Vets diagnose and treat sick and injured animals. They have a wide range of duties, from providing health check-ups to prescribing medication and performing operations.
As a general practice vet, you can work with household pets, farm animals or even more exotic species. Other vets may choose to work in research, developing new drugs or investigating the spread of disease in animals.
It takes five to six years study at university to become a vet. You will be dealing with many different species, so there is lots of anatomy to learn but the result is a varied career full of challenges and real opportunities to care for animals.
We caught up with student vet Charlotte Harris, to find out what inspired her to pursue her career and how her work experience has taken her all over the world. Charlotte writes a brilliant blog Diary of a Vet Student, where she offers advice on how to apply to university and what to expect on the course. We highly recommend it to anyone thinking about becoming a vet!
Love animals? Get a taste of what it's like to work in a zoo with London Zoo's one day course - ends October 2015.
Name: Charlotte Harris
What is your job? Vet student
How long have you been training for? I’m in my 4th year at university but have been doing work experience for 10 years!
University: Edinburgh – Royal (Dick) College of Veterinary Studies
Degree Subject: Veterinary Medicine
Interests: Conservation, travel and music
What was your very first job?
At 16 I started waitressing in a local restaurant.
What did you want to do when you were at school?
I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was 13. This was a blessing as it meant that I started work experience early and had something to aim for, but it also meant that the pressure was on from quite a young age!
What made you want to train for your current job?
I have always been fascinated by the way that humans and animals interact. The way that an animal can be a friend, colleague, livelihood or helper shows how truly varied these relationships can be. A lot of owners view their pet as an integral part of their family, so to be allowed into the middle of those relationships as a vet, takes a lot of trust and understanding.
How did you get there?
I started work experience in a small animal veterinary practice when I was 14. Over the next 4 years I did a variety of work experience everywhere from kennels to zoos, vets practices to dairy farms. I have even been lucky enough to do work experience with a vet in South Africa. Work experience is essential to get into university to study veterinary medicine. I would always advise applicants get as much as possible.
Next, I applied to study veterinary medicine at university. I received three offers and all was going well until I developed a mystery illness in Upper Sixth, which meant that I ended up having to re-sit my exams the next year and apply to university again. Luckily I was accepted into my first choice uni, Edinburgh, a second time. The lesson: Setbacks can come at unexpected times, but keep working towards your goal and you can get there.
What is a typical day for a student vet like?
My timetable varies a lot. Most days I will have two or three lectures and often a practical lesson. In the first year we covered biochemistry, cat and dog anatomy, immunology, bacteriology, parasitology and virology. In second year, we covered the body systems and horse and cattle anatomy. In third year we covered a clinical foundation course plus cat and dog medicine with large animal, equine and exotic medicine being covered in fourth year. Final year is totally different from the other years as it is lecture free and consists only of clinical rotations, where we gain practical experience working in all the different areas of veterinary medicine. At Edinburgh it is done in the university’s specialist hospitals but some other universities use independent specialists in their area.
What is the best thing about what you do?
The best thing about veterinary medicine is definitely the variety. When you qualify with a veterinary medicine degree, you can work with any animals you choose. Specialisms are commonly divided into farm, small animal, equine and exotics, but you can also go into positions in industry, the government and research. The world really is your oyster!
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
The hardest thing that I have come across in practice is abuse. Although the large majority of people look after their animals very well, there are a small number that don’t give their animals the necessary level of care and this can be an incredibly difficult situation to approach.
What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?
Work experience is under-rated by a lot of veterinary medicine applicants. A lot of people worry about how much to do, but my advice would be to start early and simply to get as much as possible in a wide range of areas. By starting so early, it made it much easier for me to gain a variety of experience and I already had plenty under my belt when I started to apply to universities.
Be pro-active too. Although some places won’t take you until you are a bit older, at least if you contact them you can join a waiting list or get your foot in the door.
I also think it is really important to make sure there is more to you than just school and good grades. Extra-curricular activities will look great when applying to university but they will also be incredibly important once you are there. The veterinary medicine course can be all-consuming and it is really important to have a totally unrelated activity that you enjoy to help you relax. For example, at university I play a lot of netball and am currently learning to scuba dive.
What things do you wish you’d known before you started your course?
When I first started thinking about veterinary medicine, 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.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
In 5 years time I will have graduated and will hopefully have been working in practice for nearly 4 years. Ideally I would like to work with small animals and exotics although, if possible, I would jump at the chance to work with wild animals both here and abroad.
Photo by Mylene Hollero CC Attirbution