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Working in the animal industry – introduction to veterinary study

Updated: Oct 19, 2019

Within the animal industry, there are a huge range of jobs and career opportunities. From agriculture to zoology, there are many career prospects for those wanting to work with animals or on behalf of animals. One of the more commonly recognised career opportunities working directly with animals is a career in veterinary. Veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurses, veterinary scientists, practice receptionists and animal nursing assistants play a huge role in modern society as a large number of the public own pets which visit veterinary practices. Getting into the veterinary industry is both challenging and competitive which means there is a long road of education before a career as a veterinarian can begin (CAVE, 2011).

Careers in the Animal Industry

The role of a veterinary surgeon is one which requires a huge knowledge and understanding of medicine, anatomy, physiology and biology. It is a role which can vary depending on the department the vet works in. Veterinary surgeons can work in general practice with domestic pets, specialise in certain species e.g. reptiles, specialise in medical care e.g. physiotherapy, specialise in specific sectors i.e. livestock, laboratory or zoos, teaching and lecturing, research, Government service or pharmaceuticals (CAVE, 2011).

Routes and Entry

To get a career as a veterinary surgeon, a university degree in veterinary medicine is required. The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 states that to practice animal medicine by diagnosing and treating illness in the UK, you must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons or the RCVS. To be registered, a veterinary degree must be obtained from an approved University; Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham or the Royal Veterinary College of London. There are institutes overseas which offer veterinary degrees that can allow RCVS registration. These include many European countries, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and North America. This is the only way you can become a veterinary surgeon and practice veterinary medicine in the UK.

Skills and Qualifications

The qualification specifically varies between institute but usually translates as a bachelor of veterinary medicine; BVetMed, BVMBVS, etc. To train as a veterinarian, applicants must apply thorough the University & Colleges Admissions Service, or UCAS (RVC, 2011). The courses to train as a veterinarian are incredibly popular, heavily oversubscribed and highly competitive which means applicants must apply early and will have to attend an interview for final selection (UCAS, 2011). The requirements along with the harsh selection process made by the universities are understandable due to the knowledge and experience required by a veterinarian (Shepherd, 2001). The given qualifications, grades and guidelines are minimum requirements and applicants are expected to do more than stated if they want a chance of getting onto the highly competitive courses (RVC, 2011).

A Levels To be considered for a place on a veterinary medicine course, applicants must have specific qualifications. A levels are the conventional route, with a Biology at a grade A or above. Maths, chemistry, or physics should also be taken and a high grade (either A or B). The third A level subject should be academic if not scientific and should also be a high grade. Competitiveness in the course will usually mean three A’s at a level will be required. GCSEs at grades C or above in English and maths and science but some universities prefer an A in science subjects (RCVS, 2011).

Alternatives There are alternative routes of entry into studying veterinary medicine. Some institutions allow A level equivalent qualifications as an alternative. The BTEC National Diploma in Animal Management or Animal Science will be considered if scientific modules are taken and completed with distinction grades.   Other veterinary related qualifications may also be valid as a route into veterinary medicine i.e. NVQ2 in Veterinary Nursing. With these vocational qualifications however, a foundation or gateway year will have to be completed successfully before admission onto the veterinary medicine course. This usually means a student will study for six years instead of five. This is also the route a student would take if they did not get the required grades (RCVS, 2011).

Work Experience Nearly all institutions require applicants to have work experience in the industry before they will be allowed onto the course as a proof of commitment and interest in the veterinary business (RCVS, 2011). Generally two weeks work in a veterinary practice and another two weeks in an animal related business such as a kennels or zoo will be required however with competition onto the course so high, as much work experience an applicant has, the better. Some further education qualifications have work experience as a compulsory part of the course to ensure applicants have a stronger chance of being accepted. The BTEC National Diploma in Animal Management requires around 450 hours of animal related work experience to pass the course (RVC, 2011).

