So, You Want To Be A Vet?
The road to becoming a veterinary surgeon is a long and challenging one, but once you are fully qualified you are virtually guaranteed a job that is both well-paid and very rewarding vocationally too. You could even set up your own practice or go into partnership with a fellow graduate. Some vets go on to specialise and there are plenty of different fields to choose from; small “furries” (pets), equine, farm animals, exotic animals or wildlife. It’s not just about treating sick animals either; if you’re interested in the field of research, disease prevention and animal welfare there are opportunities there too.
It’s certainly hard work; the hours tend to be long and rather antisocial to cover surgery times, and you will be required to provide out-of-hours cover on a regular basis which usually entails being on-call overnight. But the benefits and job satisfaction far outweigh the less appealing side of the profession.
To become accepted onto the veterinary degree course is an achievement in itself as entry requirements are quite high. Vet schools ask for GCSE and A levels at grades A and B minimum including science subjects and mathematics. The degree course is five years in duration, or six years if you study at Cambridge. Once you have qualified, you could opt to continue your studies and work towards a PhD, a Master’s degree or a postgraduate Certificate or Diploma offered by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.
A day in the life of a vet
A typical day might begin at 08:00am by checking on the animals that have been hospitalised or admitted as overnight emergencies. Morning surgery usually begins at 09:00am with a mixed bag of cases including; routine vaccinations and check-ups, sick animals and follow-up appointments for those having ongoing treatment.
Late morning through into the afternoon is taken up with operations; neutering, dental work, tumour removal and wound repair. If the practice includes large animals or covers zoos or wildlife parks, some vets will work off-site visiting clients and this is usually done on a rota basis.
Evening surgery follows and any animals which were operated on during the morning will be checked over and prepared for discharge if they are ready to go home.
What makes a great vet?
Obviously, you need to really love animals, have an empathy with them and possess a genuine concern for their welfare. Most animals you will deal with also come complete with an owner! You must therefore have good people skills too.
Many owners will be concerned and even afraid for their pet when it’s sick and some may be grief-stricken when their beloved animal companion reaches the end of its life. You must be able to demonstrate tolerance, patience and understanding in sometimes difficult circumstances and be able to build a rapport with your patients’ owners as well as with the patients themselves.
In order to secure a place at a vet college, you will need to have obtained some work experience as well as the required grades. In-practice experience demonstrates that you are confident and comfortable being around animals in different settings. A good way to gain this experience is to contact suitable places in your area; riding stables, farms, rehoming centres etc. It’s often worth contacting local veterinary practices too as an extra pair of hands is often welcomed and any relationship you can build there may be helpful when you graduate and are seeking a permanent position. Try to get as many placements as you can in different environments.
All this experience will stand you in good stead when applying for a place in vet school.