If you love animals, becoming a vet might be your idea of the dream career. We won’t lie to you, becoming a vet is tough, but it’s rewarding work.
This guide on how to become a vet takes you through the qualifications, skills and qualities you need to work with animals. It also answers the questions: what GCSE do you need to be a vet, and what qualifications do you need to be a vet?
Plus we'll give you a flavour of what it’s like in the profession – so you can decide whether it’s the career for you.
What does a vet do?
When you think about vets, you probably imagine the person you see when you take your beloved moggy or pooch for a check up. And while this is a big part of the veterinary profession, vets work in a huge range of other environments as well.
Did you know, for example, that zoos generally have a resident vet, who’s there to keep the animals happy and healthy, and look after them when they get sick? Or that the army has vets to look after the welfare of the dogs, horses and other animals that work for the military?
Wherever they’re found, vets have a few things in common. They’re responsible for:
- Preventing illness in animals through vaccinations, and by making sure they have a healthy diet and lifestyle.
- Diagnosing illness and prescribing medicines, surgery or other treatment.
- Carrying out surgery on sick animals.
If you’re thinking about becoming a vet, you should consider whether you want to work with pets, zoo animals, farm animals or animals in research facilities. Although it’s not something you need to decide straight away, it’s worth thinking about where your interests lie.
'Becoming a vet is hard work and a big commitment – but it's very rewarding if it's for you'
What skills and qualities does a vet need?
Confident working with animals
It might sound obvious, but first and foremost, you have to be comfortable working with animals – any animals, not just the cute and cuddly ones.
A strong stomach
Like any medical worker, you need to have a strong stomach and not be inclined to faint at the sight of blood. You will have to carry out surgery, so you need to be sure you can deal with that – but remember, you’ll get to observe and practice during your training.
It’s inevitable that you will see animals suffer and sometimes die during your career, so you need to have the stamina and emotional resilience to be able to cope with the rough as well as the smooth.
You’ll also need to be level-headed and analytic – able to use facts and observations to make a diagnosis and decide on the best course of action. And you’ll need to be able to communicate clearly with a wide range of people – often breaking difficult news when an animal is ill or has died.
To become a vet, you’ll need to put in five years of intense training, making commitment a vital quality. When we talked to veterinary student Charlotte Harris, she told us, "I wish someone had warned me about how time-consuming it can be. You have to be dedicated to your course and passionate about what you’re doing because if not, the intensity of the degree might be a bit much."
You may also have to work long and/or unsociable hours once you qualify. Many vets work on a rota, working some shifts in the evening or even overnight in case of emergencies.
So tell me how to become a vet?
What qualifications do you need to be a vet?
To work as a vet, you need to study for a degree in veterinary medicine. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the body in charge of vets in the UK, and you can study a veterinary degree approved by the RCVS at the following universities:
- University of Bristol
- University of Cambridge
- University of Edinburgh
- University of Glasgow
- University of Liverpool
- Royal Veterinary College, University of London
- University of Nottingham
The University of Surrey is currently working with the RCVS to develop an approved course, but it will probably not be approved until 2019 or 2020.
The degree takes five years, or six years at Cambridge.
Doing an RCVS-approved degree means you’ll be qualified to work in any veterinary practice in the UK.
What GCSE do you need to be a vet? And what A-levels are required to get onto the degree course?
The course is demanding and you will normally need at least As and Bs. Since there are lots of students applying for the course, the higher your grades, the greater your chances of getting a place.
As for GCSEs, you’ll need at least a 4 in English language, maths and science, often higher depending on the university. For any science that is not required by the university at A-level, you’ll probably need a high pass at GCSE.
Will I need work experience?
Hands-on experience is a must for students applying to study veterinary medicine – it’s something the university will want to see as a sign of commitment, although it’s important to remember they will value the quality of your work experience over the amount.
It’s advisable to have experience working in a vet’s surgery as well as working with farm animals. Use the RCVS find a vet tool to get in touch with a local practice. Talk to your careers advisor about getting work experience at a farm – local farms that are open to the public can be a good choice.
Because it’s such a big leap, work experience is a good way to see whether you’re cut out to be a vet before you apply.
Applying for your degree
The university application deadline for veterinary medicine is 15th October, earlier than the general UCAS deadline in January, so make sure you do your research early on and have plenty of time to get your application ready.
BMAT – what’s that?
If you’d like to apply to Cambridge or the Royal Veterinary College, you’ll need to take a BioMedical Admission Test (BMAT) as well. You won’t get an interview without it, so make sure you ask a teacher or careers advisor about this well in advance.
Getting work experience during your degree
You will need to spend time during your holidays getting hands-on experience as you study for your degree.
The RSPCA and PDSA are popular choices for veterinary students looking for work experience. Your university will offer help and guidance on finding work experience.
What will happen when I complete my degree?
Once you’ve finished your veterinary degree, you’ll need to spend some time working as a veterinary assistant before becoming a fully qualified vet. This allows you take what you’ve learnt at university and apply it under supervision. You’ll learn the tricks of the trade from a fully trained vet.
This is also your chance to try different things and decide what area of veterinary medicine you want to specialise in – do you want to work in a vet’s surgery, on a farm, in a research facility, for the military, or somewhere else?
How much are vets paid?
The average starting salary for a vet is £31,327.
Your salary will go up with experience, especially if you study for extra qualifications or gain a promotion.
What other animal jobs are there?
If you’re not sure you’re cut out to be a vet, don’t worry – there are plenty of other jobs working with animals. You could work with vets as a veterinary nurse, study and research animals as a zoologist, work as a dog handler for the military – and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
So now you know how to become a vet. Why not check out our interview with a veterinary student, to get a sense of whether it’s the right career for you?