Veterinary Surgeon

The Job and What's Involved

Veterinary surgeons work to provide a high standard of medical care for animals and to prevent disease. They care for domestic animals, e.g. dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits. Some also care for, or specialise in the care of, horses, farm animals or zoo animals.

Their work includes:

  • Annual checks, more regular if required, on animals and their health.
  • Immunisation of animals against diseases.
  • Insertion of microchips into animals.
  • Examination, diagnosis and treatment of illness.
  • Examination and treatment of injuries.
  • X-rays, laboratory tests, ultrasound scans and prescribing medicines.
  • Operations on ill or injured animals.
  • On-going care of in-patient animals.
  • Euthanasia of very old, terminally ill or severely injured animals.

Veterinary surgeons provide information and advice to animal owners and discuss different treatment options. Examination and, sometimes treatment, may be carried out in the presence of the owner. Veterinary surgeons provide support for owners whose pet has suddenly become ill or had an accident, or who need to decide whether to have a suffering pet put to sleep.

Many also undertake anaesthetic work and radiography, as well as surgery, if there are no specific anaesthetists or radiographers working alongside them.

They work closely with other veterinary and support staff in their team and supervise the work of veterinary nurses. They maintain manual and/or computerised records of animals on their books, including details of the animal and treatments.

Veterinary surgeons usually work on a rota system with other team members, to provide a 24-hour service seven days a week. This includes some evening and weekend work and on-call emergency duties.

Most work is indoors, in a surgery, animal hospital/clinic, or owners' homes, unless the vet specialises in farm or zoo work. Veterinary practices vary from spacious, modern animal centres to small, individual practices run by one or two vets. Outdoors, work is carried out in all weathers, sometimes in very cold, exposed, noisy or muddy conditions. Protective clothing may be required.

It is a physically demanding job, especially when examining or treating distressed or large animals. It may not be suitable for people with allergies or significant disabilities. A driving licence is usually required as the job involves travelling to owners' premises and sometimes between practices and other sites.

The starting salary for a veterinary surgeon may be around £20,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are about 20,000 veterinary surgeons working throughout the UK. All vets must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

Around 12,000 registered veterinary surgeons work in general practice, some employed, some self-employed. Others work for veterinary hospitals, animal welfare centres, universities, colleges, research institutes, and government departments and agencies. Jobs may be available with charities such as PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals), the Armed Forces, zoos and wildlife centres.

Employment for qualified, registered veterinary surgeons is not hard to find, although it may be necessary to move to another area for a job.

Jobs may be advertised in Veterinary Record, Veterinary Times, and on individual websites, eg PDSA, RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

Education and Training

To practise in the UK, it is necessary to:

  • Have a veterinary degree recognised by RCVS, eg BVSc, BVMS, BVetMed or VetMB in Veterinary Medicine and/or Veterinary Science.
  • Be registered as a member of the RCVS.

Degree courses are available at:

- Royal Veterinary College (RVC), University of London
- University of Bristol
- University of Cambridge
- University of Edinburgh
- University of Glasgow
- University of Liverpool
- University of Nottingham

Entry is usually with at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and three A levels/four H grades, including chemistry, plus two subjects from biology, maths or physics. Full entry requirements can be obtained from veterinary school admissions staff at individual universities.

Entry to veterinary degree courses is very competitive. Applicants are required to have a number of weeks of relevant work experience, e.g. in veterinary practices, farms, kennels or stables.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Veterinary science and veterinary medicine degree courses last six years at the University of Cambridge and five years at other universities. Course content combines theoretical studies and examinations with practical work and work placements to obtain a wide range of on-the-job experience.

RCVS publishes a Guide to Professional Conduct. This provides guidance on Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for veterinary surgeons to maintain their knowledge and skills throughout their career. RCVS also provides information on the postgraduate certificates and diplomas available and the RCVS Fellowship scheme.

Some veterinary schools, including RVC, also provide CPD courses for qualified vets to update their knowledge and skills.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A veterinary surgeon should:

  • Have excellent knowledge of animal care and treatment.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be patient, sensitive and sympathetic.
  • Have a genuine, but unsentimental, approach to animals and their welfare.
  • Have the ability to build a relationship of respect and trust with animal owners.
  • Be able to provide accurate and appropriate information and advice.
  • Be physically fit, with strength and stamina.
  • Be able to take responsibility and make, sometimes difficult, decisions.
  • Work well as part of a team.
  • Have good management and business skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Most graduates start work as an assistant or junior veterinary surgeon in a practice, hospital or clinic. With experience they may progress to veterinary surgeon.

There may be opportunities for veterinary surgeons to apply to alternative practices, hospitals, clinics or organisations to broaden their knowledge or specialise in a particular area of veterinary surgery, e.g. equine.

Some go into partnership by buying into their practice business. Some experienced vets set up their own practices. There are sometimes opportunities to work overseas, especially within the European Union or in the USA.

Get Further Information

British Veterinary Association,
7 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NQ
Tel: 020 7636 6541

PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals),
Whitechapel Way, Priorslee, Telford,
Shropshire TF2 9PQ
Tel: 01952 290999

Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS),
Belgravia House, 62-64 Horseferry Road,
London SW1P 2AF
Tel: 020 7222 2001

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC),
Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms,
Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA
Tel: 01707 666333

RSPCA (Royal Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals),
Wilberforce Way, Southwater,
Horsham, West Sussex RH13 9RS
Tel: 0870 3335 999

Scottish SPCA, Braehead Mains,
603 Queensferry Road, Edinburgh EH4 6EA
Tel: 0131 339 0222

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