Veterinary surgeon: job description

Veterinary surgeons maintain the health and welfare of a wide range of animals, from personal pets to livestock, zoo specimens, or even injured wild animals.

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There are a number of different ways to build up a large body of experience, from volunteering with charities to temporary contracts.

What does a veterinary surgeon do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Veterinary surgeons are required to practice medicine on animals on a daily basis. This could be anything from giving injections, to delivering baby animals or performing complex surgeries. Other responsibilities include:

  • diagnosing illnesses in a variety of different animals
  • 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
  • knowing the laws surrounding animals and their welfare
  • giving advice to owners regarding their animals, eg dietary recommendations
  • taking x-rays and blood tests
  • working on-call for emergency cases

You may be frequently required to work overtime and weekend slots. For a fully qualified veterinary surgeon salaries are typically quite generous, but you are likely to earn more working with small or companion animals than you are working with large animals or livestock. To find out more about what salary you might earn as a graduate and experienced veterinary surgeon, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.

Typical employers of veterinary surgeons

  • Private veterinary practices and surgeries
  • 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)
  • Pharmaceuticals manufacturers

Some vets may also work freelance, as a partner in a practice or as a consultant. There are plenty of opportunities to work overseas, with veterinary volunteers in high demand.

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). In order to do this, you will need to have graduated with a degree from an RCVS approved veterinary school. A list of these are available on the RCVS website. If this is not the case then you will have to take the RCVS Statutory Membership Exam. Applications usually close in February.

Any previous work experience is beneficial. Volunteering opportunities may be available within veterinary practices, animal boarding centres and charities such as the RSPCA, PDSA, Cats Protection and Blue Cross.

Key skills for veterinary surgeons

  • A love of animals
  • Empathy, patience and sensitivity
  • Rational objectivity
  • A thorough, methodical approach
  • Communication skills
  • Scientific ability
  • Calmness in pressurised or emotional situations

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