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Welcome to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' website for animal owners

About veterinary practices

A veterinary practice (can also be known as a veterinary centre, veterinary clinic, veterinary surgery or animal hospital) is in most cases a small business offering a range of services to clients and patients.

Many people are involved in delivering the service and ensuring that you as the client get the best care for your animal, in the most efficient manner.

In this section, you will be able to find out about the veterinary practice — how it operates and who is involved. Click on the links below for further information:


The vets in the practice

Veterinary surgeons — business relationships

The veterinary surgeon in your practice may be the sole principal, or a partner, an associate or a locum. In the case of corporate animal practices, the veterinary surgeon may be a clinical director or a salaried employee.

A principal is the sole owner of the practice, whereas partners (and there may be several) have a financial stake in the practice. The business responsibilities of principals and partners are often onerous - as is the case in any small business - since they are involved in the management and running of the veterinary practice. The salary of a principal/partner will vary depending on how well the practice has fared in the last financial year.

Associates (Assistants) are other veterinary surgeons employed by the partners. They are mainly involved in the clinical side of practice in seeing clients and their patients. They generally do not have financial or managerial responsibilities for the practice.

Locums are employed on temporary contracts of varying length. They are often employed to cover colleagues on sick leave, study leave or maternity leave.


Veterinary surgeons and their training

Veterinary surgeons all possess a recognised veterinary degree from one of the seven UK veterinary schools or an overseas school that is recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) — the UK regulatory body.

It usually takes five years (except for Cambridge where it takes six years) to obtain a veterinary qualification. There are seven universities in the UK which offer a veterinary course — these are Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Nottingham.

The degree course is a combination of clinical and practical training with over 40 weeks spent working either in veterinary practices, farms and other animal establishments, laboratories and abattoirs.

Many veterinary surgeons chose to undertake further study in a particular interest area. Further information on the types of qualification is available.

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The role of veterinary nurses

Veterinary nurses (VNs) play a key role in the veterinary practice. They work alongside veterinary surgeons in order to provide a high standard of care for animals. Normally working within a veterinary surgery or hospital, veterinary nurses provide skilled supportive care for sick animals as well as undertaking minor surgical procedures, medical treatments and diagnostic tests under veterinary supervision. VN's also play a key role in the education of owners in good standards of animal care.

The veterinary nurses listed in the Find-a-Vet pages are qualified nurses who are registered with the RCVS. This entitles them by law to undertake a range of veterinary treatments under the direction of a veterinary surgeon. Many veterinary practices employ unqualified nursing assistants who are able to provide a more basic level of animal care and support.

Visit the links below for further information, links will open in a new window.

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Administrative staff

The receptionist

The first person you will encounter when you telephone or visit a veterinary practice is the receptionist. The receptionist generally manages the appointments process, dealing with correspondence and welcoming animal owners to the practice. Some larger practices may have several receptionists who may be responsible either for different areas, for example, large animal appointments/farm visits or small animal appointments and specialist clinics. Some may also be doing different shifts e.g. weekends, afternoons etc.


The practice manager

A practice manager can be found in most larger practices, where someone is needed to provide a key communication link within the practice. Often it is the practice manager who has the overview of the day-to-day running of the practice. Other responsibilities include dealing with personnel issues, the practice's suppliers, and co-ordinating many of the business and administrative activities of the veterinary practice.

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Veterinary practice as a small business

A veterinary practice is a small business, which rents/buys a site, employs qualified staff, pays rates, business tax etc. Veterinary practices do not receive any funding from Government — the National Health Service or any other agency. The practice income is derived solely from the business that flows through the veterinary surgery.

The income of a practice serves to pay the employees, rates and rent. A proportion of the profit is re-invested in the practice for new equipment or new facilities, so that the practice may continue to offer the best service to the animal and the animal owner.

Increasingly, clients are coming to expect the same standard of care for their animals as they receive themselves and veterinary practices are striving to meet this trend. Many veterinary practices offer the equivalent service to a human hospital and are often able to provide speedier treatment than is possible through the NHS.

Charges for veterinary services can come as a shock because few of us are used to paying the full costs of human healthcare. For this reason you should make enquiries of a practice — or a number of practices before deciding which one you want to use. The costs and services available will vary from practice to practice — as explained above. You may also wish to consider taking out insurance to cover some of the veterinary expenses of caring for an animal.

The veterinary profession is often compared to the medical profession. In some ways, the studies and the nature of the work is similar, however, the environment in which they operate is very different.

NB RCVS has no legal power to set a scale of veterinary charges as the government's Office of Fair Trading believes that consumers are best protected by competition between practices.

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Types of veterinary practice

Some practices only deal with small animals, others only equine. The majority however deal with all species. Some veterinary practices also offer particular facilities and/or services which classify them as different types of veterinary practice. You may find that knowing what some of these terms mean is useful in helping you choose a veterinary practice for your animal.


RCVS Accredited Practice

The RCVS Practice Standards Scheme was launched on 1 January 2005. It is the only scheme representing the veterinary profession and was set up to:-

  • Establish a quality assurance framework to promote and maintain the highest standard of veterinary care

  • To make more information available about veterinary practices, and so give clients greater choice.

The RCVS Practice Standards Scheme has been embraced by the entire veterinary profession and supersedes two schemes, one run by the British Veterinary Hospitals Association (BVHA)/Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and another by the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA).

You can read more about the Practice Standards Scheme.

BEVA Listed Practice

A list certifying that for 2005/6, Annex A of the BEVA Code of Practice for Veterinary Surgeons using Artificial Insemination for Breeding Equids will be complied with and that facilities exist for the the correct handling and insemination of frozen and chilled semen. The list has been compiled by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) as a service to the equine industry, and inclusion on the list is by self-certification.

Charity Clinic

A non-commercial practice run by a charity such as the PDSA, RSPCA or Blue Cross that normally offers veterinary services only to clients who meet specified criteria (e.g. income). Please check with the clinic what restrictions apply when you first contact them.

Secondary Referral Only

This is a practice that only takes cases referred by other practices and does not undertake consultations directly with members of the public.

Non-Clinical Practice

This is a practice that does not examine or treat living animals. It may undertake pathological, legal and food hygiene work.

Veterinary Nursing Training Practice (TP)

Veterinary Nursing Approved Centres and Training and Assessment Practices (TPs) are involved with the training of student veterinary nurses.

VN Centres are organisations approved to enrol student veterinary nurses with the RCVS and to manage their training and assessment. TPs are practices that have the requisite caseload, equipment and staffing resources deemed necessary by the RCVS to support the in-service training and assessment of veterinary nursing students. All TPs have a nominated ‘TP Principal’ who is responsible for VN training within the practice.

EMS (Extra Mural Studies) Practice

An EMS (Extra Mural Studies) Practice is one which has indicated it is prepared to offer placements to veterinary undergraduates who are enrolled at a university and are training to be veterinary surgeons. EMS is a compulsory part of all UK veterinary undergraduate courses, and practices play a vital role in helping to train the next generation of veterinary surgeons. Students must undertake a minimum of 38 weeks during their course gaining experience outside their university, in a variety of practices, on farms and on other veterinary-related work placements. As part of their training students may be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of animals whilst they are undertaking EMS, but only under the direction and supervision of a qualified veterinary surgeon.

More information about EMS can be found in the Education section of the main website (this link will open in a new window).

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