Clare College Cambridge

Studying Veterinary Medicine at Clare


Why study Veterinary Medicine at Clare College?

Preclinical veterinary subjects are taught mainly alongside the medics, except for specific veterinary subjects like anatomy or veterinary physiology. In Clare, we take 4 vets and 12 medics, which reflects the ratio in the university as a whole. It is a good group size for positive interactions. Students have close contact with fellows. There are enough vet students to retain a sense of their own identity but with the advantage of having contact with the medics, which prevents a more parochial outlook. Clare has its own teaching fellows in most biomedical subjects taken during the preclinical years, and also others with expertise more widely in the natural sciences. Historically, we have been very strong in these subjects: David Attenborough, James Watson and Tim Hunt (Nobel Prizes for Medicine and Biochemistry) were all at Clare. Several current fellows are FRS, including Prof Bill Harris in developmental neuroscience and head of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (PDN), which delivers about two-thirds of the teaching to first and second year vets and medics. Library facilities for vets are excellent. Geographically, we are positioned half-way between Downing Site (where most of the preclinical lectures and practicals occur) and the vet school (for clinical years). Finally, we have three qualified vets on the fellowship. One teaches anatomy and carries out neurophysiological research in PDN; the Director of Studies for both preclinical and veterinary clinical sciences are vets, working at the vet school - one is an active equine clinician, the other specialises in pathophysiological research with active collaborations in the preclinical departments.


The Veterinary Medicine course is a six-year programme, eventually leading to the degree of Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine (Vet MB). After admission to the degree of Vet MB at the end of the course, graduates are registered as Members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and are thus entitled to practise as fully-qualified veterinary surgeons. Most students at Cambridge spend the first three years of the course reading for an honours BA degree. The first two of these years are spent studying the major pre-clinical sciences in the Veterinary Sciences Tripos to provide a sound scientific basis for the detailed study in the last three clinical years of animal health, veterinary pathology, public health, medicine, and surgery, etc. There is continual discussion, involving both the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the General Medical Council as well as the relevant faculties of the University, about modernising and streamlining the curriculum for medical and veterinary students. The current course includes such subjects as Homeostasis, Molecules in Medical Science, Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology, Biology of Disease, Mechanisms of Drug Action, Neurobiology with Animal Behaviour, Comparative Vertebrate Biology, Veterinary Reproduction and will constitute a core of pre-clinical knowledge on which to base further study. There are also short courses on Principles of Animal Management and Preparing for the Veterinary Profession, aimed at a more practical appreciation of modern husbandry practices and to begin veterinary professional training which continues throughout the six years.

Under regulations set by the Royal College, students must attain a certain standard in each of these pre-clinical sciences before they are allowed to proceed to the clinical part of the course. There are, therefore, examinations - the '2nd Vet MB' - in each of these subjects to be passed, but most students obtain passes in these examinations as part of the Tripos examinations for the B.A degree. In the third pre-clinical year there is a very wide choice of options open to the veterinary student. He or she may opt to study one of the medical science subjects in depth. This usually involves either a written dissertation or a research project which can often lead to a published paper. Alternatively, there are more general courses within the medical and natural sciences on offer, or it may be possible to study another Cambridge Tripos for a year.

It is important to appreciate that there is a strong emphasis on science in the Cambridge preclinical course. Veterinary students obtain an honours BA of standing with a Natural Sciences degree. Many of the lectures and practicals are shared with medical students, and standards are high. Nevertheless, there is a strong sense of identity among the pre-clinical veterinary students. There are short courses in animal handling and informal contact with the clinical Veterinary School is encouraged, especially through the very active University Veterinary Society. It is widely agreed that veterinary graduates with such a strong scientific background, together with well developed critical skills, should make better and more informed practitioners, as well as being very well equipped for a range of other professions including research and academia. Intercalated science degrees are becoming much more common in the other veterinary schools, but not usually as an integral part of the course as at Cambridge.

During the pre-clinical years, students are also expected to have completed 12 weeks working on farms (pre-clinical extramural studies, EMS). This formal farm practice experience can only be undertaken after arrival at Cambridge and an induction course and animal handling examinations, and will include time spent working with sheep, dairy cattle, pigs, horses, dogs and cats.

After the three preclinical years, entry to the clinical Veterinary School for the second three years of the course is automatic, provided the student has passed all the necessary 2nd Vet MB exams and had been awarded their Honours degree.

The course then becomes progressively more practical during the three clinical years.  Notable recent advances are a Clinical Skills Centre available for classes and for students to practice skills on their own in their spare time. There is also a well developed Communication Skills element spread throughout the clinical course.  The sixth year of the course is lecture-free and comprises rotations spread over 40 weeks, during which students are taught in small groups of around three students and have their own case load. During this year, they will take histories, work up differentials, carry out requisite tests and deliver treatment.  They are essentially acting like qualified veterinary surgeons and are thus well equipped for their future careers. The small size of the rotation groups at Cambridge means that practical skills are thoroughly assimilated, with an emphasis on Day 1 competencies required by RCVS, whilst the overall content of the six years at Cambridge also offers so much more.

During the three clinical years, students spend part of their vacations at veterinary practices experiencing the work of a veterinary surgeon at first hand and learning veterinary medicine and surgery ‘in the field’ (clinical EMS). Finally, clinical studentsmust also complete a clinical research project spread over the three years to emphasise further the importance of evidence-based veterinary medicine.

A typical formal workload for a first year veterinary student would consist of 9-12 lectures, 2 dissection sessions, 4 other practical classes, together with 3 supervisions per week. Typically two to four students are supervised together and for some supervisions an essay has to be prepared. Each week the supervisions provide an opportunity for each student to discuss each course with an academic who is a specialist in that field.

During the course, academic and professional work is overseen by the College's Directors of Studies in Pre-clinical and Clinical Veterinary Medicine. There is also close contact with a number of the college Teaching Fellows in many of the pre-clinical subjects.

Before embarking on the veterinary course, every student must have been exempted from the First MB examination. Details of what this entails are given in the Cambridge Admissions Prospectus.

It is only fair to point out that competition for places to read Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge is severe. On the other hand, our willingness to interview more applicants gives you every opportunity to demonstrate your worth.

For further information, please contact Dr John Gibson or 01223 337638.