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How To Become A Vet

Ask children what they want to be when they grow up, and vet might be the most popular answer of all. Of these, however, only some have the combination of empathy, immense skill and perseverance that it takes to become a veterinary surgeon. It is a highly rewarding job, but also a highly demanding one. Most people would balk at the idea of performing surgery on a human, but imagine a human that cannot tell you what hurts or give you any information, and imagine that each human had its own separate anatomy that you had to study and be fully informed on, and you have some idea of the difficulties facing those who have to diagnose and treats our pets and livestock.

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If that idea seems like a challenge worth accepting rather than an overly daunting task, then a career as a vet may be for you. So read on, and discover the essential education required to save all species, as well as the postgraduate qualifications you can take that may lead to huge technological breakthroughs that save the lives of countless of our furry or feathered friends (not to mention those with scales or skins…).

What Undergraduate Qualifications Are Needed?

Compared to other medical degrees like medicine or dentistry, options for potential vets are limited in the UK to a handful of universities that offer Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)-accredited degrees. Vets will need to gain an undergraduate degree from one of the following places (listed in alphabetical order): Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Nottingham, as well as the RVC itself in London and potentially the University of Surrey if it meets the requirements when inspected in 2017. These courses last either five or six years, and train you in the treatment of all animals, with chances to specify in certain animal groups like zoo animals, horses and of course pets.

What Should I Study At Postgraduate Level?

Postgraduate study is not only advised for aspiring vets: it is essential if not mandatory. To remain a member of the RCVS, all vets are expected to undertake 105 hours of what is called Continuing Professional Development on a rolling basis every three years, an average of around 30 hours a year. Although elements such as private study, mentoring and attending conferences count towards this development, many find that the most rewarding way to keep up to date with their CPD requirements is to undertake postgraduate courses and degrees that combine training, research and study.

Of the postgraduate courses available, the most comprehensive is the Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice, known as the CertAVP. Far more flexible than most postgraduate courses, individual modules can be completed at any time, allowing a great amount of flexibility for a vet to complete this study whilst also continuing general practice. To gain the full CertAVP, however, vets must eventually complete a series of six free-standing modules within the seven universities mentioned earlier in this guide, or in the veterinary nursing school at the University of Middlesex. These modules are banded into three categories, A, B and C, and the CertAVP is gained when a student has completed the ‘A’ module, one ‘B’ and four ‘C’ courses.

In practice, this means taking the sole ‘A’ module ‘Foundations of Advanced Veterinary Practice’ at Edinburgh, Liverpool, the RVC or Middlesex, a ‘B’ module that are overviews of specific areas of practice such as equine or small animal practice, and then four ‘C’ modules which are closer looks at certain animal groups or certain body parts within these animals; to pick one of the ‘C’ modules at random for an example, ‘Feline Cardiovascular Disorders, Respiratory Disorders and Infectious Diseases’ (available at Edinburgh).

Further from the CertAVP, qualified vets might consider taking more structured masters or doctorate degrees, allowing them to teach and conduct cutting-edge research alongside their practice. From preventing disease outbreaks amongst cattle to understanding important genetic processes in animals that can lead to huge strides towards curing certain human diseases, veterinary research is an incredibly noble pursuit that improves the welfare, safety and health of countless animals and humans every single year. All the RCVC-approved universities offer their own specific options, so are worth researching further depending on your particular specialities and skills.

What Work Experience Should I Consider?

Whether you are applying for undergraduate or postgrad veterinary programs, or looking for further ways to complete your Continuing Personal Development requirements, work experience is an absolute must. Candidates for degree programs must demonstrate an interest in veterinary work through some work in some form of animal-based field to be seriously considered for a place. Usually this would be in general practice, but there is also interesting work to be done in areas you might not consider, such as government agencies like the Food Standards Agency and in commerce and industry. All of these offer internship and work experience programs, so are worth considering.

As for those looking to complete their CPD, work experience is just one of the activities you can complete to meet your 105-hour target. Whether this means working on a new project in a department or group outside of your regular practice or more formal work experience like secondments to new workplaces is up to you, depending on what you would find most rewarding as a source of professional development.

Student Case Study

Scott is a vet who studied at the RVC. As part of his CPD work, he has begun the ‘A’ module of his CertAVC via distance learning, and is looking forward to the options to specialise that it will provide him as he progresses through it. “My family always had horses” Scott reminisces, “so I’d really love to take some of the equine modules and hopefully become a specialist in them”. He also says that he is considering entering into research in the future, but for the most loves the chance he has to study alongside the general practice that he loves.

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