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Veterinary surgeon

Diagnose, treat and care for sick animals.

Also known as: vet

About skillsGetting in

About the job


Source: National Careers Service



Entry level





Entry level





Entry level




people are currently employed

Low growth

100 more jobs in 5 years

These figures refer to this job and similar ones with comparable skills and qualifications. They only apply to Scotland. Source: Oxford Economics

A day in the life — veterinary surgeon

What it's like

You would diagnose and treat sick animals. You would probably work in general practice, with pets, farm and zoo animals.You may work with all of these types of animals, or specialise in just one.

Many of the owners you talk to may be upset or anxious about their pets, so it would be important to have a kind and reassuring manner. You would also have to be very gentle with the animals you work with, as many of them will be fragile.

As a vet in general practice you would:

  • Diagnose and treat sick and injured animals

  • Perform operations on animals who need them

  • Carry out a range of tests such as X-rays and scans

  • Care for animal in-patients

  • Carry out health checks, give vaccinations and give owners advice on animal care

  • Check farm animals and advise on how to stop diseases spreading

  • Neuter animals to stop them breeding

  • Put severely injured or terminally ill animals to sleep

  • Supervise veterinary nurses and support staff

  • Keep records of the treatments that you carry out

You might also be involved in inspecting hygiene and care standards in zoos, kennels, catteries, riding stables, pet shops and cattle markets.

You could also work in the public sector. You would then help prevent and control animal and human diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, and assess the safety of food processing plants and abattoirs.

Another option would be working in industry, supervising the production of drugs, chemicals and biological products.


If you worked in a veterinary practice you could expect to work around 43 hours a week. You would work on a rota system to provide cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week and may sometimes be on-call. You could be called out to work at any time of the day or night.


You would work in a surgery. With some types of animals, you may also need to travel to places such as farms or zoos. Treating farm animals would mean being outdoors in all weathers. Your work could sometimes be distressing. You would have to make decisions about whether animals that have been injured live or not.


You may need to travel to locations such as farms or zoos.

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Related industries

Many jobs can be done in lots of different industries. We've highlighted the ones we think are most important for this job.

  • Life sciences
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Top skills

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It's useful to learn which ones are important in a job so you know the areas you need to brush up on. It can also help you work out if you're suited to a career.

Here are some of the skills you'll need to do this job:

  • recalling
  • making decisions
  • reliable
  • attention to detail
  • social conscience
  • respecting
  • empathising
  • problem solving
  • cooperating
  • reflecting

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Getting in

Explore the sections shown for more information about getting into this career.

You might have qualifications which are not shown here but will allow you access to a course. You can compare your qualifications by looking at their SCQF Level. For more information about this, check out the SCQF website.

Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you'll need.

Colleges and universities will list subjects you'll need for entry to a course. Some useful subjects include:

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Physics

To work as a vet you must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

To become registered you must have a veterinary degree (SCQF 9/10) from one of the UK universities approved by the RCVS or an overseas qualification that the RCVS recognises.

To enter a veterinary degree (SCQF 9/10) requires National 5 qualifications, at least five Highers (SCQF level 6) at AAAAB, and Advanced Highers in maths or science subjects.

Entry is very competitive and many ask for qualifications to be obtained at first sitting.

Many degree courses last five years. If you already have a 2:1 Honours degree in a subject related to veterinary science, you can apply to study for a four-year graduate entry veterinary degree course

Work experience in an animal-orientated setting (such as a farm, kennel, vet surgery) may also be required.

If you wish to apply to the University of Cambridge or the Royal Veterinary College you will also need to sit the BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT).

Qualifications and experience that show a strong interest in science and work with animals such as Skills for Work Laboratory Science (SCQF level 5) or Rural Skills (SCQF level 4) or Scottish Vocational Qualification in Animal Care (SVQ 2/3).

Some roles may require a driving licence.

You need to be fit as there is a lot of standing and lifting animals.

You should not be allergic to animals.

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