Veterinary Medicine Course Outline
At Cambridge, you study the basic veterinary sciences and animal handling and management skills that underpin veterinary medicine first, before learning to apply that knowledge to veterinary practice as a clinical student.
A major strength of the Cambridge course is the extensive use of practical teaching and the emphasis on small-group teaching in all six years. Students have frequent contact with animals throughout the course, rapidly building their practical skills in advance of the lecture-free case-based final year.
During your first three years – your pre-clinical studies – you’re taught through lectures and practical classes (including dissections) in the University’s science departments, and small-group supervisions. You can typically expect 20-25 timetabled teaching hours each week.
The clinical studies teaching during the second three years – which takes place in the Veterinary School and Hospital and University science departments – is a mixture of lectures (in Years 4 and 5), practicals, tutorials, seminars and increasing numbers of clinical rotations.
In addition, you must complete your pre-clinical extramural studies (EMS) during the first three years of the course. This involves a minimum of 12 weeks’ work experience during the University vacations in order to gain knowledge of animal handling and husbandry. Work experience carried out before starting the course can’t be counted.
During your clinical studies, you must complete at least 26 weeks of clinical extramural study during University vacations, some of which may be undertaken abroad.
The student-run Veterinary Society, Farm Animal Society, Equine Society, and Veterinary Zoological Society also organise seminars and handling sessions relating to domestic and exotic species, as well as talks by external speakers to which students in all years are invited.
Your progress is reviewed on a weekly basis by your College supervisors and clinical supervisors in the Vet School, and your Director of Studies monitors your overall progress in all aspects of the course.
Formal assessment, which determines your progression through the course, takes a variety of forms including written essays, short answer questions and practical examinations. During the clinical studies (Year 4-6) your performance in clinical rotations is also assessed.
Years 1, 2 and 3 (pre-clinical studies)
Years 1 and 2
In Years 1 and 2 – the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos (MVST) – you’re taught the relevant core scientific knowledge and practical skills needed as a veterinary medicine professional.
The first two years offer a unique opportunity to be taught by some of the world’s top scientists and veterinary surgeons. We provide you with the scientific and practical basis that will allow you to develop your veterinary career to the full, whether your aim is to deliver outstanding care or whether you wish to contribute to pushing forward the boundaries of veterinary medicine or biomedical science.
The main areas of learning in the MVST are covered by courses in:
- Principles of Animal Management – an intensive course in animal husbandry and management, including comprehensive animal handling training across a wide range of species
- Preparing for the Veterinary Profession – introducing you to the professional, ethical, financial, legal and social dimensions of your chosen career
- Homeostasis – covering the physiological systems which underpin the animal body's regulation of its internal environment and its responses to external threats. You also have practical classes in related aspects of experimental physiology and histology
- Molecules in Medical Science – looking at the chemical and molecular basis of how cells and organisms work, as well as the genetic foundations of animal populations
- Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology – functional anatomy of organs and tissues of domestic animals, and the direct relevance of animal structure in clinical veterinary medicine. The course involves extensive dissection of eight species, integrated teaching of diagnostic imaging as well as topographic anatomy sessions in live animals
- Introduction to the Scientific Basis of Medicine – covering epidemiology and how it’s applied in veterinary medicine
- Biology of Disease – dealing with the nature and mechanisms of disease processes, and the mechanisms by which animals detect, resist and destroy agents of disease
- Mechanisms of Drug Action – providing a clinically-focused understanding of how drugs enter animals’ bodies, how they’re distributed around them, how they act on cells and organs, and how they’re removed
- Neurobiology and Animal Behaviour – covering the structure and function of the sense organs and central nervous system, and introductions to neurological examinations of live animals
- Veterinary Reproductive Biology – looking at the physiology of fertility, pregnancy, development, birth and the neonate in domestic animals
- Comparative Vertebrate Biology – an introduction to the biology of fish, reptiles, birds, rodents and ‘exotic’ mammals, including practical classes in the handling and husbandry of these species
Read more about the MVST on the Faculty of Biology website.
The third year is one of the most distinctive features of the Cambridge veterinary course. This year (sometimes referred to by other universities as intercalation) gives you an unparalleled opportunity to focus on one of a wide range of subjects offered by the University to qualify for the BA degree. There are three options:
Regardless of your third year subject, you still have structured opportunities to further hone your animal handling and husbandry skills.
Successful completion of the pre-clinical studies leads to a BA degree. All veterinary students then continue to the three years of clinical studies at the Department of Veterinary Medicine.
Years 4, 5 and 6 (clinical studies)
Putting science into practice
The emphasis of the clinical studies is to give you sufficient clinical knowledge and skills (day one competencies) to begin to practise veterinary medicine, and also to provide you with the scientific background you need to respond to future trends and advances in veterinary medicine.
You study topics including:
- animal management, breeding, nutrition and welfare
- anatomical pathology of various organ systems
- clinical pathology
- microbiology, virology and veterinary parasitology
- species medicine (ruminants, poultry)
- clinical pharmacology
- radiography and radiology
- communication skills
- practical clinical skills
- principles of surgery
- principles of oncology
You learn about veterinary public health as well, including food hygiene, state veterinary medicine and the medicine of rabbits, rodents, ferrets, reptiles, birds and fish.
These topics are examined in Part I of the Final Veterinary Examination in a series of 10 single-subject examinations spread across Years 4 and 5.
Clinical tuition begins with basic clinical methods and further integrated teaching in the husbandry/management and medicine of horses and farm species. Two mornings each week are given over to practical clinical work including clinical examination of the main domestic animal species, diagnostic imaging and post-mortem investigation. You also develop a range of technical and practice-related skills in the Clinical Skills Centre, as well as undertaking your first consultations at our linked RSPCA clinic.
You continue the different courses in species medicine started in Year 4, and instruction is given in subjects including:
- oncology (integrated into other courses)
- endocrinology and metabolic diseases
- further species medicine (equine, porcine, small animal) and surgery (all species)
- various surgical topics
- advanced communication skills
- further practical clinical skills
- practice management
Five mornings every week are again set aside for practical clinical work. This includes visits to external establishments such as the Vet School’s affiliated RSPCA clinic and the Blue Cross, and for medical demonstrations. You further hone your consultation and practical skills in the Clinical Skills Centre.
Part II of the Final Veterinary Examination tests your understanding of principles and concepts of veterinary medicine, as well as your ability to integrate information across the Part I series of subjects.
This is a 40-week lecture-free year with tuition centred on small-group clinical teaching in which groups rotate through different disciplines in the hospital with individual clinicians.
You’re given the maximum possible responsibility for the management of clinical cases, allowing you to develop your clinical and problem-solving skills and client communication skills in a real clinical practice environment.
Subjects covered during the year include:
- small animal surgery (soft tissue and orthopaedic surgery)
- small animal medicine (including oncology, neurology and clinical pathology)
- equine studies
- farm animals
- out-of-hours care
- diagnostic imaging
Finally, you have a period of eight weeks’ elective study in which to explore a special interest.
During the year, marks awarded in continuous assessment count towards Part III of the Final Veterinary Examination, which is examined in May of the final year.
Achievement of the VetMB degree allows you to become a Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS), which is the professional qualification required to enter practice.
For further information about studying Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge see the Department of Veterinary Medicine website.