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04-12-2008 - Is the veterinary profession divided and in decline?

Is the veterinary profession divided and in decline?

Peter K. Matthews1

1 Easter Langlee, Melrose Road, Selkirkshire TD1 2UH

SIR, - I write in protest at Professor W. R. Allen's letter concerning the future of the veterinary profession (VR, November 15, 2008, vol 163, p 608). Suggesting that a pre-registration degree be a requirement of enrolment on an undergraduate veterinary degree course 'to engender a modicum of maturity in the entrants' and ensure 'we get mature and genuinely motivated veterinary students in our schools' is offensive to both current veterinary undergraduates and dedicated, hard-working recent graduates. My experience of veterinary school makes me firmly of the opinion that no distinction can or should be made between the maturity, enthusiasm or ability of those undergraduates already holding a degree and those entering straight from a secondary school or college. Indeed, the significant increases in the number of undergraduates in our veterinary schools, made up exclusively of first degree holders and foreign students - both of whom must pay full academic fees - should be of utmost concern to the profession.

Paying full university fees, currently up to £19,950 per annum (Anon 2008), plus living costs and debt from a previous degree represents a massive and prohibitive financial commitment both during study and long after graduation. While no-one could question the dedication of those prepared to face such a financial burden in order to pursue a veterinary degree, this expansion of training makes the availability of a veterinary degree to talented students from less privileged backgrounds increasingly more difficult. Professor Allen's suggestion that this could be funded by government is unrealistic.

Professor Allen's proposal that clinical teaching should be divided into specialised 1·5- to two-year courses allowing graduates to become 'licensed' to practise in that particular field ignores the ambition of very many new graduates to work in mixed practice. It also ignores the demand of mixed practices for new graduates and would inevitably lead to large areas of the country where mixed practice is the only viable option for provision of veterinary services becoming devoid of vets. Furthermore, to suggest that farm animals only 'actually exist' in the west of the country is patently wrong. To suggest that clinical courses could be 'better taught' by consolidating the teaching of specialist subjects at specific universities is a discredit to current teaching staff at our veterinary schools where teaching is consistently rated among the highest of any academic subject by independent observers (Anon 2008).

The increasing breadth and depth of veterinary knowledge, coupled with the changing demographic of veterinary services in the UK, makes changes to the way in which veterinary undergraduates are taught both inevitable and desirable. The future of the profession depends on a supply of able, motivated students who are well supported by their predecessors. Professor Allen's ill-conceived sentiments are not helpful. His call for 'good and reasoned' debate on the subject of veterinary undergraduate teaching is not well served by his letter.


    ANON (2008) Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh. Accessed November 24, 2008

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