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Veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom

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Title: Veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom  
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Subject: Paraveterinary workers, Veterinary medicine, History of veterinary medicine in Pennsylvania, History of veterinary medicine in the Philippines
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Veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom

A veterinary surgeon removes stitches from a cat's face following minor surgery on an abscess.

Veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom is the performance of veterinary medicine by licensed professionals, and strictly regulated by statute law, notably the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966. Veterinary medicine is led by veterinary physicians, termed 'veterinary surgeons' (with a different meaning to how it is used in some other anglophone countries, where it denotes a surgical specialist), normally referred to as 'vets'.

Vets are often assisted by registered veterinary nurses, who are able to both assist the vet and to autonomously practice a range of skills of their own, including minor surgery under direction from a responsible vet.

Other professionals are also permitted to perform some animal treatment, through exemptions in the law, and these include manipulation techniques such as physiotherapy, chiropractic and osteopathy. Other alternative medicine therapies, such as homeopathy, acupuncture, phytotherapy and aromatherapy may only be performed by a licensed veterinary surgeon.

The practice of veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom is regulated by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), who licence both veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses.

Veterinary surgeons

Veterinary surgeons require both a degree in veterinary science or veterinary medicine, and must hold a current registration with the RCVS in order to practice. As of 5th March 2015, the RCVS has agreed that veterinary surgeons registered with the RCVS in the UK are entitled to use the courtesy title Doctor. This makes it the third clinical degree in the UK, after Medicine and Dentistry, to allow the use of the title Dr. The origins of veterinary surgeons parallel to human surgery are reflected in human medicine where qualified surgeons also drop their Dr designation and revert to their original title. The naming convention for veterinary surgeons has been debated, with some favouring the use of the Dr title for all vets.


Veterinary medicine degree courses are usually five years in length, although Cambridge University's degree takes six, and in some cases, a four year accelerated course is available. There are a limited number of places on veterinary courses each year, with only eight British Universities offering the degree (Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Nottingham and the Royal Veterinary College, London, Surrey).

Continuing professional development (CPD) is a mandatory and key part of career development. The RCVS recommends a minimum of 105 hours CPD over a three-year period. The RCVS Professional Development Phase (PDP) that was launched for new graduates in 2007 provides a structured approach to guide the new graduate towards the professional competences they need to develop in either small animal, equine or production animal practice.[1]


Vets may choose to specialise in any of a number of areas of veterinary medicine, through certificate qualifications, modular certificates or diplomas, with each speciality taking around two years to complete. Certificates cover a wide range of areas, including small animal medicine, small animal surgery, large animal medicine, welfare ethics and law, public health, cardiology and orthopaedics. A certificate is also available in advanced veterinary practice (Cert AVP).

It is important to note that there is a large and confusing array of post-nominal titles in the UK veterinary profession, which have varying levels of credibility. In particular, Certificate level qualification does not qualify a veterinary surgeon as a specialist. With further training, extensive professional experience and by publishing articles in a particular subject area, it is possible to gain Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Recognised Specialist Status. The RCVS is the regulatory body for veterinary surgeons in the UK. In 2012, the ruling council of the RCVS adopted a report from the Calman Committee into specialisation in the UK veterinary profession, accepting that only those veterinary surgeons recognised by the RCVS as specialists and placed on a register held by the RCVS could be truly held up as "Specialist". Members of the public looking for an appropriately accredited specialist veterinary surgeon in the UK should therefore primarily seek those that carry the post-nominal description of "RCVS Recognisd Specialist in..." after their name. No other accolade carries authority from the appropriate regulatory body.

Some vets also undertake the training to become Official Veterinarians, (OVs), which authorises them to carry out tasks on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, such as testing cattle for tuberculosis or issuing of documentation for the export of animals and animal products.


Most veterinary surgeons work in private practice, either in a general practice, or specialising in one type of animal (small animal, equine, zoo animal etc.). Newly qualified veterinary surgeons usually work as assistants for some time before being offered the opportunity to become a partner or a principal. Becoming a partner involves increased responsibility, the need for more business and management skills and a financial input into the practice.

Some vets are also employed by animal welfare charities who offer treatment to the public, such as Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and The Blue Cross.

There are also opportunities to work for government services, including APHA (the Animal and Plant Health Agency) who are responsible for the control and eradication of major notifiable diseases, animal welfare, promotion of international trade and certain public health functions related to residues in meat and investigation of food safety incidents,and scanning surveillance, or the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) who licence veterinary medicines.

It is also possible to pursue a research and/or teaching career within universities or research bodies.

Veterinary nurses

Veterinary nurses are the primary paraveterinary workers in the United Kingdom and assist vets in their work, and have a scope of autonomous practice within which they can act for the animals they treat, which can include minor surgery.


All veterinary nurses must be registered or listed with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). Registered or listed veterinary nurses have dispensations in law [the Veterinary Surgeons Act of 1966 amended in 2002)] to undertake certain procedures to include minor surgery on animals under veterinary direction.[2] Registered veterinary nurses (RVNs) are bound by a code of professional conduct and are obliged to maintain their professional knowledge and skills through ongoing CPD. Those VN's listed after 2002 are automatically registered.[3][4]


RVNs train for the Register through either a two-year further education diploma programme or via a qualifying foundation or honours degree. All student nurses must complete a significant amount of work experience in general veterinary practice during their training.

RCVS badges are engraved with the nurse's personal badge number, however badges are a sign of having achieved a VN qualification and not of a person's current registered status.


UK veterinary nurses are represented by the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA).[5] VN's can further their formal training with a BVNA specialist course Certificate in Dentistry and/or by achieving the RCVS Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing (DipAVN) by following a course of study in one or more of three pathways: Small animal nursing, Equine nursing, and Veterinary nursing education. The streamlined RCVS DipAVN replaced the DipAVN(Medical) and DipAVN(Surgical) formerly administered by the BVNA up until 2005. The DipAVN is offered through Myerscough College in Lancashire since 2007 and more recently through Harper Adams University, some modules are also available from the Royal Veterinary College in conjunction with the University of London.[6][7]

Animal nursing assistants

Lay staff, without formal qualification or status may be called animal nursing assistants (the BVNA approved term) or veterinary care assistants. These lay staff have usually undertaken some basic veterinary nurse training but are limited by law as to the procedures they may undertake on animals. They work alongside qualified vets and veterinary nurses to provide care and support to animal patients and their owners.

See also


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External links

  • Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
  • British Veterinary Nurses Association
  • Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966
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