK need to be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), something that is achieved after taking a veterinary degree at an approved veterinary school. The course usually takes five or six years.
Qualifications and experience
Competition is fierce and grade requirements are therefore high to gain a place at veterinary school. These expectations go back to GCSEs, with As usually required in most subjects, and top grades required in the sciences.
A-Level subjects should include sciences, especially Biology, with at least a second scientific subject in the shape of Maths, Chemistry or Physics having been studied. If a candidate wishes to study a non-scientific subject at A-Level as their third or fourth choice, this can be accepted, but it must be an academic subject. A-Level grade requirements by veterinary schools are usually AAA or AAB.
A BTEC diploma in Animal Science – with a result of distinction - may also be considered.
Showing an interest in the subject by gaining work experience in a practice will help an application.
The average salary of a vet is £40,000, although this can be much higher for a practice partner. Starting salaries for recent graduates are usually around the £25,000 mark.