What the job involves

Veterinary surgeons in general practice carry out a wide range of tasks from promoting and maintaining the health of animals through to diagnosing and treating sick and injured animals.

Other tasks include:

  • Operating on sick or injured animals
  • Neuter animals to prevent them from breeding
  • Give vaccinations
  • Advise owners on the care of their animal
  • Carry out diagnostic tests such as radiographs and ultrasound scans
  • Put old, ill or injured animals to sleep

Personal qualities

As a veterinary surgeon you must be good with both animals and people. You must be empathetic and be able to talk sensitively to owners about the care and treatment of their animals.

You will need to be confident, assertive, practical and able to work alone but also have the ability to work within a close knit team.

Working conditions

There is no doubt that being a veterinary surgeon involves working long hours and a rota system will usually mean you may be expected to also work weekend, evening and night shifts.

The majority of veterinary surgeons work in a veterinary practice environment but there will be times when you may be called out to attend emergencies or visit clients and their animals at home.

Veterinary surgeons working in mixed practice may also get involved in farm work; visiting farms to test and treat livestock and horses.

Qualifications and training

You must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) to work as a vet in the UK. In order to register you must have a veterinary degree from an RCVS approved UK University, or an equivalent recognised overseas qualification.

Most veterinary degree courses are five or six years long.

A list of the UK Veterinary Schools can be found on the RCVS website.

What qualification do I need to start training as a vet?

In order to do a veterinary degree you will normally need the following:

  • Five GCSEs, usually required at Grade A (or 7) or above, including English Language, Mathematics and Science
  • Three A Levels (3 As or 2As and a B) including Biology, Chemistry and Physics or Mathematics

However it is important that you check with each vet school as entry requirements can vary.

Getting into the profession

All of the UK Veterinary Schools ask that applicants have undertaken work experience in a veterinary practice and have experience of handling animals including livestock.

Competitive entry means that both meaningful work experience, a commitment to the profession and academic grades are all extremely important in the application process.

Salary and benefits

Newly qualified vets can expect to earn approximately £21,800 per year, with this rising to around £36,500 with experience (UK Graduate Careers Website). Opportunities to earn more by becoming a partner in a practice exist.

Other benefits may include a car, on site accommodation and subsidised veterinary care.


Many veterinary surgeons choose to remain in general veterinary practice, others may choose to move to referral practice or out of clinical work altogether.

Opportunities to further your knowledge exist by studying additional qualifications such as an RCVS Certificate or Diploma; perhaps specialising in orthopaedics, ophthalmology or small animal surgery.

Other opportunities include:

  • Teaching
  • Research (advancing the understanding and treatment of disease)
  • Government and non-government (NGO) service (protecting public health and preventing spread of diseases)
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Practice ownership
  • Jobs requiring a biology or science-based degree

Further information

View all careers

Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of our career profiles, however we advise that you check with the relevant college/university/organisation that you are intending studying with in regards to current entry criteria.