Cute animals aside, one of the best things about being a vet must surely be having the ability to treat and cure disease and sickness in animals and increase their quality of life. If you have a passion for animals and good communication skills to deal with their owners, along with a strong stomach that will no doubt be necessary at times, then a career in veterinary science could be for you.
If you are considering studying veterinary science, you may also be interested in the following fields of study:
For more information about careers in this field, visit the Australian Veterinary Association website.
At Vocational Education and Training (VET) level, these courses offer animal lovers the skills and proficiency they need to become veterinary nurses. They provide the knowledge, as well as technical and practical skills, required for the care and nursing of animals in varied settings. Qualified veterinary nurses have the option of furthering their studies and specialising in particular areas.
To become a professional veterinarian, you must complete an accredited veterinary science degree in the higher education sector. See the Undergraduate and Postgraduate sections for more information.
If you are considering veterinary nursing, courses are available at certificate IV and diploma level. Students learn many different skills as part of these qualifications, including providing care to animals, providing advice to animal owners, implanting microchips and complying with infection control policies and procedures. The diplomas provide students with the opportunity to specialise in dental, emergency and critical care, general practice or surgical nursing. Graduates may be able to apply for accreditation with the Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (VNCA).
For students who are looking for a qualification with a broader focus, courses such as animal studies and animal technology provide an alternative to veterinary nursing. Courses in these areas are available from certificate I level, providing a good pathway into further study — both within the areas and in veterinary nursing. Some may be science-based, while others may lean towards the agricultural end of the industry.
Most especially in veterinary nursing, these are very specialised courses. If you are not sure if the field is for you, you may consider a more general course in the sciences or experiment with a short course before commencing formal study.
Courses in this field are available at a number of TAFE institutes throughout the country, as well as at private education providers. Entry requires completion of Year 10, although some institutions recommend that students complete Year 12.
Considering the reasonably limited range of VET-level courses available in veterinary nursing, it pays to do your research and have a thorough look at subject offerings and potential career outcomes of any courses you’re considering. Look into the facilities and equipment on offer and be sure that the course you choose includes plenty of opportunity for practical work. You may be expected to have access to a workplace for the duration of your course — whether through paid employment or work experience placements.
Some courses are delivered on a part-time basis to enable students to gain paid work in veterinary practices while they study. Distance and flexible study opportunities may be available. Check with institutions to be sure.
Graduates of veterinary nursing qualifications find work in veterinary practices and animal hospitals, as well as in other settings such as animal shelters, rescue centres, zoos and wildlife parks. A veterinary nurse’s duties may include veterinary medical nursing and veterinary surgical nursing, reception and administration tasks, cleaning duties, technical maintenance, animal care, veterinary clinical pathology and radiographic procedures, and anaesthetic nursing.
Those who completed studies in the more general areas, such as animal studies, are employed in various fields of work across the agricultural and science industries.
Almost all veterinary science courses, which involve five to seven years of full-time study, insist on the same broad-based training to prepare graduates for all areas of practice. Undergraduate degrees in the field cover many different subject areas, from veterinary pathology, animal disease and genetics to anesthesia, animal husbandry and small animal surgery.
Courses place a strong emphasis on practical work, with students working under supervision in external or university-operated veterinary clinics, often in a farm setting. Courses also require students to undertake professional practical work in semester breaks and between academic years. Australian veterinary practitioners must abide by the code of practice dictated by the Australian Veterinary Association. They are required to register each year with the Veterinary Surgeons Board or Veterinary Practitioners Registration Board of the state or territory in which they intend to practise.
Some institutions have adopted a US-style model where undergraduates enter a general pre-professional degree (perhaps in science or applied science) and then transfer to a specialist postgraduate qualification in veterinary science. This model has the potential to become more common in the future.
Veterinary science courses are extremely competitive to get into and often demand near-perfect ATAR or OP scores. They may also require prerequisite subjects (typically in one or more of maths, physics, biology and chemistry), but this should be checked with individual institutions as they do vary.
