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Veterinary medicine

Combining a passion and love for the welfare and care of horses, equine veterinary careers offer a broad range of roles from technicians and researchers to veterinary surgeons and nurses.  

  • Last reviewed: 25th April 2022
Veterinary Veterinary

To become an equine vet or nurse you should be able to demonstrate determination and drive with a strong emphasis on hands-on work experience with animals and good communication skills. Anyone thinking of a career in the veterinary industry should also have a deep passion for animals; liking them is not enough. Any nurse or vet will need to be highly committed to their role and the animals they treat; the hours are long and the workload high, but the rewards are enormous.

Careers in veterinary medicine

Veterinary surgeon

An equine vet specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of horses in addition to providing routine care such as dentistry and vaccinations. Most equine vets work specifically on horses although some will work in mixed practices treating a wider range of species. Although demanding, this is an extremely rewarding career with responsibilities including diagnostics and treatment in first opinion cases, emergency and out-of-hours visits, specialist referral diagnostics and treatment, surgery, attendance at equine sporting events, riding school inspections and pre-purchase vetting.

Veterinary nurse

Veterinary nurses (VNs) work alongside veterinary surgeons to provide a high standard of care for sick animals in addition to their involvement in routine diagnostic work. VNs are involved in a wide range of care and treatment and usually work in a veterinary practice or hospital. They can also be involved in educating owners about horse health and routine preventative care. 

Responsibilities include emergency and out-of-hours work, preparing for surgery and anaesthesia, carrying out diagnostic tests, medical treatment, post-surgery care and rehabilitation. 

A head veterinary nurse may also be involved in the leadership and management of a team of nurses and support staff. 

How to get into veterinary medicine

Stage 2 Foundation Coach in Complete Horsemanship provides an in-depth foundation knowledge and understanding of equine care and management, lunging, riding on the flat and over fences and the initial principles of teaching and coaching to support a role within veterinary medicine.  

To pursue a career as an equine vet, you'll need to complete a general veterinary degree at an approved Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) university. There are currently eleven vet schools in the UK. Depending on the university, this is a five or six-year course. You may then specialise in subjects such as internal medicine or surgery, once qualified. A-levels, SCE Highers or equivalent in both Chemistry and Biology, with Maths as a possible third subject, are required to apply for this degree and A grades are expected. Contact the university you are interested in for specific entry information.

Spending time doing work experience is invaluable in gaining a full insight into a veterinary career - including the long hours and client expectations - and is very strongly advised to anyone considering it. A period of work experience with a vet is seen very positively by university admissions boards.

There are two pathways available to become a veterinary nurse: a vocational qualification or a higher education qualification. You must complete one of these pathways and be a general veterinary nurse before being able to specialise in equine nursing.

Vocational pathway

This is perfect if you want hands-on experience and training on the job. The Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing is a vocational qualification designed to prepare candidates for professional registration on the RCVS’s Register of Veterinary Nurses. It is available on either a full-time basis or apprenticeship-style alongside a job in a veterinary practice. 

Higher education pathway

A degree course will take a little longer than a vocational qualification and is more academic, although still requiring work experience. A degree in veterinary nursing can lead to additional career opportunities, such as in research, the pharmaceutical industry and teaching, as well as working in a clinical veterinary practice. A number of institutions offer full-time integrated higher education courses leading to a foundation or honours degree in veterinary nursing. The RCVS Certificate in Veterinary Nursing is also awarded to all graduates of courses approved by the RCVS. 

To specialise in equine nursing, BHS Stage 3 Care will be extremely advantageous for your application. 

Benefits

  • Opportunities to specialise in niche areas of veterinary medicine 
  • Opportunities to work in diverse situations – abroad, industry, research, academia, education, welfare, the charity sector, government, and general practice. The job can be as specialised or diverse as you want to make it