What is vet work experience? (With FAQs and steps)

Updated 17 July 2023

Work experience is an excellent way to gain entry into the veterinary industry. While you learn how to care for animals, you also gain valuable skills that help you succeed in your career. Work experience is beneficial if you're considering a career as a vet and want to learn more about veterinary medicine. In this article, we explain what vet work experience is and answer some FAQs on the subject, including where you might get work experience and how to get work experience in a veterinary setting.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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What is vet work experience?

Vet work experience is an opportunity to gain a hands-on understanding of what it's like to work as a veterinarian. This may include anything from helping a vet practice with their admin work to caring for horses in stables. This type of experience helps you when you apply for veterinary jobs because it teaches you about career opportunities and how to succeed in the industry. Relevant work experience may include any paid or volunteer position that involves working with animals and their care. An internship is another way of getting work experience.

Veterinarians require many skills to succeed at their jobs, and they don't necessarily pick up these skills in veterinary school or during training programmes. With work experience, you see how real-world situations differ from things taught in class or covered during clinical rotations.

Related: How to become a veterinarian (with detailed steps)

How much work experience do I need?

The amount of work experience you require for veterinary work depends on the employer or course provider. For example, some organisations may want you to have direct experience working with animals. Others accept any animal-related experience, including working in less direct roles.

The first step to getting work experience is to ensure you know what kind of veterinary job you want. Some vets focus on companion animals, whereas others work with horses, livestock or wild animals. If you want to specialise in one area of animal care, it's better to begin your career with that specialisation. Do some research to see which areas you want to work in.

Related: How much does a veterinarian make? (With FAQ)

How much work experience do I require to become a practising vet?

There's no set amount of work experience required for you to become a vet, as your ability to practise varies depending on the degree or qualification you pursue. The first thing to do is talk with your potential employer about what their requirements are for new hires. They may ask candidates to have anywhere between a few months' experience and two years in full-time employment, depending on where you live and whether or not they have any special requirements, such as specific qualifications.

Related: Veterinary nurse vs. veterinary technician: what to know

Can you work at a clinic without work experience?

Most clinics want to see some form of work experience alongside a formal qualification. They may offer you unpaid training if you don't have any, but this isn't guaranteed. If you want to work at a clinic without work experience, you may consider completing an internship with a vet or at a vet clinic. These programmes typically revolve around helping staff with administrative tasks and general office work. If you're interested in working with animals but aren't quite ready for hands-on care duties, this is a great option to test your aptitude for veterinary work.

Related: How to start volunteering at an animal shelter

Can I get work experience abroad?

It's possible to get relevant work experience for vets abroad, but there are a few things to consider first. To begin, you might receive certification in your home country and then travel abroad to practice your skills. This allows you to receive relevant certifications through internships or programmes such as working in rescue centres. Alternatively, you may study abroad for some time before returning home with the knowledge you gained during that period.

The next thing to think about is where exactly you want to go for your work experience. If you want to explore new cultures or languages while doing something that's professionally and personally important to you, travelling between countries and taking part in veterinary programmes may be suitable for you. Assess what you might require to travel to certain countries, such as visas and vaccinations. If you want to work with specific animals that are only found in certain areas, measure how practical your ambitions are alongside these limitations.

Related: What are veterinarian CV skills and how do you improve them?

Where can I find vet work experience abroad?

You may find work experience abroad by looking for veterinary clinics or organisations that are willing to hire you as an intern. If you're considering going abroad for work experience, make sure your employer is legitimate and licenced by the local government. You may also find vet work abroad by signing up with an international placement agency. These agencies help you find a job in a foreign country where you gain valuable experience working with animals.

Related: How to work abroad: benefits and step-by-step guide

Where can I find work experience in the UK?

If you're looking for relevant work experience in the UK, you may begin with your local veterinary clinic. The staff there may direct you towards an opening or help you find jobs with other clinics in the area. You might also consider contacting the British Veterinary Association. This organisation has a list of veterinary practices and clinics that want new work-experience candidates. You may also check the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, which has an online directory of veterinary practices that may be willing to take on work experience candidates.

Related: How to become a vet receptionist (with duties and skills)

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How to get work experience as a vet

Here are four steps to help you find work experience opportunities as a vet:

1. Browse online

Your first step is to look for opportunities online. Dozens of websites list jobs that are available for vet assistants, receptionists and even veterinarians themselves. Search for these opportunities based on your location or by using keywords such as vet assistant or vet receptionist to identify entry-level roles that may not require pre-existing experience.

Related: Work experience: definition, importance and tips

2. Visit places where you may work with animals

Try to visit any stables, farms, kennels or other animal-oriented organisations in your local area. These places may offer volunteer opportunities that allow you to learn what it's like to work with animals while gaining experience. Alternatively, contact any local animal shelters or rescue organisations. Many of these organisations require volunteers who are willing to help out with different tasks regularly, such as walking dogs or cleaning cages. They may also let you shadow their staff members while they work.

Related: ​How to become a veterinary physiotherapist (With skills)

3. Find an apprenticeship or placement

If you want to find paid learning opportunities, consider applying for an apprenticeship. Apprenticeships are a great way to receive a wage while learning a trade or skill. You might work under the guidance of an experienced vet and have access to all kinds of resources, such as workshops and training courses. Placements at veterinary clinics are another option for work experience. Depending on the provider, you may or may not receive a salary during your placement. Do some research to see the most suitable options for you.

Related: Veterinary practice manager: definition and qualifications

4. Visit practices in person

As a trainee vet, it helps to gain hands-on experience in a practice as soon as possible. Visit practices in person and ask the receptionist if it's possible to speak with one of the vets. Use this opportunity to ask questions about their daily routine, what it's like working at the practice and what kind of work they do. Shadowing vets allows you to see what goes on in veterinary practices. Visiting practices in person shows you're willing to gain experience and eager to make a good impression.

If this isn't possible, contact local organisations or events related to animal care and consider volunteering with them. This gives you valuable experience working with animals and helps you build connections that may lead to future job opportunities.

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