Being a vet can be an extremely rewarding career. It takes years of hard work and commitment to achieve a degree in veterinary medicine. You will qualify being able to treat farm, equine and companion animals. Once you have the degree, it opens the door to a great variety of possible careers.
So, whether you are at secondary school considering your future, or looking for a change of career, let’s take a look at what a vet job involves.
Vets provide medical care to animals and are responsible for their health and welfare. This includes farm animals, horses, zoo animals, wildlife, domestic pets and animals used in the army or for research. G.P. vets must be good at multitasking, since they are responsible for:
- diagnosing and treating illnesses and injuries
- preventative health care, meaning preventing diseases and their spread (such as with vaccines or herd health plans on farms)
- chronic disease clinics, managing ongoing conditions such as diabetes or arthritis
- performing surgery
- administering anaesthesia
Most people start out in general practice to gain some experience. From there, the world is your oyster! Some examples of veterinary careers include working in:
- government agencies
- research facilities
- pharmaceutical companies: sales or technical support
- telemedicine providers
- mobile vet clinics
More experienced vets may go on to become partner or clinical director in a clinic, or may choose to own and run their own practice.
What does a typical day of a vet look like?
This will depend on the chosen career path, but let’s look at a day in the life of a G.P. vet. In a small animal clinic, typically there would be a division of labour between consulting and operating vets. Although sometimes you’d do one in the morning and switch in the afternoon.
Usually, the consult vet will have blocks of consults through the day, with breaks in-between for admin tasks. A consulting vet would be seeing animals for vaccinations; examining and treating sick or injured animals; taking blood samples; completing paperwork for travelling pets; prescribing medicines; calling owners with test results and keeping detailed clinical notes.
They would also be seeing euthanasia appointments and supporting owners through the end-of-life process. Of course, emergencies can also turn up at any point, without prior warning. This can be both exciting and stressful at the same time.
The operating vet is often in charge of any hospitalised animals. Ward rounds in the morning would involve examining the inpatients, making a treatment plan for the day and updating their owners. They would then examine any animals admitted for an operation and run any necessary bloodwork, before working out doses of drugs for their procedure.
They would perform any surgery booked in for that day. They would also perform any other procedures booked such as x-rays, ultrasound and dental surgery. Anaesthesia is usually performed by a qualified veterinary nurse, under the instruction of the vet.
Some vets carry out home visits, where they treat animals in their own homes. Farm and horse vets spend much of their time travelling between premises. Some vets do on-call or night work. This involves working on emergencies through the night, over weekends and bank holidays.
What are the pros and cons of being a vet?
Being a vet can be rewarding and exciting, since no two days are ever the same! However, as with any career, it does come with challenges. You need to be hard working, a critical thinker and a team player.
The benefits of being a vet include
- You have the chance to do a job you love and feel passionate about. It really is a vocation.
- You are able to help animals. You can relieve any suffering and make a real difference to their lives, by educating owners on how to care for them.
- Most veterinary workplaces have a great team spirit and lifelong friendships are formed.
- There is scope for career progression with further education or specialising in a subject area.
- Your veterinary degree enables you to diversify into many exciting careers.
- You can work abroad, with vets being in demand across the world – Australia, New Zealand and Canada are popular destinations!
- A decent salary, although not as high as other careers with such extensive training. Starting salaries for vet jobs are around 30k.
Here are some of the cons of being a vet:
- There is always the risk of physical injury; through bites, kicks, scratches or transmissible diseases.
- Being a vet carries a lot of responsibility and can be stressful. This can lead to burnout and mental health problems.
- Being a vet can be emotionally challenging. You have to deal with difficult ethical situations, euthanasia and often owners confiding in you too. This can lead to ‘compassion fatigue’.
- The working hours can be long.
- The work can be physically demanding.
Of course, there are pros and cons to all careers, so whether this one is for you will depend on your unique personality!
What skills do you need to be a vet?
You probably haven’t read this far without a love of animals, so that goes without saying! You need to have an aptitude for science. It takes hard work and a lot of scientific knowledge (biology, anatomy, epidemiology, pharmacology to name a few) to become a vet. You also need to be a critical thinker, since there is a lot of detective work and problem solving involved. Animals can’t tell you what the matter is, you need to be able to work it out! Owners will also have varying budgets and outlooks, so you will need to be able to come up with a range of treatment options.
Excellent communication skills are essential for client-facing roles and for successful teamwork, alongside plenty of empathy. People’s pets are part of their family. Meaning you need to be able to accurately explain what is happening, using language that they will understand and in a compassionate manner.
Manual dexterity is also important, since surgery needs a steady hand. Gentle animal handling skills are crucial, to reduce stress for the animal and reduce the chances of you being injured. A sense of humour can help on the tough days too!
So, is being a vet for you?
Being a vet is a dream job for many people. The joy of saving an animal’s life is indescribable. However, many people don’t realise the full extent of the career and what it entails. It’s important to be sure that the career is right for you before embarking on lengthy university studies.
Some of the universities have useful resources on their websites to help you decide. You could also consider spending some time at various vet practices. This will give you a true feel for the profession and if veterinary medicine is the right career path for you.