Make your veterinary career a success

Written by: Helen Milbank
Published On: 1 Dec 2014

If you want to break into the veterinary profession, discover the qualifications you need, meet the people who’ve achieved success and learn more about the roles on offer in our ultimate guide to vet-related jobs...

Veterinary Surgeon

Let’s start at the top of the academic tree and explore the hurdles you’ll need to leap to become a veterinarian.

Vet

The profession is governed in the UK by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), and a five or six-year university veterinary degree is essential for those wishing to train. The universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (the Royal Veterinary College) and Nottingham all offer RCVS-approved veterinary degrees. A new veterinary school has opened at the University of Surrey, taking its first students this autumn.

A guide to each school’s entrance requirements can be found on the RCVS website under its “I want to be a vet” guide. Here, you’ll also find links to each veterinary school, details of the financial support available to students and information about the career post-graduation.

The cost of training is a potentially huge issue for many students, given it involves at least five years’ study at a vet school. You can find more information about the loans and grants available at www.gov.uk/student-finance.

Inspiration and advice to help you decide where you may want your veterinary career path to lead can also be found in a series of online videos available at YouTube.

If, after exploring the options, you feel veterinary surgeon isn’t quite the job for you, details of further opportunities in the industry can be found in the downloadable handout "Alternative careers to veterinary practice", available from the Royal Veterinary College's student resources page.

CAREERS ADVICE

For advice from the British Veterinary Association (BVA) – the national body for veterinary surgeons – visit the "Becoming a vet" page on the BVA website. Coverage also includes mini-interviews with newly qualified vets.

For an example of how a career as a veterinary surgeon can fit around family life, check out Cat Henstridge's article "Working part-time in veterinary practice after children".

Veterinary Nurse

A veterinary nurse’s job encompasses expert nursing care and an important educational role. Aspects include providing essential, practical support to vets and helping owners who come into the practice to understand the health issues their pets may face.

Vet nurse

Broadly speaking, two routes into the profession exist – either via a higher education qualification or vocational training – and both lead to professional registration on the RCVS Register of Veterinary Nurses.

Full details are available on the RCVS website's education section under the “I want to be a veterinary nurse” tab, where you can also download a PDF version of the RCVS Veterinary Nursing Careers leaflet.

Alternatively, visit the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) website and download the association's new “A Career in Veterinary Nursing” leaflet, or watch its video guide on YouTube.

While you won’t need to be quite the A-star student you’d have to be if you were heading to veterinary school, an academic degree course involving a clinical placement is one route into the profession. Study options are many and varied, with part-time courses and apprenticeship-style vocational training an option alongside a job in veterinary practice (leading to a Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing).

If you’re interested in taking the degree route, you can search for courses and training programmes via the UCAS website.

Type “training as a vet nurse” into YouTube to see a series of videos featuring members of the profession, or visit Amazon.co.uk for details of useful guides, including the BSAVA Textbook of Veterinary Nursing (£59.38), The Complete Textbook of Veterinary Nursing (£45.89) and the Handbook of Veterinary Nursing (£28.67).

PLANNING A CAREER CHANGE?

Life (and a switch of career) really can begin at 40. For inspiration, read the vet times jobs article "How I changed career at 40".

Veterinary Practice Manager

Key to the smooth running of a veterinary practice, if you have more of a head for business than science, are computer literate, well organised and good with people, a career in practice management could prove the ideal role.

Practice Manager

On hand to assist the vets with any administration duties, organise reception, help manage staff and generally run the show day to day, the role of practice manager is a varied one that can be shaped to suit your particular skills and the needs of the business.

A general overview of what the job can entail at Companion Care or Vets4Pets can be found on the veterinary group's careers site.

Options for training are varied. If studying at home suits your lifestyle, the University of Liverpool offers the Certificate in Veterinary Business Management, open to anyone currently involved in veterinary business management, that is existing practice staff. The course is 100% online, with the module divided into 16 weekly study units.

Other courses include one run by Harper Adams University. Details of its BSc (Hons) degree in veterinary nursing and practice management are at www.harper-adams.ac.uk.

The Veterinary Practice Management Association (VPMA) exists to help practice managers develop their skills, stay on top of new legislation and learn more about new developments in the veterinary professions. It offers an insight into the world of practice management, and its website is worth exploring.

You can also read up on the role of a practice manager. Try Essentials of Veterinary Practice: An Introduction to the Science of Practice Management (£29.95) or Veterinary Practice Management: A Practical Guide (£25.67), both available at Amazon. You can also get video guides to training and job opportunities in practice management by typing “veterinary practice management” into YouTube.

CONFIDENCE IS KEY

Whether you’re going for a job as a veterinary practice manager, receptionist or vet nurse, how you sell yourself in an interview situation can be a delicate balance.

This vet times jobs article entitled "Confidence is key" has confidence-boosting techniques to help ensure you shine, while help to soothe your pre-interview nerves is on offer in the article "Interview nerves? How to calm yourself before an interview".