Part of the reason for the tough entry requirements of veterinary science courses is that only a limited number of institutions offer them, although course offerings have increased in recent years. Currently, seven universities offer veterinary science courses, with a few of the more recently accredited courses based in (and focused on) rural areas in response to the recognition of a skills gap in the rural industries. Courses are available at universities in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Each course is recognised throughout Australia as well as in certain countries overseas.
Due to the limited number of providers in this field, you may need to relocate to pursue your studies. And, as with all practical and health-related fields of study, look out for specialist facilities and work experience opportunities when researching courses.
Those considering studying veterinary science should also consider the challenges being reported by the profession in recent times before committing to a degree. Industry bodies have reported that the increase in degrees has resulted in an oversupply of veterinary graduates, many of whom are struggling to find full-time employment. Industry bodies have also reported that — despite the length and high cost of degrees in this field, the long working hours and often stressful working conditions — veterinarians command one of the lowest professional salaries.
See Degree costs and loans for more information about paying for your degree.
To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.
While the majority of veterinary science graduates work in private practice (most of whom are in suburban general practice), there are a range of alternative career destinations available. Each year, a number of graduates find employment in government services, such as in livestock disease control, diagnostic service work or disease research; research; higher education; or rural industries. Opportunities for veterinary science graduates are also beginning to emerge in additional areas such as genetic technologies, food safety, animal welfare and urban animal management.
According to the national Course Experience Questionnaire, veterinary science graduates are moderately satisfied with teaching quality and their overall course experience, and quite happy with the generic skills they gained. Graduate unemployment is average (currently 25 per cent), although salaries are below average, beginning at the modest level of $47,455. This is a field where a large number of graduates go onto further study (39 per cent in 2014), a significant increase on the previous year.
See the Career search for more information about your career options.
Veterinary science is one of the smallest, most exclusive and most enclosed of all fields of study. Alongside dentistry and surveying, it has one of the lowest postgraduate enrolments. At last count, there were less than 800 postgraduates enrolled. This being said, there is still a good range of courses at prospective students' disposal.
There are many areas of specialisation, including avian and equine health, animal genetics, diagnostic imagery, nutrition, small animal practice and tropical animal science. There are also courses in veterinary public health and management, which allow students to explore the technical areas of preventative veterinary medicine and public health.
Most postgraduate veterinary science students share a common background and motivation to study — they are veterinary science graduates and practitioners using further study to upgrade or specialise within their chosen field. There are also postgraduate courses that are suitable for students who have elected to study veterinary science as a two-part degree (studying veterinary science at postgraduate level following a general degree in an area such as science).
Students who have not previously studied veterinary science, and do not wish to practise as veterinarians, are also catered for — options exist in related fields such as animal science and animal breeding management.
Professional development and the upgrade of skills are highly regarded in the profession, and postgraduate study may contribute to ongoing education requirements for professional membership.
Research is certainly an option, with masters degrees and doctorates on offer at a number of universities. Completing research is very popular, with a close-to-even split between coursework and research students. Due to the number of professionals furthering their education, it is also a field with a high number of part-time students (40 per cent in 2011). External study is an option, with around a quarter of students studying off campus.
Postgraduate veterinary science is offered at six institutions nationally, so you may need to move to pursue your studies. Where you study may also be motivated by your career goals, such as wanting to work in rural practice. As is the case with all health-based and practical fields, it is important to research potential institutions' facilities to ensure they will be suited to your specialisation — and that they are up to scratch.
To find out how each institution performs in your field of study, see our Ratings section.
According to the national Course Experience Questionnaire survey, veterinary science postgraduates were generally very impressed with their programs. Employment outcomes are excellent, with just nine per cent of graduates seeking work four months after course completion. Salaries are below average however, sitting at an average of $64,740.
See the Career Search for more information about your career options.