by Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS
If in your future, you see yourself performing surgery on dogs, treating horses with colic, or even helping a cow to birth a calf, you might be keen to find out what education you need to become a vet.
The high demand for the limited student places at vet school has led to an increase in requirements in terms of grades and experience. Therefore, the challenge to become a vet starts long before arriving in the lecture theatre at university.
So, what training, grades, experience do you need to get a place at a vet school? And if you find you’re not quite on the right track, what alternative routes can you take?
Where can I do a veterinary degree?
To become a vet, you need to have a degree in Veterinary Medicine or Veterinary Science. In the UK, degree courses have to be approved by the veterinary governing body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, and this policy is similar in other countries.
The UK currently has a number of veterinary colleges, and many universities are offering veterinary degrees worldwide. Popular countries to study veterinary medicine include New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, and the Netherlands. Bear in mind that some universities have courses that are recognised by many governing bodies in lots of countries, whilst others will only qualify you to work in one country or region.
What are the entry requirements for a veterinary degree?
If you’re planning to apply to a vet school, be it in the UK, Slovakia, Hungary, Australia, or even the USA, the first thing you’ll need is five GCSEs at grade 4 (C grade) or above, or the equivalent in that country. The GCSEs have to include Science, English, and Maths, and due to the academically demanding nature of the course, triple science is preferable.
You’ll also need at least three A-levels (or equivalent). Most universities will request Biology, Chemistry, or both, and some will also want Maths or Physics.
The number of potential students applying to veterinary college has never been so high, so most universities will request A* grades.
In some countries, including the USA, veterinary medicine is a post-graduate degree, meaning that you have to have completed a bachelor’s degree in a related field to apply.
Although this can make the path to becoming a vet seem endless, the benefit of having completed a degree already is that you will be familiar with the mental and physical demands associated with this level of study.
I haven’t got the right grades, what are my options?
If you haven’t quite got the grades to meet the entry requirement criteria, you have the option to re-sit the necessary qualifications. If needed, you can delay your university application by a year to give you more time.
If you have good grades, but you have changed direction with your studies, you might not have qualifications in the right subjects to allow you to apply to vet school. If this is the case, you can re-enrol in college and take the courses you need.
Another option, if you don’t meet the entry requirements at the moment, is to apply to a different degree. If you complete a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) and get a good final grade (2:1 or 1:1), you can apply to veterinary college. Additionally, if your degree is in a related subject, you might be eligible to do the 4-year accelerated course rather than the usual 5 years.
Some universities also offer ‘access’ courses, which include an extra year of study to give you the groundwork for the course. You may be eligible if you took the wrong A-levels or are a mature student without a related degree.
What else do I need to apply?
It’s not just academic requirements that you’ll need to fulfil when you apply to veterinary college. You’ll also need to make sure you have done the specified amount of work experience and that you participate in a few extracurricular activities.
Even though many universities will specify the minimum number of weeks of placements you will have had to complete to apply, if you have the time, then any extra weeks might make your application more favourable.
As with many courses, having extracurricular activities can help you stand out from the crowd. Whether it’s baking, playing an instrument, or competing in sports, it’s worth taking the time to develop a hobby, too!
With the huge academic requirement, as well as the need for work placements and the desire for extracurricular activities, the application process can seem overwhelmingly demanding, even before the course begins. However, it could act as good preparation for the discipline and time management skills required, both for the veterinary degree course and the career as a whole.
I’ve got the degree, is that all I need to practice?
Once you are the proud holder of a veterinary degree, you could be forgiven for thinking that graduation marks the end of study for you. However, that is definitely not the case. Depending on where you studied and where you intend to work, you may have to complete exams to prove that you are fit to practice in a different country.
For instance, if you studied for your veterinary degree in the UK but intend to practice in the United States, you would have to complete the North American Veterinary Licensing Examinations (NAVLE), and possibly additional state exams.
And licensing examinations are not the only reason why study doesn’t end when you put your pen down in your final exam. As a veterinary surgeon, no matter where you work, you will be required to keep your knowledge up to date.
For working as a vet in the UK, this means committing to thirty-five hours a year of Continued Professional Development, which can be online courses or webinars, self-directed study, or in-person training events. In other countries, the requirements vary and are usually set by the licensing or regulatory body you’re registered with.
So, how do I become a vet?
If becoming a vet is your life-long dream or a recently established career goal, there are ways to get where you want to be.
You’ll need to make sure you hit the academic targets, as well as completing the necessary work placements, and embarking on extracurricular activities.
However, if you haven’t achieved the right grades in the right subjects yet, don’t fret, there are still options that will help you fulfil your goal, in time.