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5 min read

How To Become A Vet

The world of veterinary care, treatment and medicine has been transformed over the past few decades and is a far cry from the times of the well known vet and author, James Herriot, when veterinary services were found in communities, with far fewer specialised clinics or hospitals.
Written by
Joanna Clare
Content Manager
Published on
June 3, 2024

The world of veterinary care, treatment and medicine has been transformed over the past few decades and is a far cry from the times of the well known vet and author, James Herriot, when veterinary services were found in communities, with far fewer specialised clinics or hospitals. There was an emphasis on tradition which reflected long established and trusted practices and techniques unlike the extremely advanced technology of today which utilises cutting edge equipment for diagnostics, surgery and treatment and offer specialised care in areas such as oncology, cardiology and dermatology.

I am reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with an elderly distant relative of mine who had worked in the War Office alongside Sir Winston Churchill. However, it was not this which was his fondest memory, but it was of one Christmas Eve when he was staying with his sister and her family at her home in north Yorkshire. Her dog had become increasingly unwell throughout the day and so she telephoned the local vet who arrived in the evening and it was James Herriot himself! He administered the dog some medication and advised it to be taken each day for a week. On enquiring how much she owed, Herriot’s reply was ‘Nothing…Merry Christmas to you all!’

How times have changed! Yet what hasn’t changed is the massive and lasting impact that an encounter with a vet can have on your life and that of your pet. Pet owners are now advised to take out one of the many options of pet insurance in the event of their animal becoming unwell or developing long term issues as veterinary bills can quickly run into thousands of pounds.

To become a vet, you will need to complete a degree which is approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons which takes on average 5- 6 years to complete although if you already have a degree in a related subject then you may be able to take a slightly lesser length of time completing a graduate entry veterinary degree course. Entry is very competitive and the process of selection is rigorous. To be considered, the basic requirements are usually at least five GCSEs grades A to C which include English, mathematics and science and at least 3 A levels or equivalent at Grade A which include biology and either physics, mathematics or chemistry. There may, of course, be variations between different veterinary schools and their requirements.

You must also be able to demonstrate that you have gained previous experience of working with animals, usually within veterinary practices and with livestock.

The RCVS is the governing body of the profession in the UK and at the time of writing there are eleven veterinary schools within the UK.

As a vet, you will find it extremely rewarding yet demanding. The skills you will need include resilience, a sound knowledge and interest in animal medicine, excellent communication skills, patience, the ability to make quick decisions, the ability to pay attention to the tiniest of details and to be extremely thorough as well as having the practical skills and refinement that you will need on a daily basis.

You will deal with a huge range of animals and no two days will ever be the same as you are busy diagnosing and treating sick animals, handling emergencies and administering critical care, performing operations and carrying out x-rays, scans and other necessary tests such as bloods. Vaccinations, health checks, neutering, liaising and collaborating with other professionals as well as euthanising animals and comforting and advising owners are all in a day's work. You will need unwavering knowledge on current animal laws, ethics and legislations in addition to health and hygiene policies. Additionally, you will be able to competently supervise and educate other staff members.

Being a vet places you in a position where you can make a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of animals and their owners. It requires a strong commitment towards animal welfare but it is not without its challenges, such as long hours, emotional and physical stress and the responsibility of sometimes making difficult medical decisions, but is without any doubt, a highly respected and extremely fulfilling vocation.

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