Veterinary Pathologist

The Job and What's Involved

Veterinary pathologists work to help determine the cause of death of animals. They also work with living animals, using specialised tests to diagnose illness and disease, ranging from bacterial or viral infections to cancer and degenerative disease.

Veterinary pathologists usually specialise in one of the following areas:

- Small domestic animals, e.g. dogs and cats
- Large domestic animals, e.g. horses, cattle and deer
- Laboratory animals, e.g. rabbits and mice
- Birds, e.g. poultry, game birds and wild birds
- Fish

Work may differ according to their employer and specialism, but the main tasks usually include:

  • Examination of blood, urine and tissue samples from living animals.
  • Carrying out postmortem examinations on animals that have died.
  • Carrying out tests to analyse the cause and/or type of disease.
  • Writing reports on their analysis and findings.
  • Discussing ideas and sharing knowledge with others in their team.
  • Preparing and conducting research projects.

The work of veterinary pathologists is central to the understanding of disease in animals of different species. It provides valuable information for veterinary research and for the prevention of certain diseases in the future. It also assists the development of new medicines and treatments for both domestic and wild animals.

Veterinary pathologists may work a basic 35 to 40 hour week, Monday to Friday. Working hours are often more flexible though, according to the work in hand, and may include some evening and weekend work.

Most work is undertaken indoors, in a specially-equipped laboratory, providing a quiet, clean and hygienic environment. Some work may involve visits to other sites, such as a veterinary practice, hospital or clinic, stables or wildlife/wildfowl reserve.

For some tasks overalls and other specific clothing is worn, such as a mask or gloves.

The usual starting salary for an assistant or junior veterinary pathologist is around £15,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are insufficient professionally-trained veterinary pathologists to meet the growing demand for their expertise.

A veterinary pathologist often works in universities, colleges and research institutes.

Jobs are also available at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), mainly on large animal pathology, and for pharmaceutical companies, veterinary laboratories or as a freelance consultant veterinary pathologist.

Jobs may be advertised in Veterinary Record and Veterinary Times.

Education and Training

The most usual method of qualifying as a veterinary pathologist is to take the BSc (Hons) in Veterinary Pathology (Intercalated). This is offered by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), University of London, as part of their overall Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine (BVetMed) degree course.

Some other veterinary schools are also starting to offer this method of qualification. Contact the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) for a list of veterinary schools.

Veterinary degree courses take between five and six years to complete. Most students taking the intercalated veterinary pathology course insert this into their studies between the second and third year of their veterinary degree course. This adds another year to the total time to qualify but means they achieve both degrees.

Some students take the BSc (Hons) in Veterinary Pathology after completing the full veterinary degree course. Veterinary degrees are BVSc or BSc (Hons) in Veterinary Science or BVetMed or VetMB in Veterinary Medicine.

The University of Bristol offers a three-year degree course in veterinary pathogenesis, the detailed study of disease in animals. To work as a veterinary pathologist, graduates from this need to go on to complete a veterinary degree course.

Entry to a veterinary degree course is usually with at least five GCSE's (A-C) and three A levels. Chemistry is usually required at A level, plus two subjects from biology, maths or physics. Full entry requirements and other details can be obtained from veterinary school admissions staff at universities.

A number of weeks of relevant work experience, e.g. in veterinary practices, farms, kennels or stables, is also required.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

BSc (Hons) in Veterinary Pathology (Intercalated) one-year courses are usually taken by students between the second and third year of their veterinary degree course. The one-year specific veterinary pathology training includes lectures, small group seminars and development of a personal research project.

Veterinary science and medicine degree courses usually last five years, but may last six years. Course content combines theoretical studies with practical work and work placements. Examinations take place throughout the course.

Most graduates start work as an assistant or junior veterinary pathologist in a laboratory to obtain a wide range of on-the-job experience.

Veterinary pathologists are encouraged to maintain their knowledge and skills throughout their career. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) provides guidance on Continuing Professional Development.

The Royal College of Pathologists (RCP) offers a membership scheme. Applicants need to take the RCP veterinary pathology examination to become a member. Contact RCP for details.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A veterinary pathologist should:

  • Have good general knowledge of animal care.
  • Be fully aware of health and safety requirements of laboratory work.
  • Be patient.
  • Be skilled in providing accurate and detailed work.
  • Be methodical and have an analytical and enquiring mind.
  • Be able to share information and ideas.
  • Have good written and verbal communication skills.
  • Be able to work as part of a team.
  • Have a good knowledge of relevant computer software.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects vary according to the type of employer. In general, promotion from assistant or junior veterinary pathologist to veterinary pathologist usually takes around two years. In laboratories, there may be chances for promotion to senior pathologist or head of department.

Some pathologists may move to an alternative type of employer to broaden their experience.

Opportunities to work overseas may exist, especially within the European Union or in the USA.

Get Further Information

British Veterinary Association,
7 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NQ
Tel: 020 7636 6541

Royal College of Pathologists (RCP),
2 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AF
Tel: 020 7451 6700

Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS),
Belgravia House, 62-64 Horseferry Road,
London SW1P 2AF
Tel: 020 7222 2001

The Royal Veterinary College (RVC),
Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms,
Hatfield, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA
Tel: 01707 666333

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