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Veterinary Surgeon

Aug 2023
Career of the Month
a dog in the arms of a surgeon wearing a blue coat

Key Facts

Starter Salary
Experienced Salary
Working Hours
40-45 hours a week


Veterinary surgeons - or vets as they are often known - diagnose disease and treat injuries and disease in all types of animals, including pets, and farm and zoo animals.

Vets discuss treatment with animal owners. They may take x-rays and scans, conduct tests, prescribe medication, give injections or arrange surgery. Other work can include discussing illness prevention and healthy lifestyles with owners and giving routine vaccinations. Vets can work in general practice or specialise, for example, in equine, farm or exotics; some work for the government.

Some vets (or veterinary scientists) work in laboratories looking at ways to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases in animals.

They design and conduct experiments, analyse the results and report their findings. They may work for the government, for pharmaceutical companies or in other types of research.Vets need to be dedicated to animal welfare without being sentimental, observant, have a strong aptitude for science and excellent communication skills.

What it takes

What it takes:

Skills and knowledge you'll need

  • knowledge of animal medicine and dentistry
  • knowledge of biology
  • customer service skills
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • the ability to work well with your hands
  • the ability to use your judgement and make decisions
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently

Other requirements

  • you may need a driving licence for some jobs


  • pass enhanced background checks

Day to day

Day to day:

In general veterinary practice you could be

  • diagnosing and treating sick and injured animals
  • performing surgery
  • carrying out tests such as blood analysis, X-rays and scans
  • providing care for animals in veterinary hospitals
  • carrying out regular health checks and giving vaccinations
  • checking farm animals and advising how to stop diseases spreading
  • supervising veterinary nurses and support staff
  • keeping records of treatments
  • communicating with pet owners and insurers
  • neutering animals to stop them breeding
  • putting severely injured or terminally ill animals to sleep
  • following public health and hygiene laws
  • working in animal health research

You could work at a veterinary practice, in remote rural areas or in a laboratory.

You may need to wear a uniform and protective clothing.

Your working environment may be physically and emotionally demanding and outdoors some of the time.

You will need

  • Top grade A-Levels in one sitting
  • An A-level (or equivalent) in chemistry
  • An A-level (or equivalent) in biology
  • A GCSE (4+/A*-C) (or equivalent) in English
  • A GCSE (4+/A*-C) (or equivalent) in maths
  • GCSEs (4+/A*-C) (or equivalent) in 3 sciences (or double science)
  • Work experience in a veterinary practice
  • Work experience with animals
  • A degree in a veterinary medicine or science

You may need

  • An A-level (or equivalent) in maths

Academic and Vocational Notes

To register as a veterinary surgeon you must hold a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons-approved degree in veterinary science/medicine. Along with high grades, degree admission tutors look for experience of working with animals and you must be able to demonstrate that you understand the role of a veterinary surgeon. When researching degree courses, always check specific academic and work experience requirements with individual providers. You will have an interview, undergo health checks and may have to sit a test.

It is possible to first take a degree in a related subject and then take an accelerated approved veterinary science/medicine degree.

Some universities run special programmes to prepare able students for a degree in veterinary science/medicine but who do not have the required subjects or grades for direct entry. Note that these programmes are generally aimed at specific groups of students.

Veterinary science/medicine degree courses incorporate a significant amount of time on placements gaining experience and learning in the workplace.

Once newly qualified as a veterinary surgeon you are expected to participate in a veterinary graduate development programme; this will help in your transition from veterinary school to your first job.

With experience, you could set up your own practice, or specialise in treating certain animals or conditions, for example. You may have the opportunity to undertake part-time postgraduate study.

It is essential to keep your knowledge and skills up to date through continuing professional development.

Other Routes

Whilst these are the usual routes to this career, there can be alternatives. You will be able to discuss these with your adviser.

To learn more about getting into a career as a Veterinary Surgeon, take a look at our article - Career Focus of the Month: Veterinary Surgeon

Some data provided by NCS. May contain public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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