BMAT The Bio-medical Admissions Test, or BMAT, is a requirement of the more prestigious veterinary institutes; Cambridge and the Royal Veterinary College. The score of the BMAT will indicate to these institutes your current academic knowledge of bio-medicine as well as your skill level in biology and mathematics (Cambridge Assessment, 2011). The results will also be used for scholarship purposes; the highest scoring applicants get scholarships onto veterinary courses. Due to the high number of applicants, this test is used as the final filter determining who will be offered an interview (RVC, 2011).

Career Progression

A newly qualified veterinary surgeon will usually practice medicine in a general practice as an assistant vet. Once experience is gained and the veterinarian’s career profile grows, options will open up. Partnerships, specialising, research, postgraduate training and working in education are all options available to registered veterinary surgeons (RCVS, 2011).

CPD The RCVS states that a career in veterinary medicine is a career in which you are always learning. With the constant changing and evolving scientific knowledge and medicinal breakthroughs, it is a veterinarian’s duty to ensure they develop their professional knowledge and skills. CPD stands for continuing professional development and has a system in place to ensure that all veterinary surgeons, nurses and staff are up to date on the latest procedures and relative legislation. Courses and seminars are held throughout the United Kingdom hosting a range of informative talks and workshops. Veterinary surgeons are required to attend a minimum of 105 hours every three years (RCVS, 2011).

Postgraduate There are ways to improve the education of a veterinarian with postgraduate study. From diplomas and certificates to MSc and PhD degrees, there are a number of ways to expand academically in the veterinary industry. Diplomas and certificates can be obtained for veterinarians who wish to specialise in particular species such as equine or specialist medicines such as osteopathy (RCVS, 2011). Postgraduate study to gain an MSc or PhD can be done at universities in subjects such as zoological medicine, for example (Lehner, 2009).

Career Options As previously mentioned, a veterinary surgeon can specialise in a particular species or practice. Livestock, equine, wildlife and exotic vets are needed within the UK and veterinarians with a particular interest do well to practice medicine specifically with their chosen animal or species. Having a veterinary career in research is also a choice for vets who have a particular interest in laboratory methods or explorative medicine such as histology or pathology. Working to discover ways to prevent diseases within animals can benefit human health in some ways; livestock need to be kept healthy for human consumption. There are many options available to a veterinary surgeon other that general practice (RCVS, 2011).

The veterinary industry is a difficult and challenging career to break in to. As discussed, there are a wide range of qualifications, skills and experience needed to work in the highly eminent field. There must be a huge commitment to the role as much time, effort and sometimes sacrifice are needed to qualify from a veterinary institution with a degree in veterinary medicine. It is, however, a small price to pay to work first hand improving the health and welfare of the United Kingdom’s beloved animals. There is a reason that the veterinary surgeons job is so highly envied and competed for, as it is one of the most rewarding and respected careers in the animal industry.

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Cambridge Assessment (2011) Biomedical Admissions Test [Online]. Available from: http://www.admissionstests.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/adt/bmat [Accessed: 13 October 2016]

CAVE -Courses in animal and veterinary education (2011) Veterinary Surgeon career profile [Online]. Available from: http://www.cave.ac.uk/careers/details/career/57  [Accessed: 13 October 2016]

Lehner, Bob (2009). Quicklook at Vets. Quicklook Books Limited; Swindon, UK.

RCVS – Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (2011) I want to be a vet [Online]. Available from: http://findavet.rcvs.org.uk/veterinary-careers/i-want-to-be-a-vet/ [Accessed: 13 October 2016]

RVC -Royal Veterinary College (2011) Undergraduate Study [Online]. Available from: http://www.rvc.ac.uk/Undergraduate/Index.cfm [Accessed: 13 October 2016]

Shepherd, Allan (2001). Careers working with animals. 9th Edition. Kogan Page Limited; London, UK.

UCAS -University & Colleges Admissions Service (2011) Veterinary Science [Online]. Available from: http://www.ucas.com/seps/profiles/veterinaryscience [Accessed: 13 October 2016]

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