Each month we take a deeper look at one career pathway in particular. For in-depth profiles of over 600 job profiles, take a look at the Indigo Careers module. This month we take a look at the role of a Veterinary Surgeon*.

Job profile_Vet 2400x1800

Qualifications and courses:

In order to practise as a vet, all candidates are required to have a degree in veterinary science/veterinary medicine and register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). Degrees approved by the RCVS are currently available at 8 institutions in the UK. Normal minimum entry requirements for a degree are 3 A levels/4 H grades including Biology and 1 or 2 from Chemistry, Physics or Maths. Depending upon the individual university, you will be expected to have either 2 A grades and a B or 3 A grades (or equivalent). A good range of GCSEs/National 5s (C or above, or 4 or above in England) is required.

Degree courses usually last 5 years but courses may include an optional additional year in which students gain an Honours degree in a related science subject. All courses include the 38 weeks of practical experience required by the RCVS.

All universities expect applicants to demonstrate their passion for animals and commitment to a career as a veterinary surgeon by undertaking relevant work experience. Candidates could work on farms, in stables, kennels or vets and opportunities to volunteer with animals are available on the Do-it website or through the RSPCA, SSPCA and the Blue Cross.


What the work involves:

Vets treat animals that are suffering because of disease or injury. They administer vaccinations, prescribe drugs and deliver newborn animals. They also advise owners on caring for their animals. You might carry out surgical operations and be involved in the inspection of livestock and meat.

You could work in local practices and become a specialist carrying out complex surgery on a certain part of the anatomy or become an expert on a particular animal.


Type of person suited to this work:

You must have the capacity to learn large amounts of complex scientific information and apply this in a practical way to treat animals.

Some of your work will be sad or distressing, so you will have to work in a practical and unsentimental way. You must have good communication skills to talk to the owners.

Working with large animals is physically demanding so you will need to be in good health. This job will not suit those who dislike the sight of blood or suffer from animal allergies.


Working Conditions:

Your working conditions will depend on the type of practice that employs you. In veterinary practices for small animals, you will spend a lot of time in the surgery. Working with farm livestock and horses, you will travel to visit your patients.

Some of this work will be unpleasant or smelly and involve travelling long distances. A driving licence is required.

Your job may be dangerous as animals can be unpredictable. You will work long hours and be on call to cover emergencies 24/7.


Future prospects:

With a strong record of work experience, there are still jobs and practices to join upon graduation, although it is not as easy as it was owing to an increased intake of veterinary science students by RCVS-accredited institutions.

As a graduate, you will normally join an established practice. With experience, you could progress to become a partner (effectively part-owner) of a practice. You could also undertake further training to become an expert in a niche area such as ophthalmology.

There are over 20,000 registered vets practising in the UK. The majority of these work in private practice. Some vets work for the government, for retailers selling meat and animal products, or for firms researching and producing animal pharmaceuticals.



The training is long and very competitive to enter. In this career you will never stop learning – more experience will make you a better vet.

It can be a very stressful but rewarding job, with lots of responsibility.

You will have to deal with the death of some of the animals you treat, including times when you put them down.


Money guide

Salaries vary according to experience, specialisations, and the size, type and location of the practice you work in.

Newly qualified vets have a starting salary of £21,000–£33,000.

As you gain experience, your earnings can range from £40,000 to £44,000.

A senior vet with many years of experience can earn between £50,000 and £70,000 a year.

Employers may include accommodation and a company car within your benefits package.


Further information

Visit the British Veterinary Association, People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for further information. 


*Information in this profile taken from Careers, from Trotman Publishing – part of the Indigo family.