A basic deﬁnition for the role of the veterinary surgeon (or vet), is to provide healthcare for sick and injured animals, and to try to prevent sickness, disease and injury in healthy animals by carrying out health check-ups at a veterinary practice, providing vaccinations against diseases, prescribing medicines, diagnosing and treating animal illnesses and injuries, and acting as an advisor to animal owners with regard to the best care for their pets or livestock. Veterinary surgeons will also administer anaesthetics and carry out surgical operations.
In many ways a veterinary surgeon is a ‘doctor’ for animals, however, their work is different from that of a doctor in that they must provide care for many different species of animal, and they must deal with both the animal and the owner, whilst working at a veterinary practice.
Therefore, the role of the veterinary surgeon is not just about safeguarding the health and welfare of the animals under their care, but also that of their owners, and the wider public too! Being able to communicate effectively with owners and farmers, in a patient and compassionate way, is equally important to the role of the veterinary surgeon as providing treatment for animals. When working as a practice manager, this becomes even more important, as you also need to monitor your staff.
There are over 20,000 vets across the UK. Around half of this number work as general practice veterinary surgeons in veterinary surgeries, practices, clinics and hospitals across the country, dealing mostly with domestic pets, farm animals and horses, but also some exotic and/or zoo animals. Practices may specialise in small animals, farm animals or equine work (horses), or may be mixed practices dealing with a combination of these. Therefore, it is possible for veterinary surgeons in general practice to specialise in these particular areas during the course of their careers if they wish, often pursuing additional qualiﬁcations.
The general practice vet is the most commonly perceived role of the vet, due in part to the fact that this role is the one most commonly encountered by the general public, and also to the televised James Herriot books and more recently, series such as Vets in Practice. However, there are also other ﬁelds within which veterinary surgeons work.
Governmental veterinary work is an important part of the veterinary profession. Vets are involved in the work of various government departments and agencies. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), employs the largest number of vets within the Civil Service, including those working within the State Veterinary Service (SVS), which has responsibility for the control and eradication of animal diseases and the protection of public health, the Veterinary Field Service, Veterinary Investigation Centres, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency.
Other departments such as the Food Standards Agency, the Meat Hygiene Service, the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, the Home Ofﬁce, the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly, and the Department for International Development also employ veterinary surgeons, either on part-time sub-contracts or full-time.
Veterinary surgeons may also work for local authorities, inspecting kennels, catteries, riding stables, livestock markets, pet shops, zoos and wildlife parks. Other roles for veterinarians include veterinary teaching in universities and other educational establishments; veterinary scientiﬁc research, which may be either publicly or privately funded, for example into animal and human diseases, genetics, development etc; working for pharmaceutical companies; for animal charities and rescue organisations such as the RSPCA or the Blue Cross; and working within the ﬁeld of environmental and wildlife conservation. Some veterinary surgeons may also be employed on a full-time basis by zoos and wildlife parks.