There are multiple ways of becoming a vet and it can be done at any age. However, it is not normally a career path that you accidentally fall into… most vets have dreamed of working with animals since being tiny! The course takes a minimum of 5 years to complete and includes plenty of early morning lectures and more hours than everyone else in your whole university (this is what it feels like!!).
Do I need to go to university?
All veterinary surgeons must study at university completing the Veterinary Medicine and Science degree. This is a bachelor’s degree, but is taught at the same level as a Masters. There are currently 6 vet schools in the UK with the full accreditation. These are the University of Nottingham, the University of Liverpool, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, the Royal Veterinary College and the University of Bristol, although some new ones are taking students at the moment, including Surrey. Some universities now offer a six-year course for students who just miss grades or who have had a long-term break from education and need to refresh their Maths, Biology and Chemistry skills.
To get into vet school, you must usually have achieved at least five GCSE’s (A to C) and have A levels (or equivalent qualifications that give you UCAS points) in Biology, Chemistry and often Maths or Physics. Subjects and the grades required vary for each university, but specific requirements can be found online. Alternative routes include as a second degree, but of course there’s no funding available and the clinical courses are seriously expensive if you have to pay the full fees. The course is extremely competitive to get onto so as much relevant work experience as possible is recommended! You will finally need to register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
How do I get into the University?
You must apply to university around 10 months before you wish to start (the date is normally in October). You can apply to a maximum of 4 different universities. You do this by writing a personal statement. The amount of work experience required by each university varies and an analysis of what you have learnt on these placements is normally included as well as personal achievements and characteristics. The University of Liverpool asks for a minimum of 10 weeks work experience and while some other universities do not specify, they take the duration and variation of placements into consideration. Successful students at this level may be offered an interview prior to potentially being offered a place on the course. The universities are very supportive for disabled students or students with learning difficulties, so ensure you inform the university as they may be able to put specific measures in place to aid your learning.
Do all vets need to choose a specific animal to work with?
Not all vets go down a species-specific route, and there are still some jobs available in general mixed practice; however, the majority of vets will work with either small animals (dogs, cats, rabbits and other pets), or horses, or farm animals. As you develop through the teaching, different species or areas of the body may become of interest, stimulating you to want to specialise after you have completed the degree. Whilst you study to be a vet, you must do 12 weeks of animal husbandry work experience within the first 2 years of the course and 26 weeks of clinical work experience in the following 3 years. These opportunities give you plenty of chances to find out which animals you prefer working with and to find out which career path would best suit you. If you have allergies or phobias you would need to make your university aware and they would be able to see if they can cater for you, however they may recommend an alternate career path.
How do I know if a veterinary career is for me?
I would recommend doing plenty of varied work experience. The career is not all that the TV likes to make it out to be. Being a vet does not always end happily nor with puppy cuddling. You frequently get covered in bodily fluids and return home very very smelly. As a vet you will be asked to put animals to sleep and must communicate with distressed owners advising them on how to make extremely tricky decisions. You need to be incredibly emotionally strong while still being capable of conveying information to owners who have critically ill animals.
You should speak to vets in your local area and see what advice they can provide about their career path. You need to understand what the job is, as it is rare that you will ever get two days the same. You will be diagnosing patients, prescribing medication, carrying out health checks then performing operations on animals that require it. As a vet you need to be constantly willing to learn and apply your new knowledge. You need to be able to work well in a team and be confident in your decision-making capabilities, whilst also knowing when you require assistance or further advice.
The job is however very rewarding. You can help to educate the public. You have the capability to improve the welfare of animals. You do have the ability to change lives.