Veterinary surgeons (commonly known as vets) serve the healthcare needs of animals. Once qualified as a vet, there are many roles such as teaching, research, government and clinical work. Clinical vets can work with farm animals, zoo animals, horses, laboratory animals, pets or a mixture. It is an incredibly diverse and challenging job.
The majority of vets work in private practices treating pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits and birds. The health and welfare of animals under their care is their priority (rather like a doctor for people). This is achieved by diagnosing and treating diseases or injuries, preventing disease and advising owners on how to best look after their pets.
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. For that reason, part of a vet’s job is to advise owners on how to prevent disease. This includes recommending and administering annual vaccinations and treatment to help them avoid fleas, ticks and worms. A health check with a vet will include a physical examination and more advanced techniques were indicated to identify abnormalities that could be treated to avoid the onset of disease.
When an animal is displaying symptoms of injury or illness, it is a vet’s job to diagnose what is wrong. Sometimes this can be a physical using their skills to observe, feel and palpate the animal, or there may be a need for diagnostic tests like blood tests, x-rays, or scans to get to the root of the problem. If further checks are needed, the vet will make the necessary arrangements and then process the results of those checks accordingly to diagnose the problem.
A key part of a vet’s role is deciding how best to treat an ill animal to bring them back to health. This may involve prescribing medication that the animal’s owner can often administer at home, or it could involve surgery to fix a broken bone or remove a tumour. In some cases, the animal may need to stay at the clinic for treatment like a stay in hospital or be referred to a specialist for further care. Many vets take further qualifications in their chosen field, such as surgery, internal medicine, cardiology, etc.
How to become a vet surgeon in the UK
To qualify as a vet, you will need to study towards a veterinary degree, approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). Veterinary degrees usually take five to six years to complete and, to be accepted onto a degree course, you will need 3 top A-Levels or equivalent, including biology and chemistry. Candidates also need to prove they are dedicated and motivated and have some experience in the industry (work experience at a veterinary practice and working with animals).
For further information, visit the National Careers website here.
Following on from qualifying as a vet, most will join a general practice or undertake an internship. There is a required period after starting to fulfil the graduate development programme. Many companies such as Linnaeus offer great support to new graduates in beginning their careers as vets.
Following on from qualifying in general practice, some vets will choose to specialise in a particular area of animal treatment. This enables them to become highly skilled in their particular field and requires further study, intense time and effort and undertaking a residency.