Have you got what it takes to be a vet?

LAST week, thousands of hopeful students received their A-Level results, among which would have been 500 or so prospective veterinary students.

One of the more frequent questions we are asked, especially by the parents of teenage children, is how you go about getting into vet school. With a new academic year just around the corner, now seems like as good a time as any to put pen to paper on the subject.

It will probably come as no surprise that veterinary medicine degrees are often the most over-subscribed in the country, with hundreds of students applying for every place.

People often comment that it is harder to become a vet than a doctor, and while we would like to think this is true, it probably stems from the fact that places are so limited.

Veterinary degrees are only offered at the Universities of Cambridge, Bristol, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham and the Royal Veterinary College in London.

The courses all look remarkably alike because they all have to be recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. All focus on biomedical sciences in the first couple of years, with the more practical stuff coming later.

So what does it take? Obviously the course is a demanding one and it is heavily science-based. This is reflected in the subjects you are required to take and the grades expected.

The grades needed are usually a minimum of three As at A-Level, with some of the universities requiring an A* or two. Most will require chemistry and biology and either maths or physics, but which other subjects are accepted varies greatly between the universities. A-Levels in three totally non-science subjects are out.

Because there are plenty of people with the right grades you’ve got to make yourself stand out from the crowd in some way in order to get a place. How are the universities to know who will make good vets or who the most dedicated applicants are? If you can demonstrate your dedication, your application is far more likely to be successful.

You need to get as much hands-on animal experience as you can. This will almost certainly be voluntary and will probably involve very mundane jobs, up to and including making tea, cleaning the floors and kennels and generally being a dogs-body. However, if your life’s goal is to be a vet then you have to take the bad with the good.

Bear in mind also that although you may want to be a vet to work with animals, every animal you see will have a human with it and you need to work with them too.

For work experience, try local kennels, charities, pet shops and farms. Anywhere there are animals you should try to help out. The other benefit of doing this work early on is that you might find that you actually don’t want to be a vet.

I guarantee it’s not as glamorous as you think.

Aspects of our work can be very monotonous, with an awful lot of time spent doing very routine things and saying the same things over and over again.

It can also be a very stressful job and there is a massive amount of responsibility that goes with it so you need to be sure what you are taking on.

Of course, vets work in all sorts of industries, as well as in practice – a veterinary degree is a ticket to a multitude of opportunities.

In all its forms, work as a veterinary surgeon is incredibly rewarding. Veterinary medicine is exciting, challenging and ever changing.

For me, veterinary clinical practice with its unique combination of science, art, practical skills, human-animal and interpersonal interaction can’t be beaten.

Plenty more information is available from the Royal College, British Veterinary Association, and the individual universities. If you decide to go for it, good luck!

CHRIS GREEN, Director and Senior Vet.