Are you thinking of studying Veterinary Medicine?

Image shows a vet looking at a dog's foot.

Veterinary Medicine – sometimes called Veterinary Science – is the animal-related version of the standard 5- or 6-year medical degree.

Only a small number of universities currently offer courses that are fully accredited by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, namely the University of Bristol, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, the University of Liverpool, the University of Nottingham and the Royal Veterinary College London. Other universities, such as the University of Surrey, may offer courses that follow the same structure and teach the same content, with the expectation that the course will be granted accreditation before the current round of undergraduates graduate.
Veterinary Medicine, like its human counterpart, is a highly demanding subject that is usually taken by students who have been committed to this career path for several years.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Image shows a horse in a field.
Among other things, you will study equine health.

In the first two or three years of your course, you will focus on pre-clinical studies, covering topics such as anatomy and physiology, neuroscience, microbiology, animal health and welfare, pathology, parasitology and introductory personal and professional skills for veterinarians.

From this foundation, you will segue into clinical studies for your final years, which will include clinical rotations covering a wide variety of animal types: equine, small animal, farm animal, zoo and wildlife. You may also have the opportunity to carry out your own research project at this point in your studies. Alongside your clinical practice, you will continue to have lessons in clinical theory to leave you fully prepared to work as a vet once you graduate.

What do I need for a Veterinary Medicine degree?

The entry requirements of Veterinary Medicine are very high. The lowest A-level requirements of any of the seven universities offering this course are AAB, and students will want to be aiming for at least A*AA in order to have a good chance. A-levels in Biology and Chemistry are mandatory, and taking a third science – Maths is a good choice here – is advisable. Having a good set of GCSE results across the board, not just in the sciences, will also increase your chances of success.

Image shows a row of cows.
Work experience on a farm is valuable.

Prospective veterinary students will also have to have at least four weeks of related work experience, which involves working with live animals – and some universities will ask for much more (Liverpool, for instance, asks for ten). This could be at a vet’s practice, or in animal husbandry (e.g. on a farm) or some combination of these. It is important to check what the universities you are applying to require, given how much this can vary. Additionally, work experience should be undertaken early so that it has all been done by the time you get to the October of submitting your UCAS application.

Cambridge and the Royal Veterinary College London also require applicants to sit the BMAT – the Biomedical Admissions Test – which will test you on your aptitude, knowledge and writing. All Veterinary Medicine courses require applicants to attend an interview.

What skills will I acquire?

You will gain a huge range of vocational skills, with the ability to diagnose and treat animals of any species you encounter (more than a doctor of medicine, who is only qualified to treat one species). You will gain the professional interpersonal skills to deal with your clients, from pet-owners to farmers. You will learn how to keep a level head in a crisis. You will also learn many of the skills in research and analysis that would be gain from any science degree.


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Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

Image shows a red panda in a zoo.
You might have to travel to your closest zoo.

Your clinical placements will require travel, depending on where it is that you study – all the universities that currently offer veterinary medicine are located in large centres of population, so you probably won’t have to travel too far for any given placement. Foreign travel is usually not an option in a Veterinary Medicine degree.

What careers are possible with a Veterinary Medicine degree?

97% of graduates of Veterinary Medicine were in employment within six months of graduating, the vast majority as vets, whether in surgeries or elsewhere. Other options for graduate vets include research, such as into animal diseases and vaccines, supervision of abattoirs, animal welfare, and teaching the next generation of vets. Carrying on to further study is not usually a popular option with Veterinary Medicine graduates, presumably because it is not usually a degree chosen by students who are not committed to its vocational progression.

Related degrees

Image shows a mantis shrimp.
You’ll get to study a different variety of animals if you choose Zoology.

Most students of Veterinary Medicine are quite certain of what it is that they wish to study; it’s not advisable to apply to Veterinary Medicine unless you’re sure it’s what you want to. Here are some alternative options:

  • Medicine – aside from the more important choice between working with animals and working with people, one side-effect of studying Veterinary Medicine is that you’re much more likely to find a position in provincial areas than in larger cities. Medicine offers more choice about where to work when you graduate.
  • Veterinary Nursing – this is a shorter course with lower entry requirements that still allows you to do a similar job to a veterinarian upon graduation.
  • Zoology – this course (usually taken as a specialism from Biological Sciences) may be of interest to students who wish to learn about animals but aren’t interested in qualifying as a vet.

A final thought on Veterinary Medicine

Veterinary Medicine is a small course, with only about 1,000 places open to students every year – that’s with more than 400,000 students going to university overall each year, and is a fraction of the numbers taking subjects like Business Studies or Nursing. This contributes greatly to how competitive it is. Veterinary Medicine is a challenging and competitive course, with a high number of timetabled hours that makes heavy demands and puts a great deal of pressure on its students.
However, for those who are committed to becoming vets, it’s the first step towards a satisfying, rewarding and lucrative career, and is well worth the struggle. From healing someone’s beloved pet to organising large-scale immunisation projects in developing countries and everything in between, the day-to-day work of being a vet is more than sufficient compensation for the challenging process of becoming qualified.

If you are thinking of studying Veterinary Science, you may be interested in taking our Introduction to Zoology online course. Alternatively, if you would like to discuss other subject options, please share your email below and we will contact you shortly.


Image credits: banner; horse; cows; red panda; mantis shrimp.