Thinking of becoming veterinary surgeon?

A career as a veterinary surgeon is one of the most popular dreams for young people nowadays. Children and teenagers have a very close affinity with animals. The idea of working with friendly, loyal creatures seems more appealing than working with bossy, bad tempered human beings. The public image of life as a vet has been generally a favourable one. James Herriot was always smiling as he strolled through muddy farmyards, and even his disasters often seemed to have a humorous side to them.

Growing in popularity
The fact that a career as a vet is so popular amongst school leavers has made it more difficult than ever to enter the profession. Spaces at veterinary college are allocated to those with the highest points – there is no interview system. Such characteristics as ‘fondness for animals’ count for nothing in this process. However, any alternative type of selection would not be as objective as the points system, and this could cause difficulties. Some say that interviews are open to a ‘who-you-know’ bias. In any case, vet colleges in other countries which do use interviews have a similar rate of student drop-outs as points-based systems.

The end result of the selection process is that veterinary colleges enjoy the privilege of teaching the most academically qualified young people. These students have an intensive five years of books and exams. They are then thrust into a world where exams count for nothing. All that matters is whether you can make the  sick animal in front of you healthy again, and equally importantly, make that anxious owner  smile again. The job of a vet can be such a practical one that it has been said that academic skills are not needed. However I would dispute that strongly.

Keeping up-to-date
Veterinary science has been one of the most rapidly developing research areas in the past two decades. More is known now than ever before about how animals’ bodies work, and why animals become sick. Every year new drugs are produced and better surgical techniques are devised. Keeping up-to-date with these changes is one of the real challenges of being a vet. For a new graduate to pursue a successful career he or she must be able to rapidly and easily learn not just the practical skills, but also the latest scientific facts.

I was considering my own career choice last night at 3.00am. I had just finished a three hour major emergency operation on a dog which had collapsed with a twisted stomach. My school friend who had followed a different career path would have left work at 5.00pm, home to a pleasant evening with the family and then a cosy bed some time before midnight. Why should anybody with a so-called ‘intelligent’ mind follow a career such as mine?

I discovered the answer to the question this morning when I went in to say hello to my patient. He greeted me with a wag of his tail and a lick on my face. How many colleagues in the bank would give you that much?

Blog post by Pete Wedderburn. Check out his site at

Pete Wedderburn


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