Becoming a Vet

We asked PDSA vet Sean to tell us all about his job.

What does a vet do?

Vets do lots of different things! When people think about vets, most think about vets working with pets, including horses and farmed animals, but some work with zoo animals or wildlife. Vets help to prevent disease (e.g. by vaccinating animals) and they treat sick and injured animals. Other vets work with animals in research establishments, some work with the army and some for the Government. Wherever a vet works, the number one priority is to ensure the highest possible standards of animal welfare.

Do I need to be brainy to be a vet?

Doing a vet degree means that you have to take in a lot of information quite quickly. It is competitive to get on to the degree course and the entry requirements are quite high. Generally, the vet schools require A’s and B’s at GCSE and A level, especially in science subjects.

Do I need to study for years?

  • The veterinary degree course is 5 years long, or 6 years at Cambridge.
  • Many vets also choose to continue studying when they have qualified, e.g a PhD, a Masters degree or a postgraduate Certificate and Diploma offered by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

Do vets work long hours?

Veterinary students spend long hours studying. Students also spend a lot of their holidays gaining hands-on experience by doing a variety of placements. Vets in practice don’t tend to work 9-5 and many are on a rota for out-of-hours work (emergencies).

Vets and nurse

What is the difference between a PDSA vet and a private practice vet?

There's no difference between a PDSA vet and a private practice vet, they have just chosen to work for different employers. To practise as a vet, you must be a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS) which you are entitled to become when you pass your veterinary degree. Vets working in private practice are employed by a practice, which gets its income from clients who pay for their animals’ medical care (e.g. pet-owners). Vets working for PDSA are employed by the charity, which gets its income from charity shops and kind supporters who fundraise for us, including Pet Protectors!


What does a typical day involve?

  • A practising vet might start at 8.30am and usually begins by checking on the animals that are hospitalised.
  • Then in the morning we see appointments.
  • We vaccinate animals to protect them against deadly diseases and treat them to prevent infections with parasites such as fleas and worms.
  • We also see animals that have come in sick or injured, and deal with emergencies — animals that have been hit by a car, for example.
  • Then operations begin; common ones include neutering (spaying and castrating), dental work, repairing wounds and removing tumours.

 What personal skills do you need to be a vet?

Top of the list is a concern for animals and their welfare, communication is important, too. People think of being a vet as an animal job, but most animals that you deal with have an owner! You have to enjoy interacting with people, and be tolerant, patient and demonstrate empathy.

What is your favourite part of your job?

I enjoy being able to give advice that improves the health and happiness of our animals. I also like the challenge of dealing with lots of things going on at once, and I like how varied each day is.

What is your least favourite part of your job?

It is frustrating treating conditions that could easily have been prevented. We see lots of problems with pet obesity. Pet get obese when the owner has given their pet too many unhealthy treats and not enough exercise. The owners are trying to show their pets that they love them, but in fact they are killing them with kindness. Another example is dental disease in rabbits, caused by them not being fed enough hay or grass. It is important that these sick pets are able to get the treatment that they need from vets, but also that owners are educated about preventing these conditions in the first place. This is why I like working for PDSA, because the charity treats pets but also runs large awareness-raising campaigns.

How can I get work experience?

  • As well as getting the required grades, to get a place at vet school you also need to have done a variety of work experience.
  • Work experience shows that you are comfortable working around animals in a variety of settings (e.g. riding stables, farms, rehoming centres etc).
  • The best way to get this experience is simply to make contact with various places that keep and look after animals in your area.
  • Explain that you are planning to apply to vet school and be willing and keen.
  • Get a variety of different types of placements if possible, as this will look good on your application form.
  • If you get a placement, you might be asked to do lots of basic jobs (e.g. mucking out stables), but in return you will get great first-hand experience of working with animals.
  • Remember to be polite but don’t be afraid to ask questions to help you understand what you are seeing or being asked to do.

For further information on becoming a vet , visit the Veterinary Careers pages in the Visitors section of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website.

Watch a video about life as a PDSA vet!

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Vet nurse

Becoming a Veterinary Nurse

Veterinary nurses care for animals receiving treatment within a veterinary practice. A nurse works as part of the veterinary team, providing expert supportive care for sick animals under the direction of a vet. They are also skilled at undertaking a range of diagnostic tests, medical treatments and minor surgical procedures under veterinary direction. They also play a significant role in the education of owners about maintaining the health of their pets.

What qualifications do I need?

  • You will need 5 GCSEs at grade C or higher or five scottish standard grades 1 to 3.
  • These must include English Language and two science subjects, one of which may be Maths.
  • When training to be a veterinary nurse you can train as a practice nurse which means you work mostly with pets, or you can train to be an equine nurse (this means working with horses). 

Should I get work experience?

  • If you think that you would like to work with animals and become a veterinary nurse then you should try and get some work experience.
  • Work experience allows you to see if you would be able to work with the animals people!
  • It is a good idea to get a variety of work experience.
  • Try working in different places where animals are cared for, e.g stables, veterinary practice, kennels and even zoos.
  • You will be asked to do lots of different jobs, even cleaning the animals out, but it is all part of valuable work experience.


Care assistant

Becoming an Animal Care Assistant  

What do animal care assistants do?

  • Veterinary Care Assistants perform a number of duties, providing support to veterinary nurses and surgeons, consulting room duties.
  • Prepare surgical theatres and equipment, inpatient care and kennel work, reception duties and supporting pet owners.


What do I need to study?

  • To become a qualified Veterinary Care Assistant you need to complete a course with the College of Animal Welfare.
  • Before this it is important that you get good grades at school, completing GCSEs in English, Maths and Science.


Personal qualities

  • As well as liking animals, you also nee to be a good communicator, as you will be dealing with the owners too!
  • You need to be hard working and able to think on your feet.


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