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Career as a Veterinary Surgeon

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the governing body of the profession in the United Kingdom. Under the provisions of the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966, with certain minor exceptions, only a registered veterinary surgeon is permitted to diagnose and treat the injuries and ailments of animals.

To train to be a veterinary surgeon you will need to go to university and take a veterinary degree. The universities in the UK; Bristol, Cambridge, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (the Royal Veterinary College) and more recently Nottingham & Surrey. The degree courses are five years in length (six years at some schools).

There are also a number of overseas degrees which are approved by RCVS: in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Graduates from North American veterinary schools accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association can also apply to become members of RCVS.

Holders of many European degrees are also eligible to register with RCVS if they are also EU citizens. View a list of approved European degrees. Information on European veterinary schools can also be found on the EAEVE (European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education) website.

Work in the veterinary profession is highly rewarding, but also very demanding. Every veterinary surgeon has an obligation to deal with emergencies in any species at any time. Anyone contemplating a career in veterinary practice should remember that it is a 24-hour service, 365 days a year.

Career Opportunities

The veterinary profession, though numerically small (there are over 20,000 members of RCVS in total), has varied and important duties to safeguard the health and welfare of animals and public health. There are career opportunities in a number of areas including:

General Practice

The veterinary surgeon is responsible for the prevention of disease and for the medical and surgical treatment of animals including household pets, zoo animals, farm animals and horses. Opportunities exist in practices that specialise in small animals, food producing animals, equine work or in mixed practices dealing with both small and large animals. Many veterinary surgeons working in practice choose to further their knowledge by studying for additional qualifications, such as the Certificates and Diplomas offered by the RCVS, and it is a requirement of RCVS that all veterinary surgeons keep their skills and knowledge up to date throughout their careers.

Veterinary Teaching and Research

Veterinary researchers play a vital role in advancing our understanding of diseases. Research in veterinary sciences enhances the health, welfare and usefulness of both food producing and companion animals. It safeguards the public from diseases spread from animals in food and by other means. By comparative investigations, it helps us understand and manage human disease, for example in cancer, genetics, reproduction and infections.

Research is undertaken at the university veterinary schools and at research institutes, departments financed by Government, in laboratories and by private enterprise. Many careers in research span the interface between human and veterinary medicine. If you would like to read more about veterinary research, please take a look at the RCVS research section.

Government Service

Many opportunities exist within the public sector. Veterinary surgeons are involved in protecting public health in government departments and agencies such as the State Veterinary Service, the Food Standards Agency, the Meat Hygiene Service, the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) employs vets to monitor animal health and to prevent the spread of diseases.

Other Opportunities

Other opportunities exist in commerce and industry such as in pharmaceutical companies, in international and overseas organisations and consultancies and charities such as the RSPCA and PDSA. The veterinarian’s broad scientific training is also of value in areas such as wildlife and environmental conservation.

University Entry Requirements

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons can only give general advice on university entrance requirements as there may be some slight variations between the different veterinary schools. You must check the requirements very carefully in the individual university prospectuses. Prospectuses can be obtained free of charge direct from the universities, or can be viewed on their websites. See University Veterinary Schools – Contacts.

You can also see an overview of the qualifications accepted for entry in our detailed entrance requirements document, which has been compiled by the seven veterinary schools.

In general terms, the entry requirements of the university veterinary schools are as follows:

A Levels

Biology must usually be offered at A level. The requirement for other subjects varies a little from university to university, but either one or two subjects from Chemistry, Physics or Mathematics should be offered. Some universities may accept a third A level in a non-science subject, but it must be an academically sound subject. The minimum grades generally expected are two A’s and a B, though some schools will require three grade A’s.

AS Levels

Some universities accept AS levels, but precise requirements can vary. Sometimes, 2 AS levels will be accepted in lieu of 1 A level, except in Chemistry where a full A level is usually required.

SCE Highers

Chemistry must be offered and generally two subjects from Biology, Physics or Mathematics. The grades generally expected are AAABB.

Advanced Highers

Applicants are normally advised to proceed to the Sixth Year and include CSYS Chemistry and Biology or Physics in their subjects.


You must meet the general entrance requirements of the university. Most universities require you to have at least a grade C pass in English Language, Mathematics and Science, and many will expect A grades at GCSE. Where A level Biology or Physics is not offered, you must have a good pass in that subject at GCSE level.

Vocational Qualifications

Some universities will consider applicants with relevant vocational qualifications, such as the BTEC Diploma in Animal Science, with distinction grades.

Alternative Routes

If you have not managed to get the correct grades or have not chosen the correct subjects, there are still options available for getting into a veterinary degree course. Some of the schools offer a 6 year course which is aimed at those students who do not have the required scientific qualifications. This extra year will focus on the types of subjects that most students will study at A level, and this will prepare the student for the 5 year degree. If you do not have the expected subjects/grades you are advised to speak to the admissions departments at the relevant universities.

Work Experience

All of the university veterinary schools require applicants to show evidence of their interest and commitment by having gained experience of working in a veterinary practice and working with and handling animals including livestock. However, practical experience is not a substitute for academic qualifications.

Notice for students applying to Cambridge or the Royal Veterinary College

For all students who are currently applying for places on the veterinary degrees at either Cambridge or the Royal Veterinary College: please remember to register for the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT) as it is a requirement for each of these universities. The University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) has issued a reminder that “Students who don’t take the BMAT won’t receive an admissions interview.”

Students are recommended to speak to their school or college about the test. Further information on the BMAT and details of how to register can be found on the BMAT website.

Applying to the University

All applications for places on veterinary degree courses at UK universities must be made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). For further information, contact the Secretary of UCAS, Fulton

House, Jessop Avenue, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 3SH, or visit the UCAS website.

UCAS publishes an annual guidance handbook to assist in completing the application form. Applications must be received by UCAS by 15 October in the year before admission. Applicants for entry to Cambridge must also submit, at an early stage, a preliminary application form direct to the college of their choice within that university or an open application to the Cambridge InterCollegiate Applications Office.

You will only be able to list four veterinary schools on your UCAS form. The remaining two choices should be for non-veterinary degrees.