What is veterinary science about?
The role of a vet is a very diverse one. Your degree will teach you the subject as well as the practical skills you need to work as a veterinary surgeon when you graduate.
What is the role of a vet?
The role of a vet requires more dedication than many realise. Just like doctors, vets must provide round-the-clock care to their patients and at every veterinary practice a member of the team must be on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In addition to providing care to animals, vets must be able to interact with the owners of those animals. They need similar communication and empathy skills to doctors, as well as the scientific curiosity required to grow and develop throughout their career and an ability to problem solve. A career as a veterinary surgeon will have many highs but also many difficult lows; resilience is key to success in this profession as well as the confidence and self-belief necessary to treat patients effectively.
Working life for veterinary surgeons will vary depending on the way they practice. This might involve days working in a veterinary surgery with small animals, providing consultations and treatment. Large animal vets will travel a lot more, visiting herds and discussing husbandry with farmers. Other vets choose to specialise into a particular area such as exotic animal care.
What does an undergraduate course cover?
Undergraduate vets will be at university for five years (six at the University of Cambridge), rather than the standard three. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) set requirements for all undergraduate courses and they are, therefore, fundamentally very similar. They all have a carefully structured programme of learning, integrating theory with clinical practice in three key stages.
The first two years of the course are mostly taught through lectures and seminars as students get to grips with anatomy, biochemistry, genetics and breeding. After the first two years, students will have a good understanding of animal health and husbandry.
If the pre-clinical stage has laid the foundation for what a student should expect to see in a healthy animal, the para-clinical stage then develops this knowledge into what can go wrong. Different diseases are studied as well as treatments, pathology, parasitology and pharmacology.
Clinical (final) stage
Students study pharmacology in more depth and expand into areas such as food hygiene. More time will be spent the school’s field station learning more about disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Students will also gain experience of practical skills in this stage and usually help with delivery of calves, lambs and foals. They will learn about the use of local and general anaesthetic. Everything they have learnt so far will come together in this final stage as the clinical problems students face require an understanding of everything they have previously covered on the course.
Extramural rotation (EMR/EMS)
Although the courses cover practical skills in depth in the final stage, students are expected to build on these skills throughout the course in addition to their studies. In the first two years they must arrange 10-12 weeks of farming work and veterinary practice work per year. Most students organise this over the summer holidays and vet schools usually have a list of contacts to assist them with finding a place. In years three, four and five the number of ‘seeing practice’ students must undertake increases to 26 weeks per year. This is a requirement set by the RCVS and is a uniform requirement across the courses, not to mention an extremely useful foundation for students entering the final stage of their course when practical skills become more of a focus.
Intercalation allows students to take a ‘year out’ (usually their third year) from their veterinary medicine course and instead join the third year of a different, related degree. They will graduate at the end of this year with a BSc in the new field of study and will then resume the fourth year of their veterinary course. Intercalation is not compulsory, except at Cambridge where it is built into the course, and the decision on whether to intercalate is entirely down to student preference. The advantage is that it allows some more extensive learning and the opportunity to gain a new qualification. Of course it also delays graduation from the veterinary course by another year and, if a student is not particularly interested in any other specialisms, it may not be an avenue worth pursuing. At the time of writing, intercalation is offered as an option by all of the UK veterinary schools with the exception of Surrey.