What's it like being a vet? How do you train to be a vet? These are questions I am frequently asked. And while it's a popular career aspiration, the reality is that it is a very hard career. Hard to get into university for, hard to stay in university and hard work once you're qualified!!
Vets look after the health and well-being of animals. Not only do we diagnose, treat and prevent animal disease and injury, but we're trained in all aspects of the general management of animals. Working in private practice also requires a variety of management and business skills. Veterinarians must learn to be good communicators (while our patients are animals, our clients are humans) and work well with others, including fellow vets, vet nurses, receptionists and administrators.
Veterinary science is not only a career, but a lifestyle. Veterinarians work hard and long and we must also keep up with developments in the field through continuing education and training.
Most of Australia's approximately 8,100 veterinarians work in private practices. Nowadays it is common that many practices limit their work to certain types of animals e.g. horses or small animals, whilst some vets also go on to do further study to become specialists within a particular field, for example orthopedic surgery or ophthalmology.. But vets also work in a large variety of other roles. Many veterinarians are employed by pharmaceutical and laboratory companies where they may be involved in research, product technical support or marketing. Other big employers of vets include the Government and Universities. Many zoos now also employ their own veterinarians, as do an increasing number of animal welfare organisations. So there is a very wide scope of directions that your career can take once you qualify as a vet.
To become a vet you need a degree in veterinary science which takes around five years to complete. Australia has six universities offering undergraduate veterinary science courses: University of Sydney (NSW), University of Queensland, University of Melbourne (VIC), Murdoch University (WA), Charles Stuart University (NSW) and James Cook University (QLD).
Approximately 400 students graduate each year from the veterinary schools. Competition for places is intense. Entry is restricted by a quota system and selection is based mainly on your final school exam mark and it is an advantage to have done well in mathematics, physics and chemistry. The universities have differing entry requirements and limited places are available to mature students and some offer limited special entry to those with some educational disadvantage at school, or to students from rural areas. The course is demanding, you will need high motivation, an interest and competence in science and an interest in the health and welfare of animals. To practice after graduating from University, vets must be registered by a State Veterinary Surgeons Board in the state you wish to work.
Never become a vet for the glamour nor the money. While vet fees may seem costly with your pet, the reality is that this is because of the high cost of medical supplies, equipment and facilities.
Vets do not earn a particularly high salary especially compared to similarly qualified professionals and considering the hours worked. Your heart must truly be in it otherwise the constant emotional strains and heavy work load will quickly get you down – there are many sad, frustrating and upsetting situations we face on a daily basis. But the joy of healing a sick animal and helping a person's best friend get better make it all worthwhile at the end of the day.
About Dr Kevin Cruickshank
Dr Kevin Cruickshank BVSc, BSc(Hons), a South African trained (Onderstepoort) and qualified vet living and practising in Australia Kevin grew up in South Africa and trained as a vet at Onderstepoort. After practicing in South Africa and the UK, he moved to Australia 4 years ago and, together with his wife Fiona, now owns and runs Gold Coast Vet Surgery. Kevin focuses his attention on dogs, cats and small pets and has a special interest in oncology (cancer) and geriatric pet care, as well as skin and ear complaints.