What is veterinary science?
Veterinary science as a subject concerns the treatment of a range of different animals – from domestic pets to farmyard animals – and combines an array of subjects like anatomy and animal behaviour, as well as niche subjects like parasitology (the study of parasites) and gastroenterology (the study of the stomach and intestines).
Many of the subject areas covered during a veterinary science degree crossover with medical degrees, such as preventative care, psychological analysis and neurology. However, as the patient is very different, courses have to offer animal-specific modules, like breeding, for instance.
If you’re passionate about ensuring animal wellbeing, have a strong aptitude for scientific study and feel up to the challenge of dealing with all kinds of creatures – in both happy and sad circumstances – a veterinary science degree could be for you.
So how long does it take to qualify as a vet? Studying a veterinary science degree is challenging but rewarding and usually takes five or six years to complete. Students must be prepared to study for a relatively long period as, essentially, they are responsible for the health and safety of animals.
The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the governing body of the profession in the United Kingdom, and there are similar organisations worldwide. The universities in the UK offering veterinary degrees approved by the RCVS are Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (the Royal Veterinary College) and Nottingham. There are also a number of overseas degrees which are approved by RCVS in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
What do you learn in a veterinary science degree?
The approach differs between universities and you should fully research the various modules, and the possibility of industry placements, which are a great way of getting experience within the industry prior to graduation. Other factors to consider is the amount of time you will get having hands on experience with animals.
The University of Cambridge, for example, allow students to practise animal handling skills from the second week of term. As the years progress these skills become central to the degree.
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Budding vets should expect to study modules such as animal health science, cell biology, anatomy, physiology, nutrition, genetics, animal behaviour, epidemiology, pharmacology, infectious diseases, pathology, parasitology and animal disease. Students usually also have a choice of elective subjects which are studied at greater depth and give the student time to specialise in their given interests.
Most universities also offer the opportunity to complete a research project. Importantly, a huge range of vocational skills are learnt during university – such as how to keep a level head in a crisis – which can be applied to multiple professional disciplines.
Veterinary science degrees can be hard work, time consuming and require dedication. The average teaching hours for the average subject at university is 14 hours, however veterinary science usually teach for an average of 26 hours a week – sometimes rising to 32 hours. The time spent in lectures and seminars each week, however, varies between universities.
What should I study at high school if I want to study to be a vet?
Veterinary science degrees are a highly popular and competitive choice, and studying it at university requires a particular set of skills. With such tough competition, good grades are vital as well as an impressive personal statement and, now more than ever, previous relevant work experience.
You’ll need to have previously studied chemistry and biology and some universities prefer it if aspiring vets study physics and mathematics too. Modules, just like you’d find on a medicine degree, are scientific and it’s imperative that students have a strong scientific background to facilitate further study.
There is a good chance you’ll have to go through a fairly competitive interview process as well. This is more common than ever now as your future lecturers will want to find out more about what you’ve done previously as well as your passion and commitment for veterinary science.
Exact grade requirements differ from university to university however they tend to range from achieving AAB to three A*s at A Level (or your country's equivalent).
What do people who study veterinary science do after graduation?
Once students have completed their university, there are some encouraging statistics. Most graduates get jobs as veterinary surgeons upon graduation. Moreover, starting salaries are much higher than average, at about £27,000. Unsurprisingly, the majority of work is in rural areas, although most towns and cities have many veterinary practices.
General practice vets are largely responsible for the prevention of disease and for the medical and surgical treatment of animals including household pets, zoo animals, farm animals and horses. Once working, many veterinary surgeons choose to further specialise their knowledge by studying for additional qualifications, such as certificates and diplomas offered in the UK by the RCVS. Important to note, it is a requirement of RCVS that all veterinary surgeons keep their skills and knowledge up to date throughout their careers.
With the skills develop, trained vets can move into other industries, such as within veterinary teaching and research – whose role play a vital part in the advancement of understanding the field – government service, working within pharmaceutical companies, the armed forces, in international and overseas organisations and animal charities.
Many famous names previously trained as veterinary surgeons prior to changing their career paths. William Hall Macy, Jr. – the American actor, screenwriter, teacher, and director in theatre, film and television – studied veterinary medicine at Bethany College in West Virginia. Moreover Astrid Radjenovic, an Olympic bobsleigher, studied veterinary science at Wahroonga and Sydney University.