Job descriptions and industry overviews

Veterinary surgeon: job description

19 Jul 2023, 08:49

Veterinary surgeons maintain the health and welfare of a wide range of animals, from pets to livestock, zoo animals and wildlife.

A group kittens.

Veterinary surgeon : Salaries | Employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Vets treat a huge variety of patients in a typical week. Even if they specialise – for example, on a particular species, a type of treatment or a specific group of clients – their patients will be suffering from a multitude of problems that need to be diagnosed and resolved.

Typical duties include:

  • diagnosing illnesses or injury.
  • prescribing the appropriate treatment or operating on the animal if necessary.
  • dealing with uncooperative animals and owners.
  • carrying out health checks and providing vaccinations.
  • facing a number of ethical considerations, such as deciding whether to put an animal to sleep.
  • keeping up to date on the law surrounding animals and their welfare.
  • giving advice to owners about caring for their animals, eg dietary recommendations.
  • carrying out x-rays and blood tests.
  • keeping patient records up to date.
  • working on-call for emergency cases.
  • making business decisions if you become a partner in a practice.
  • offering services to animal charities.

Working as a vet can be emotionally challenging – for example, when animals have to be euthanised or when they are treated badly.

You may need to work overtime and weekend slots, and, if you work with horses or farm or zoo animals, you’ll need to travel to your patients.

Graduate salaries

According to the Zoological Society of London, starting salaries for newly qualified vets are around £33,000. Your earnings will increase as you gain experience.

Salaries are affected by the location in which you work, the focus of your practice and whether you choose to specialise. Typically, if you work in a large animal practice, you’re likely to earn a higher salary than if you work with smaller animals and zoo animals.

Typical employers of veterinary surgeons

  • Private veterinary practices and surgeries.
  • Corporate veterinary groups.
  • Zoos.
  • Animal charities such as the RSPCA, Blue Cross, PDSA and Cats Protection.
  • Government organisations such as the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
  • Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC).

There are also opportunities to work in the pharmaceutical sector, usually as a consultant advising on animal health rather than working directly with patients.

You could also work as a locum vet.

Qualifications and training required

You can only become a veterinary surgeon if you have a degree in veterinary medicine. To practice in the UK, you need to be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). To do this, you will need to have graduated with a degree from an RCVS-approved veterinary school. Find a list of these on the RCVS website.

Most veterinary schools ask for an A level (or equivalent) in biology, plus others in chemistry, physics or maths. Typically, you will need A or A*grades.

If you don’t have a degree in veterinary medicine or your qualification isn’t recognised by the RCVS, you can apply to take the RCVS Statutory Membership Exam.

Once you’re qualified, you can continue to study and specialise in a particular area of veterinary medicine. The European Board of Veterinary Specialisation offers diplomas in topics such as anaesthesia, equine internal medicine and zoological medicine.

Competition for places on veterinary courses is stiff, so work experience will help your course applications stand out. Look for voluntary opportunities as well as paid work.

Key skills for veterinary surgeons

  • Excellent observation skills.
  • Empathy, patience and sensitivity.
  • Problem solving skills .
  • The ability to be calm and objective in emotional situations.
  • A thorough, methodical approach.
  • Excellent communication skills , including the ability to listen to owners in stressful situations.
  • Good hand to eye coordination.

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