A veterinary surgeon is a veterinarian qualified in the UK and some other English-speaking countries (See: Commonwealth of Nations and Commonwealth realms). In the UK, veterinary surgeons are regulated by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons or RCVS. The legislation affecting the activity of UK veterinary surgeons and of the RCVS is the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966.
This legislation restricts the treatment of animals in the UK to qualified veterinary surgeons only, with certain specific exceptions. The exceptions are the treatment of animals by physiotherapy and other manipulation techniques (e.g. chiropractic, osteopathy), on the recommendation of and under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon. Certain trained individuals may be legally authorised to undertake procedures such as blood sampling or ultrasonic pregnancy diagnosis, following appropriate training and assessment.
Typical work activities
Most general practice work is undertaken either in the surgery in consultations with owners and their animals, or in animals' living environments, for example in farms, stables or owners' homes.
Typical work activities include:
- handling, examining and treating all species of animals, primarily pets, companion animals, farm livestock and horses;
- meeting and consulting with owners;
- carrying out diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, blood samples and ultra-sound;
- giving advice to farmers on issues such as breeding, nutrition and herd health;
- undertaking routine visits to farms to check the health of livestock;
- immunising animals against different forms of disease;
- euthanasing old, sick or terminally ill or unwanted animals;
- performing surgery, including anaesthesia;
- caring for in-patient animals, including examining and advising on treatment;
- dealing with out-of-hours emergencies when on call;
- providing suitable paperwork for animals travelling abroad;
- inserting identification microchips into animals;
- maintaining records, raising and forwarding reports and certificates in compliance with current legislation;
- liaising with and referring to other professionals and doctors.
Vets working as practice partners will have the additional responsibility of managing practice finances, promoting the surgery to potential clients, and recruiting and managing veterinary surgeons, nurses and receptionists.
Vets working for government agencies may research disease, test for and manage infection outbreaks or food safety, and complete paperwork for pet passports.
Salary and Conditions
- Salary levels for new graduates depend greatly on the size and location of the practices they work for. A remuneration package for newly qualified vets could range from £20,000 - £28,000, which includes accommodation, car, fuel allowance for private use, professional fees and a continuing professional development (CPD) allowance (salary data collected April 06 from the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons).
- Salary with five years' experience could be up to £48,300 (salary data collected April 06).
- A typical package for someone with 20 years' experience and over could be up to £54,000 (salary data collected April 06).
- Some veterinary surgeons earn more than the salaries quoted above. Levels will vary according to further training, specialisation and if working as a practice partner.
- Every veterinary surgeon has an obligation to deal with emergencies in any species at any time - most practices offer a 24-hour, 365 days a year service. Work is often on a rota system; veterinary surgeons will rarely work a nine to five day.
- Most veterinary surgeons work in private practice, often as partners once they have gained experience.
- The working environment can vary from a clean, pleasant surgery to owners' homes or outdoors, often in poor weather conditions.
- The job is becoming more specialised with an increased focus either on farm or equine work only, or working with small animals.
- The number of vacancies still outweighs the number of veterinary surgeons, so employment is not hard to find providing you are flexible and willing to relocate.
- Work as a locum is often possible.
- The male/female ratio is around 1:3.
- The job is physically demanding, carries a high level of responsibility and can be extremely stressful. Working hours can impact on social life.
- Has a high suicide rate compared to other professions.
- Travel around a range of locations in your area is frequent, but travel overseas is uncommon.
A degree in veterinary science/medicine (and registration as a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)) is required to practise as a veterinary surgeon in the UK and the European Union. The seven institutions offering relevant degrees are:
- University of Bristol;
- University of Cambridge;
- University of Edinburgh;
- University of Glasgow;
- University of Liverpool;
- University of Nottingham;
- The Royal Veterinary College, London.
Degree courses are usually five years in length (six years at Cambridge, accelerated course at RVC is 2 years). UK and EU applicants pay the normal subsidised home rates (about £3000 per year) for tuition and international applicants are expected to pay full fees for the course (in the region of £15,000 per year).
Entry into the second year or third year (RVC) of the veterinary science/medicine degree may be possible for graduates from relevant degree areas, e.g. life or medical sciences. Entry on to courses with an HND only is not usually possible unless supported by the required A-levels or evidence of the equivalent knowledge. Graduates and Diplomates are advised to discuss their applications with veterinary schools' admission tutors.
Because of the medical responsibilities of the work and to ensure fitness to practise as a veterinary surgeon, applicants to university courses may be asked to disclose details or information about any previous convictions, mental health or behavioural issues, or addictions to drugs or alcohol.
There are a number of privately run courses for individuals considering a veterinary career, but these are not essential and do not usually enhance applications.
Pre-entry experience is essential. All veterinary schools require candidates to show evidence of their interest and commitment through periods of work experience involving handling animals, including livestock. This could include experience in veterinary practices, farms, stables, or kennels. Experience of handling horses and helping with lambing can also be useful.
