How to Become a Veterinary Surgeon

Are you interested in the welfare of animals and are inspired by science? Can you work irregular and long hours and have empathy towards animals and their owners? If so, you could make a great veterinary surgeon. You would need to have a high level of scientific ability and a commitment to training during your whole career. To run a veterinary practice, you would also need to have the ability to make difficult decisions and be a good manager.

What do Veterinary Surgeons do?

Duties performed by veterinary nurses include:

  • diagnosing and treating sick and injured animals
  • operating ill or injured animals
  • carrying out a range of tests such as X-rays and scans
  • providing care for animal in-patients
  • carrying out regular health checks, giving vaccinations and advising on care and diet for their animals
  • checking farm animals and advising how to stop diseases spreading
  • neutering animals to stop them breeding
  • putting severely injured or terminally ill animals to sleep
  • supervising veterinary nurses and support staff
  • keeping records of the treatments.

Depending on where you work, you may be involved in developing, testing, and supervising drug production or preventing and controlling animal diseases.

Entry Requirements and Qualifications

To work as a veterinary surgeon, you would need to get registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). Before registering, you need to complete a degree from one of the UK universities approved by the RCVS.

Most of the veterinary programmes are five years long, with the exception of the one offered by the University of Cambridge which takes six years to complete.

To be admitted to a degree programme, you would normally need to have five GSCEs including English, maths, and science, plus three A levels including biology and chemistry. Entry requirements differ depending on the university and you may be eligible even though you don’t meet the criteria above. For example, if you don’t have A level grades to apply for direct entry onto a veterinary programme, you could do a six-year degree. For more information about veterinary degree programmes and the universities they are offered at, check the UCAS website. 

Some of the universities, such as the University of Cambridge and the Royal Veterinary College, would also require that you sit the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT). 

Many universities would need you to show you care about animals and are really interested in the practice. To prove your commitment, you may need to have prior paid or voluntary experience. For more information about preparing for the career of a veterinary surgeon, visit the RCVS ‘I want to be a vet’ website

Hours and Income

Veterinary surgeons should expect to work around 43 hours a week. You would need to work on a shift system to provide 24 hours a day care and would sometimes need to be on-call at any time of the day and night.

The following are the estimated salary levels for veterinary nurses in the UK, according to the National Career Service:

Newly Qualified Vets


Experienced Vets


Senior Partners in a Practice








Opportunities and Career Development

The first year after you qualify as a veterinary surgeon is known as the Professional Development Phase (PDP). During this period, you are expected to develop your professional and clinical skills. The RCVS website has a Year One Competences list which can help you plan your career development.

After PDP ends, you would need to keep your skills and knowledge up-to-date through the continuing professional development which could include going to courses and seminars arranged by universities and networking with colleagues to learn together.

Most registered veterinary nurses in the UK work in general practice and many are self-employed. You could also work in the public sector and with government agencies.

With experience, you would have a choice of moving into a career in research and teaching within a university or a research body.

For further general reading about the career of a veterinary surgeon and current vacancies in the field, visit:




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