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Veterinary officer in the Army

 Soldier with a military dog

As a veterinary officer in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC), you will be an officer first, and a vet second.

The RAVC is the one Corps within the Army Medical Services that maintains a combatant role.


What does the role involve?

The first posting for a veterinary officer after training is usually as a troop commander at the Military Working Dog Regiment (North Luffenham). There is very little clinical work involved. You will be trained how to manage a team of dog handlers and vet technicians along with their dogs to ensure their health and wellbeing is maintained.

Most of a veterinary officer’s clinical work is with Military Working Dogs, although there are also equine positions these are far fewer and highly competitive. Occasionally a veterinary officer might see a regimental mascot such as a goat or Shetland pony.

The RAVC only has eight purely clinical roles, so if you are considering becoming a veterinary officer you really need to want to manage people and take on other military duties. Veterinary officers have six weeks protected clinical time per year, to ensure they continue to use and hone their clinical skills.

When on deployment veterinary officers may have to work in challenging environments and deal with difficult emergency situations. For example, receiving a call in the middle of night due to a wounded dog being airlifted to the camp for emergency treatment. Veterinary officers may also be required while on deployment to provide advice and training to local farmers regarding maintaining healthy livestock.


Am I eligible?

To become a veterinary officer in the Army you will need your BVM BVS degree and membership to the RCVS. You do need to be healthy to join the Army, and your GP will be asked to fill out a form about your health quite early in your application.

There are some medical conditions that might stop, or delay, you applying to join the Army. It is worth checking this list before starting your application.

The upper age limit for applications is 29 years and 11 months.


What training is provided?

After graduation veterinary officers undertake a nine-week commissioning course. Following this you complete your 12-month Personal Development Phase (PDP) in a civilian veterinary practice before entering Sandhurst. This will ideally be with a small animal practice or charity. During your training you will be paid by the Army as an Officer.

Veterinary officers also undertake a Dog Handling training course so that you can handle all Military Working Dogs, including attack dogs and explosive detection dogs.

Veterinary officers can work towards Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice (Cert AVP)


Receiving the student bursary

Veterinary students can receive a bursary from the Army from the third year of your veterinary degree.

The bursary is £5,000 per year during your third, fourth and fifth year of your degree (£15,000 in total) followed by a £45,000 lump sum when you commission from Sandhurst. If you are receiving the bursary you don’t owe the Army any time during your degree course, however your minimum commitment to the Army after graduation is four years' service.

The bursary cannot be applied for retrospectively so to receive the maximum possible benefit the Army recommends applying for this at the end of your first year of study. The application process can take between nine and 12 months, and by applying early you will be ready to receive the first £5,000 for your third year of study. The final point at which you can apply to receive the bursary is usually at the beginning of your fourth year of study, because of the length of time the recruitment process takes.


Applying to the Army as a direct entrant

If you decide you would like to become a veterinary officer, but have not received the bursary you can still apply as a direct entrant.

The role and the recruitment process for direct entrants will essentially be the same as students entering via the bursary scheme. You can apply at any point as a direct entrant, and some vets do so after a few years in private practice.

On the Army’s website about becoming a veterinary officer you will see the option to be a reservist officer. In reality there are only a couple of positions for a reservist veterinary officer, and these tend to be held by ex-officers who have left the Army to work in private practice, but still wish to maintain military links.


What is the recruitment process?

Most of the recruitment process is similar to the recruitment process for joining the Army as an officer, however there are a few additional stages specific to the Veterinary officer role.

  • All initial applications need to be made online. You will need to click ‘Start Your Application’, create an account with an email address and password and then make sure you select ‘Regular Professionally Qualified Officer’. Your initial application is then screened for any medical or physical reasons that you could not join the Army, such as asthma. Check the full list of medical conditions. 
  • You would then be interviewed by a Lead Recruiter within the National Recruiting Centre for the Army. The recruiter wants to know you fully understand the role you are applying to, that is the role will involve predominantly small animal work, and that you would be an officer first and foremost, and a vet second.
  • The Veterinary Officer Familiarisation visit. This is a two-day event that includes a tour of the North Luffenham site, talks about rank progression and an opportunity to talk to veterinary officers about deployment, training and any other questions you have
  • Bursary applicants only.  If you are applying for the bursary you would attend a briefing. The briefing is designed to prepare candidates for the next stage. During the briefing candidates are categorised to identify anyone needing further development before attending the Army Officer Selection Board.
  • Army Officer Selection Board. This is a four-day event not specifically for veterinary officers, but the RAVC will be assessing candidates. This event  includes:
    1. a fitness test. There is a minimum standard you need to reach
    2. an individual assault course. The course includes a high wall, two high hurdles, long jump, rope swing and barred steps carrying a 'burden' (a heavy and difficult to carry object). Here they will be looking for your speed and agility, but also your courage, commitment and level of hesitation.
    3. a planning exercise. This is to understand your ability to plan, communicate, collaborate and problem solve.
    4. current affairs questions and debates
  • Specialist interview at Sandhurst. This is a specific interview for veterinary officer applicants. For bursary applicants this stage will also include an additional Bursary interview.

Army - information on the Army Officer recruitment processes


What is important to consider when choosing my EMS?

The majority of work for veterinary officers is with the Military Working Dogs, so building your small animal experience is recommended. Whilst there are only a few opportunities to work with horses in the Army you may also want to gain equine experience to ensure you are prepared should these opportunities arise.

What are the salary and progression opportunities?

Veterinary officers commission as a full lieutenant on a starting salary of approximately £40,000. It usually takes two or three years to be promoted to captain and an additional five years to reach major (based on merit) where the pay will rise to around £50,000

In their third year veterinary officers will decide whether they want to focus more on the clinical side of the role or retain a larger managerial, troop commanding position. However, there are very few fully clinical positions within the RAVC.

Army - information on rank progression 


I'm unsure whether the veterinary officer role is right for me. Who can I talk to?

If you have any questions, email the Army recruitment teams. The specialist recruiters can help with queries about the role, application process and can also put you in touch with a current serving veterinary officer if your questions are more veterinary specific.

You can also discuss your career decision with a careers adviser at Sutton Bonington Campus. There are appointments available each week, which are impartial, confidential and a good opportunity to gain support with decision making and career planning. 



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