At The Vets: A few tips on how to become a vet

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I come across many young people keen to work in the veterinary profession.

Everybody knows about vets in practice who work at preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases in animals, both small and large, and promoting their health and welfare.

There are also a large proportion of vets who work in other industries such as research, diagnostic laboratories, government agencies, drug companies and in the military.

The average starting wage for a newly qualified veterinary surgeon is about £25,000 which is just under the UK average. A vet with around five years’ experience will earn around £35,000 and their wages will not rise much over this level.

According to a recent survey, vets work an average of 50 hours a week and, in addition, the majority are on call through nights and weekends. Practices must have a vet on call 24-hours a day – a legal obligation in the UK. The hours are often long and unsociable, but on the plus side, the day-to-day job is variable and most find it very rewarding.

There are seven vet schools in the UK; in Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Nottingham. It can be challenging to get in as there are often 100 or more applicants per place.

The veterinary course lasts five years (six at Cambridge) and is demanding. Subjects covered include basic sciences for the first couple of years and then it becomes more practical in the clinical years. In the holidays, students are expected to complete unpaid extra mural studies. This consists of 12 weeks on farms. Students are expected to complete 26 weeks of these studies in different veterinary practices, including one week at an abattoir and one week at a veterinary laboratory agency.

Academic requirements to obtain a place on the course vary, but realistically for the Scottish universities you need to have or be predicted to achieve AAABB grades for SCE Highers and to have done Advanced Higher chemistry and biology, which, if not done in fifth year, would need at least BB.

The vet schools also look for candidates who have spent a lot of spare time ‘seeing practice’ with their local vet. We regularly have school students who want to become vets at the practice.

I hope this doesn’t put off too many who want to be vets – there are so many positives with our vocation.

But for someone considering entering the profession it is best to be prepared for what to expect. The first step is to contact your local veterinary practice and ask if you can ‘see practice’, continue to work hard at school and take it from there. Good luck!

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