How to become a Veterinary Surgeon. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does a Veterinary Surgeon do?
Veterinary surgeons (usually known as vets) look after the health and welfare of animals. Most work in general practice, with domestic pets, farm and zoo animals.
As a vet in general practice you would:
- diagnose and treat sick and injured animals
- operate on ill or injured animals
- carry out x-rays, laboratory tests and ultrasound scans
- provide on-going care for in-patients
- carry out regular health checks, give vaccinations and advise owners on care and diet
- check farm animals and advise on how to stop diseases spreading
- neuter animals to stop them breeding
- carry out euthanasia of terminally ill, severely injured or unwanted animals
- supervise veterinary nurses and support staff
- keep records of the treatments you carry out.
You could also be involved in inspecting hygiene and care standards in zoos, kennels, catteries, riding stables, pet shops and cattle markets.
Some vets work full-time for DEFRA, in either the Veterinary Field Service (VFS) or Veterinary Investigation Centres (VICs), which involves helping to control animal diseases and protect public health interests.
You would work on a rota system to provide 24-hour cover, seven days a week.
You would carry out most treatments in a surgery, but may also need to travel to treat large animals on farms or at other establishments. You could work at any time of day or night, sometimes in unpleasant conditions or distressing circumstances.
How much does a Veterinary Surgeon earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Newly qualified vets can earn around £33,000 a year.
- Experienced vets can earn around £42,000.
- Earnings for senior partners can be over £53,000 depending on the size of their practice.
Employers may provide accommodation and transport.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To work as a vet you must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
To register you must have a degree from a veterinary school at one of the UK universities approved by RCVS, or an equivalent overseas qualification recognised by RCVS. Visit the RCVS website for details of approved degree courses.
- Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons – approved degree courses.
Your degree would take five years to complete (six years at Cambridge), and include both clinical and practical training.
To get onto a degree course you would usually need:
- five GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths, chemistry, biology and physics (or a combined science, double award), and
- at least three A levels (AAB), including chemistry and one or two from biology, physics or maths.
However, some universities will consider you with other relevant qualifications, such as a BTEC Diploma in Animal Science/Animal Management (with distinction grades), so you should check with universities for their exact requirements.
If you do not have the required grades or subjects, some universities offer a six-year course. The first year will prepare you for the five-year degree.
You would also need some work experience in a veterinary practice, and in handling healthy animals on livestock farms or other animal establishments.
You would usually need a driving licence.
If you have a first or upper second class honours degree in a science-related subject you may be exempt from part of the veterinary degree course.
Training and Development
The first year after you qualify as a vet is known as the Professional Development Phase, during which you will be expected to develop your professional and clinical skills. RCVS has developed a set of Year One Competences so that you can structure and record your development.
- Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons – Professional Development Phase
After this stage you will be expected to continue to keep your knowledge and skills up to date by continuing professional development (CPD). Ways of doing this include:
- attending courses and seminars arranged by universities, veterinary associations and commercial training providers
- taking part in informal networks of colleagues (sometimes known as ‘learning sets’)
- in-house training
- secondment or mentoring arrangements
- distance learning involving online tutors and study groups
- private self-directed learning such as keeping up to date with veterinary journals
- working towards further qualifications such as RCVS certificates and diplomas and university postgraduate degrees.
You could focus on treating particular animals, or specialise in areas such as dermatology or cardiology, by taking RCVS-approved postgraduate qualifications. See the education page RCVS website for details.
- Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons – education
If you work with horses, you can join the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), which offers a range of one and two day CPD courses and workshops, meetings and networking opportunities. Visit the BEVA website for details.
Skills and Knowledge
- an interest in the welfare of animals without being too sentimental
- commitment to lengthy and continuing training
- a high level of scientific ability
- willingness to work long and irregular hours
- physical fitness, practical skills and good powers of observation
- the ability to make difficult or unpopular decisions
- an assertive nature to enforce public health and hygiene laws
- a patient, sensitive and sympathetic approach with animal owners
- the management and business skills to run a veterinary practice.
Most registered vets in the UK work in general practice and are self-employed. You are likely to start as an assistant in a private practice, be promoted to senior assistant in two to three years and later buy a share in the practice or set up on your own.
You could also work for zoos, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, animal hospitals or animal welfare societies, such as the RSPCA, PDSA) and Blue Cross.
You could move on to a research and/or teaching career within a university or research body.