Careers Advice


There are many opportunities to develop a career from working with animals.  Working within the settings of a veterinary practice can lead to a lifelong career with many opportunities for someone interested in animal health and welfare. Top tip: gaining work experience in a veterinary practice is an important start to securing a future job. If you are unable to do this then any animal related role is still advisable.  This sort of experience will be help with any first time application into the veterinary world. The following introduces the veterinary team, their roles and links to further career information.
Working in Veterinary Practice

In the UK many practices are categorised by the type of animals they treat:
  • Small animal practice - treats and cares for companion pets such as dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, reptiles and birds
  • Large animal practice - treats and cares for farm (and possibly zoo animals)
  • Mixed practice - is a combination of the above two
  • Equine practice - treats and cares for horses
Other types of practices include:
  • Referral centres and universities which treat and care for a whole range of species and disciplines 
  • Practices or referral centres which specialise in a particular field of veterinary medicine and may only treat specific species or conditions, e.g. Medicine, Cardiology, Reptile, Feline or Fish only practices.
The set up of the Veterinary Practice can vary, e.g. a main site with branch/s practices; a veterinary hospital; out of hours emergency practice or a mobile vet.  
Practices may be independently run, be owned by a corporate company, run as part of a charity organisation or owned by a university.   Joint venture partnerships also exist where the vet and/or veterinary nurse are in partnership with a veterinary corporate company.

Most practices are part of the voluntary Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Practice Standards Scheme and are inspected every 4 years.   It is worth reading the RCVS descriptions and how they categorise practices to give you more information about the standards and facilities that individual practices need to provide.  For further details click here.

The Veterinary Team

The basic structure of general practice consist of a group of people who work as a team.  

Both qualified vets and veterinary nurses are registered with the regulating body the RCVS.  This means they follow a strict code of conduct and also undertake a required amount of training (or CPD) each year.  

Some nationally recognised qualifications exist for other members of the veterinary team, e.g. ward staff or veterinary receptionists.  Support staff are generally trained in-house but regardless of qualification or on the job training route all members are expected to keep their knowledge fresh and up-to-date.  This includes courses, meetings in practice and/or reading journals.

Some members of the veterinary team may join a practice from outside the veterinary industry using transferable skills from human medicine.  This can include staff with physiotherapy, wound management, laboratory technician or diagnostic imaging qualifications and experience.

It can also be the case with roles such as managers, practice owners or directors who are not always veterinary surgeons and/or veterinary nurses. For example, as is the case in corporate practices where the business may be owned by person/s without any knowledge of veterinary medicine.  

Veterinary Surgeon

It takes 5-6 years to undergo the necessary training to qualify as a vet.  Historically at Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Bristol, Cambridge and London were the main veterinary schools but there are a growing number of other Universities offering veterinary degrees in this country.  The standard of University programs are monitored by the RCVS.  

The entrance qualifications can vary between veterinary schools but in general an A-Level in Biology, either Chemistry, Physics or Mathematics and another A-Level which does not have to be science based, are required.  The minimum grades generally expected are 2 A's and a B, though some schools may require 3 grade A's.

Put simply the role of the vet is to diagnose and treat the injuries and ailments of animals.  With only minor exceptions, under the provision of the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966, only registered veterinary surgeons are permitted to do this.

There are many career opportunities that open up with a veterinary degree, either within a veterinary practice setting or not.   It can lead to working abroad, undertaking animal charity work, teaching, research, management and even joining the army.

For further details on becoming a vet, university information and career opportunities:
Veterinary Nurse

The veterinary nurse is a qualified individual who is registered with the RCVS.  Training can take between 2 - 4 years, as either an apprenticeship style program working in a veterinary setting and attending an FE college or through a university affiliated veterinary nursing foundation or higher degree program.

Entrance qualifications can vary between training providers, but a minimum of a pass grade for GCSE Maths, English and a Science is advisable.

The role of the veterinary nurse can be as varied as a vet, but veterinary nurses 'nurse' and are not mini-vets as they are sometimes wrongly referred to. They share the same goal with vets which is the health and welfare of their patients. Their role is in the supportive care of animals receiving treatment within a veterinary environment, who provides expert nursing care for sick animals and play a significant role in educating owners on maintaining the health of their pet. Skilled work such as undertaking a range of diagnostic tests, medical treatments and minor surgical procedures under the direction of a vet also falls under their job description.

The UK veterinary nursing qualification is held in high esteem and opens up the opportunity to work abroad, but also to branch out from your initial VN qualification.  
Whether you choose to specialise in a particular area of nursing, (e.g neurology nursing, intensive care nursing, theatre nursing or consulting), move into management or work outside of practice e.g. teaching, work with pharmaceutical companies or setting up your own boarding kennels and veterinary nursing business - the opportunities are all there.

Both the RCVS and the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) provide further information on the role, training and registration of veterinary nurses visit:
Practice Manager 

Practice Managers are responsible for the overall management of the practice, working with other senior members of the team such as the Head Nurse or practice owners.  Depending on the practice they will deal with general management, personnel, communication, financial management, marketing and strategic management.  Many will have management qualifications specific to the industry such as a certificate Veterinary Practice Management offered by the VPMA.  This is a rewarding career choice with many challenges.
  • For further information from the Veterinary Practice Management Association click here.
Animal Nursing Assistants / Ward Assistants / Veterinary Care Assistants

The job description for these staff members are very similar.  They are involved in an assisting role, working with the nursing team in many practices.  Patient handling, basic nursing and a basic understanding of veterinary science are all required.  There are several work based courses, usually a year long, that can be studied which involves some college attendance.  This role can often lead to a position on the student nursing team.
  • For further information click here, the job description for any of the above job titles are very similar.
Veterinary Support Staff

There are many roles for veterinary support staff to fill and this will vary greatly depending on the practice, e.g. complimentary treatments such as acupuncture, dog groomers or even domestic help.

Other career opportunities with animals

If the veterinary practice environment just isn't for you but you still wish to pursue a career with animals there is still a wide choice of job opportunities.  For example you could research careers in the following: RSCPA inspector, animal charities (e.g. Dogs Trust, PDSA, Cats Protection and numerous others!), police dog handler, dog trainer, boarding establishments, safari or zoo keeper

The following link gives more information
  • National Careers Service - working with animals click here
  • Animal Jobs Direct has a more detailed summary click here

If you need more information or guidance then we will be happy to try and help you.  Please email

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