Veterinary Receptionist

The “friendly face” of the veterinary practice, and often the first person clients see when they bring their animal into the vets, the receptionist is instrumental in creating a good first impression – both in person and over the phone.

While the job will vary from practice to practice, most veterinary receptionists have a largely administrative role, dealing with payments, client records and other essential paperwork.

The BVNA website has a useful guide to what you can expect in the role.

As the BVNA explains, sometimes no training is required, with in-house training provided by the veterinary practice. However, courses are available to give you a grounding, including the customer service Level 2 NVQ Certificate offered by The College of Animal Welfare and the Veterinary Practice Receptionist course run by The Animal Care College.

Links to additional training courses can be found on the BVNA website.

CASE STUDY

Amanda Lee Hale

After a lengthy career as a sales rep in the pharmaceutical industry, animal lover Amanda Lee Hale, from Cambridgeshire, made the switch to a job as a veterinary receptionist at Cromwell Veterinary Group in Huntingdon three years ago.

“I’m so glad I made the change,” says Amanda. “Seeing all the different puppy breeds come in is a definite highlight of the job, but most of all I enjoy being part of the veterinary team, helping any pet in distress who needs us.

“I find liaising with the owners hugely rewarding, both at the end of the phone and in person, offering comfort and help. It’s a hugely rewarding place to work and for me it’s an honour to help all the animals who come in to the practice, no matter how big or small.”

Animal Behaviourist

When it comes to understanding how an animal’s mind works and why it’s acting the way it is, many would argue a good behaviourist is born, not “made” by way of academic study. However, if you have a natural way with animals and are keen to fine-tune this skill, a multitude of ways exist to turn an affinity with animals into a career.

Weimaraner pup

Studying to become an animal behaviourist can lead to a career as a trainer, helping pet owners resolve issues with aggression and other behavioural problems, or act as a good grounding should you decide to work more “hands-on”, running a kennels or a livery yard for horses, for example.

For an overview of the animal behaviour options open to university students, visit The Complete University Guide's section on Animal Behaviour.

If you’re a dog or cat lover…

If your interest is in canine behaviour specifically, the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour and Training (CIDBT), which is owned by the Canine and Feline Behaviour Association (CFBA), is the only organisation that trains its members for CFBA accreditation through academic and practical courses. These can lead to a BA degree in canine behaviour and psychology through Middlesex University.

Other useful contacts include:

Horse

If you’re a horse lover...

If equine behaviour holds a fascination, again the study options are many and varied. Hartpury College offers a post-graduate certificate in equine behaviour and welfare, while The Open College of Equine Studies offers distance learning courses in equine studies and horse management.

Students at Warwickshire College can adopt a flexible approach to learning on its equine behaviour course, which takes the form of an e-learning package delivered via CD-ROM.

Other useful contacts include:

LEARN FROM THE EXPERTS

Michael Peace

Watching established behaviour experts in action, via demonstrations, talks and lectures, can offer a valuable insight into the world of animal behaviour and welfare, and most will be happy to chat to you about how they came to become involved in the field.

Equine behaviour expert Michael Peace, for example, honed his skills as a young jockey and is now one of the UK’s best known problem horse trainers.

Visit the Think Equus website for details of his upcoming clinics, and watch his online training videos to see his methods in action.

Animal Nutritionist

With obesity among the UK’s pet population on the rise and feed companies producing ever more high-tech feeds, animal nutritionists are at the forefront of this fast-growing industry, helping to promote owners’ understanding of their pets’ health and nutritional needs.

Animal Nutrition

As well as working for feed companies, animal nutritionists can find themselves drawn to educational and research institutions, government departments, agricultural advisory bodies or other sectors of the industry, and a general overview of the role can be found on graduate careers website Prospects.

The Association for Nutrition has advice and information for those wishing to pursue a career in the pet sector, including details of the qualifications needed.

Other useful contacts include:

MAKE YOUR CV COUNT

Whatever job you’re after, for tips on making sure your CV stands out from the crowd, the vet time jobs article "Sort Out Your CV" can help.

Veterinary Physiotherapist

Animals, just like humans, respond to physiotherapy. It can help restore and maintain their mobility, fitness and performance and can be especially useful following injury, illness or when signs of old age begin to strike.

The Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT), whose members are fully qualified chartered physiotherapists that have also trained in physiotherapy and rehabilitation for animals, is a great point of reference for the training required (which is lengthy).

Another useful reference is the National Association of Veterinary Physiotherapists.

However, as a guide, a career in animal physiotherapy must start with a degree in physiotherapy, followed by a post-graduate diploma or masters in veterinary physiotherapy (see the “Veterinary Surgeon” section [above] for links to sites giving details of student funding).

If you’d like to read about the subject in depth, invest in a copy of Animal Physiotherapy: Assessment, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Animals (£45.59), or Horse Anatomy for Performance: A Practical Guide to Training, Riding and Horse Care (£13.59) – both available from Amazon.

Search for jobs in the veterinary industry, and get tips and advice to help you hone your CV and excel in an interview, at www.vettimesjobs.co.uk