How to become a Vet
A career in veterinary surgery offers excellent professional prospects and rewards, yet such rewards do not come without a lot of hard work. Studying to become a vet means you’ll spend at least five years at university with a challenging academic schedule. You’ll also have to do a significant amount of work experience and continually update your skillset after you graduate. But if you still think veterinary science is for you, we’ve put together a guide to help reach your career goals!
Education, education, education
To become a vet you’re going to need excellent grades. In the UK all practicing vets have to be a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). The membership is given once you complete your five-year course at a veterinary school. Some universities that offer vet courses include Edinburgh, Liverpool, Surrey and Nottingham.
You should always check the academic requirements at each institution, as it can vary. But generally, most universities will expect A-grades in English, Maths and Sciences at GCSE. In terms of A-levels most institutions demand grades of AAB, in Science and Maths related subjects in order to study to become a vet.
If you don’t meet the A-Level requirements, don’t panic as you still have options! Universities such as The University of Nottingham or the Royal Veterinary College, offer six-year courses. The first year acts like a foundation year, preparing you for the study ahead.
Whilst a passion for animals is important, there is much more to being a vet than this. You must feel comfortable working with a range of animals from exotic pets and foreign species to your average cat or dog. If you’re thinking of becoming a veterinary surgeon you’ll also need to be dexterous and adept at dealing with animals of all shapes and sizes.
Often, being a vet means thinking on your feet, as you will regularly encounter distressed animals as well as problems that didn’t appear in your university textbooks. So if you find improvisation and quick thinking difficult, this might not be the right job for you.
Finally, good communication skills are essential to a vet. As a surgeon you must be able to communicate accurately, professionally, and efficiently with your colleagues. Most importantly, you must be able to speak to upset or distressed animals owners with tact and compassion.
Part of the application process for veterinary school will involve an interview. Interviewers are looking for students who can demonstrate a passion for animals and cope with the demands of academia.
Ultimately, the best way to tackle your interview is with lots of preparation! Research current topics in veterinary science and be prepared to answer difficult questions such as ‘when is the best time to euthanise a pet?’
Your personal statement will form the focus of a significant proportion of your interview, so don’t exaggerate your experience beyond justification and make sure you are familiar with its content.
Saying that you love animals won’t cut it. Interviewers want to see tangible evidence of your passion, so volunteer in your local animal shelter, work on farms, in catteries or zoos. Get as much experience working directly with animals as possible!
Getting a job
Because vets are in such high demand, most veterinary students will find a job 2-3 months after graduation. Most of these jobs will involve working in a practice. Unfortunately, one of the less appealing aspects of this career path is the hours. Veterinary care is a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year service, so be prepared to work unusual and demanding shifts, including weekends.
Being a vet also means that you will sometimes have to travel, especially when treating animals on farms and zoos. If you want to work in sports such as horse racing, you would be expected to travel to meetings each day to ensure the health of the animals before and after races.
Veterinary career progression
To maintain your membership with the RCVS you must demonstrate continued professional development (CPD) throughout your career. This means improving your skills and updating your knowledge regularly.
Many vets continue studying during their professional life to gain specialised qualifications in areas of interest like oncology. The minimum CPD is an average of 35 hours per year, but most vets do more.
So if you’re considering becoming a vet you’ll need an excellent academic record, dedication and most of all sustained passion and interest in the job. It’s a vocation that demands a lot of attention but yields a lot of reward!