Becoming a Veterinary Surgeon

What you need to do to follow a career in veterinary surgery

A career as a veterinary surgeon

These days Veterinary Surgery is one of the most popular career choices for young people and places to study the subject at University are oversubscribed making competition tough.

  • Skills required
  • Applying for university
  • Career opportunities
  • Further information

Skills required

Skills required

  • Love of animals and people
  • A good communicator
  • Good detective skills and an inquisitive mind
  • Ambition and enthusiasm
  • High intelligence and plenty of common sense

Applying for university

Applying to university

The number of high-quality applications for entry to university veterinary schools far exceeds the number of places available. You need to be aware, therefore, that even if you meet the entry requirements, you are not necessarily guaranteed a place.

All applications from school leavers, mature students, graduates (except in the case of Cambridge) and overseas students for places on veterinary degree courses at UK universities must be made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). For further information, contact the Secretary of UCAS, Fulton House, Jessop Avenue, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 3SH, or visit

UCAS publishes an annual guidance handbook to assist in completing the application form. Applications are made approximately one year in advance. Applicants for entry to Cambridge must also submit, at an early stage, a preliminary application form direct to the college of their choice within that university or an open application to the Cambridge InterCollegiate Applications Office. You will only be able to list four veterinary schools on your UCAS form. The remaining two choices should be for non-veterinary degrees.

University entry requirements

There are variations between the entrance requirements for different veterinary schools and therefore you must check the requirements very carefully in the individual university prospectuses. Prospectuses can be obtained free of charge direct from the universities or can be viewed on their websites.

In general terms, the entry requirements of the university veterinary schools are as follows:

A Levels

Chemistry must be offered at A-level. The requirement for other subjects varies a little from university to university, but either one or two subjects from Biology, Physics or Mathematics should be offered. Those universities which accept Chemistry and either Biology, Physics or Mathematics will accept a third A-level in a non-science subject, but it must be an academically sound subject. The grades generally expected are two A's and a B (Usually requiring an A in Chemistry)

AS Levels

Some universities accept AS levels, but precise requirements can vary. Normally, 2 AS levels will be accepted in lieu of 1 A level, except in Chemistry where a full A level is required.

SCE Highers

Chemistry must be offered and generally two subjects from Biology, Physics or Mathematics. The grades generally expected are AAABB.


Applicants are normally advised to proceed to the Sixth Year and include CSYS Chemistry and Biology or Physics in their subjects.


You must meet the general entrance requirements of the university. Most universities require you to have at least a grade C pass in English Language. Where A-level Biology or Physics is not offered, that subject or the equivalent (double award) should usually have been studied to GCSE level.

Work experience

All of the university veterinary schools require applicants to show evidence of their interest and commitment by having gained experience of working in a veterinary practice and working with and handling animals including livestock. However, practical experience is not a substitute for academic qualifications.

The universities

There are seven universities in the UK offering veterinary degrees approved by the RCVS.

These are Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (the Royal Veterinary College) and Nottingham. The degree courses are five years in length (six years at Cambridge).

Holders of the veterinary degree awarded by these seven UK universities may register and become a member of The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) which is the governing body of the profession in the United Kingdom.

Every veterinary surgeon has an obligation to deal with emergencies in any species at any time. Anyone contemplating a career in veterinary practice should remember this. It is a 24-hour service, 365 days a year.

Career opportunities

Career opportunities

The veterinary profession, though numerically small (19,226 registered veterinarians in 2000), has varied and important duties. There are career opportunities in a number of areas including:

General practice

The veterinary surgeon is responsible for the prevention of disease and for the medical and surgical treatment of animals including household pets, zoo animals, farm animals and horses.

There is a wide range of jobs in this field - from the charities (PDSA, RSPCA) seeing first opinion work to specialist referral practices and university hospitals.

Veterinary teaching and research

Research is undertaken at the university veterinary schools and at research institutes, departments financed by Government, in laboratories and by private enterprise. Many careers in research span the interface between human and veterinary medicine.

Government service

Many opportunities exist within the public sector. Veterinary surgeons are involved in protecting public health in the Department of Health or the newly created Food Standards Agency.

The profession's involvement in animal health and in preventing major epidemic diseases is carried out by the Veterinary Field Service - part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

Other opportunities

Other opportunities exist in commerce and industry, in international organisations and overseas. For example, there is the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN; the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, Veterinary Advisor to drug companies. etc.