As well as scientific ability and animal handling skills, potential candidates will need to show evidence of the following:
- excellent communication skills, particularly when dealing with clients in difficult circumstances;
- a flexible approach;
- an understanding that economic realities will affect how you undertake your work, for example you will need to understand the commercial priorities of farmers when treating farm animals;
- the ability to deal tactfully and sympathetically with animals and pet owners;
- commercial and management skills (for practice partnership later on in your career);
- a practical and unsentimental approach when dealing with animals.
Animal welfare societies such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) offer good opportunities to build up experience.
From 1 October 2006 it will be illegal to discriminate against candidates on age grounds but, in practice, age may continue to be used in selection criteria by some employers. For more information on equality and diversity in the job market and how to handle discrimination, see the AGCAS publication A Level Playing Field.
Career Development and Training
Continuing professional development (CPD) is a mandatory and key part of career development. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) recommends a minimum of 105 hours' CPD over a three-year period. The RCVS Professional Development Phase (PDP) that will be launched for new graduates in 2007 will provide a structured approach to help judge professional competences in small animal, equine or production animal practice.
It is possible to gain diplomas and certificates in a range of clinical specialities whilst working in a practice. A certificate will take around two years to complete. Some employers pay part or all of the course fees and you may be able to take time off to study. Certificates cover a wide range of areas, including ophthalmology, cardiology and orthopaedics. The RCVS is introducing modular certificates, which will replace the current certificate qualifications and are designed to be accessible to all vets and encourage lifelong learning.
There may also be the opportunity to train to become a Local Veterinary Inspector (LVI). Most practices will have a trained LVI who is authorised to carry out certain tasks on behalf of the Secretary of State (Defra). These tasks include testing cattle for tuberculosis (TB) and brucellosis, and the issue of documentation for the export of animals and animal products. There are a wide variety of other LVI tasks; you should contact your local Animal Health Divisional Office (AHDO) for details.
Newly qualified veterinary surgeons usually work as assistants for some time before being offered the opportunity to become a partner or a principal, although the number of opportunities for partnerships is decreasing, with many practices being owned by larger companies and all vets being employed. Not every vet will want to become a partner as it involves increased responsibility, the need for more business and management skills and a financial input into the practice.
There is the opportunity to increase specialisation, either in existing practices or in practices noted for expertise in a particular field, such as equine medicine, small animal surgery or dermatology. Further training is required for these specialisations, which can lead to a certificate or diploma. With further training, extensive professional experience and by publishing articles on your chosen area, it is possible to gain Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Recognised Specialist Status. Recognised specialists have demonstrated a high level of knowledge in their specialised field and must be available to offer consultation in their chosen field
There are also opportunities to work for employers such as animal welfare societies and government services, for example in the State Veterinary Service (SVS), the Veterinary Laboratories Agency or the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). The SVS is responsible for areas such as the control and eradication of major notifiable diseases and also has responsibility for animal welfare, promotion of international trade and certain public health functions related to residues in meat and investigation of food safety incidents. THe SVS also provides education to LVIs and members of the public on request. The Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) is involved in consumer protection, principally in the area of meat hygiene. The VMD is focused on the licensing of veterinary medicines.
It is also possible to pursue a research and/or teaching career within universities or research bodies.
Employment Sources and Related Jobs
Veterinary surgeons are typically employed in private practices in rural and urban areas. They may also work for zoos, animal hospitals and animal welfare societies, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and The Blue Cross.
Vets also undertake research, teaching and academic work in universities, research institutes and pharmaceutical companies. Veterinary research leads to a greater understanding of how diseases originate and spread, and what effect this has on animals. This leads to improved prevention strategies against specific diseases, including the production of vaccines, improved diagnostic tests, and the ability to breed healthy and productive animals. Comparison of physiological and pathological processes between species contributes significantly to our understanding of normal and diseased states. Veterinary researchers also play a particular role in food safety through the development of prophylactic, therapeutic and management strategies to prevent disease in food animal species
Overseas opportunities can be found with, amongst others, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (a bursary for the last three years' training is possible, but commits the recipients to a minimum four years' commission) and Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO).
Vets in general practice are often sub-contracted for part-time work by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) or Local Authorities, inspecting hygiene and care standards in zoos, kennels, catteries, riding stables, pet shops and livestock markets. Approximately 400 work full-time for DEFRA, in either The State Veterinary Service (SVS) or the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. Other government agencies that employ vets include the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), the Food Standards Agency, the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Home Office.
Due to challenges within the farming industry following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001 and BSE, some practices are focusing more on domestic pets than on farm livestock.
Relevant jobs are occasionally advertised on the websites of the following government departments:
Academic institutions and charitable organisations may also advertise vacancies through their websites.
- Agricultural consultant/adviser
- Animal laboratory technician
- Animal nutritionist
- Farm manager
- Field trials officer
- Land-based engineer
- Veterinary nurse