Training to be a Vet
How do I become a Veterinary Surgeon?
The only route to becoming a Veterinary Surgeon is to go to University and take a Veterinary degree. There are currently eight UK/Irish universities offering the course: Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (The Royal Veterinary College), Nottingham, Surrey, and University College Dublin. If going straight from school or college, you will need good grades in a variety of subjects at GCSE, and top predicted grades in sciences at A-level; and most colleges will also ask you to sit a supplementary test, the BMAT. However, you will also need to distinguish yourself from the thousands of other applicants with a good range of extra-curricular activities and varied Work Experience before you apply. If you have a good (2:1 or better) degree in a relevant subject, you can also apply for the course as a graduate. The Veterinary degree lasts five years (six at Cambridge as they include a further bachelor's degree as an intercalated year).
I'm 14 and want to become a vet, but I can't do work experience because I'm too young. What can I do?
There are many things you can start doing now to prepare you for the gruelling application process for a place at vet school. You may be limited in where you can go for Work Experience until you are 16 (usually due to insurance restrictions), but here are some things you can start doing now:
- Farms. Try to visit a range of farms; i.e. dairy cows, beef cows, sheep (particularly at lambing time), pigs, goats, alpacas, etc. Go to the Kent Show or East Kent Ploughing Match, visit livestock markets or rare breeds centres, join your local Young Farmers' Club.
- Horses. If you're not familiar with horses, you should arrange at least a couple of riding lessons just to get the basics. Visit a stables and learn how to muck out, pick feet, put tack on, etc. See if you can find an equine dentist to follow, or a farrier.
- Pets. As well as looking after any pets of your own, try to visit pet service providers such as boarding kennels, catteries, groomers, physiotherapists, hydrotherapy centres, chiropractors, etc.
- Exotics. This term covers anything that isn't a dog, cat, horse or food-producing animal. Visit zoos, wildlife parks, bird parks, etc. This also covers wildlife - do some research about our native species and the threats they face. Consider the ecology and welfare aspects of keeping these species as pets.
- Charities. Also come under some of the categories above but find out about the work of the RSPCA, PDSA, Blue Cross, Dogs Trust, Cats Protection, Feline Advisory Bureau, etc. There are also a lot of smaller local charities to investigate and several hold open days throughout the year.
- Science and Laboratory work. Drug companies often have organised work experience programmes but will not accept under-16s. However, you can start looking into how veterinary pharmaceuticals are researched, developed, manufactured and marketed - the internet has a wealth of information.
RESEARCH AND READING
- There are many animal-related magazines and journals (we can often provide back issues by arrangement).
- Investigate the "popular science" sections of libraries and bookshops.
- Keep an eye on the media for news stories involving animals or scientific/health-related topics.
It's a good idea to keep a notebook to record things you read and anything you found particularly interesting; as well as the experience you get - write down where you went, what you saw, any particularly interesting cases, etc. As well as being invaluable when it comes to applying for vet school, it will also give you a starting point for talking about things that interest you in interviews.
What is the veterinary course like?
Veterinary school courses vary slightly depending on the university but all will cover broadly the same ground. In general, in the first two years of the course (the "pre-clinical" years), students learn the basic medical sciences (anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology and physiology), animal husbandry, reproduction, food production, and public health. The third pre-clinical year covers pathology and disease processes; as well as clinical skills such as history-taking. In the fourth year (the first "clinical" year), students will begin to study clinical cases and learn practical skills such as surgery, anaesthesia, and diagnostics such as radiography and ultrasound. The final year is usually composed of "rotations", where a small group of students participates directly in the clinical work of the university's teaching hospitals in small animal (pet), large animal (farm), and equine (horse) medicine and surgery. Some vet schools allow a short block of "electives", where each student can choose a particular area of veterinary medicine to study in depth; such as exotic medicine, or orthopaedic surgery.
In addition to their studies, vet students must also complete a set minimum number of weeks of Extra-Mural Studies (what used to be called "seeing practice"), where they shadow qualified vets in a variety of real practices to learn practical skills.
Where can I find out more?
Updated 21/01/14 hp