What educational pathways are needed to be an aquatic veterinarian?

This is one of the frequently asked questions I am asked by many aspiring to become fish veterinarians.

Should they pursue higher specialised degrees (e.g. Masters or PhD in Aquaculture or similar), or do they have to go through the veterinary course?

Basically, to be a fish veterinarian, you must have a veterinary degree, registrable in the country you’re practicing. Even if you have a Bachelor degree in science, and are pursuing higher education through Honours, Masters or PhD in aquatic animal health, these will not allow you to practice aquatic veterinary medicine.

The laws are such that only veterinarians are allowed to practice –

The Veterinary Surgeons Act in most Australian states say that only a registered veterinarian can perform an act of veterinary science.

Acts of veterinary science include:

a) diagnosing diseases in, and injuries to, animals, including, for example, testing animals for diagnostic purposes;

(b) giving advice based on a diagnosis under paragraph (a);

(c) medical or surgical treatment of animals;

(d) performing surgical operations on animals;

(e) administering anaesthetics to animals;

(f) signing or issuing certificates relating to the description, health, diagnosis or treatment of animals.

So anyone who is not a registered veterinarian, are not allowed to make diagnoses, perform surgery, anaesthetise fish or treat them. Those who do, are unlawfully doing so. In some states, the first offence attracts a fine of $10,000; and subsequent offences carry fines of $20,000.

Currently, there are 7 Australian universities that offer the veterinary course:

  • Murdoch University (Murdoch, Western Australia)
  • University of Sydney (Sydney/Camden, New South Wales)
  • University of Melbourne (Melbourne/Werribee, Victoria)
  • Charles Sturt University (Wagga Wagga, Queensland)
  • James Cook University (Townsville, Queensland)
  • University of Adelaide (Roseworthy, South Australia)
  • University of Queensland (Brisbane, Queensland)

It is a tough decision to return to university because all you want to do is to get out there and just do fish. To help you decide, you need to ask yourself – are you interested enough in other species (dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry), and in other aspects of veterinary medicine that will sustain you till graduation? This is very important because you’ll be investing heavily in time (6-7 years) and school fees (~$25,000/y).

If the answer is "yes", then go for it! If the answer is "no", then I’d reconsider other avenues of working with fishes. You can work as an aquatic animal health professional without having to be a veterinarian. Together, our work would be complementary.

See also a previous post – https://thefishvet.com/2012/03/05/how-to-become-a-fish-veterinarian/

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Yours sincerely,

Dr Richmond Loh
DipProjMgt, BSc, BVMS, MPhil (Pathology), MANZCVS (Aquatics & Pathobiology), CertAqV, CMAVA, NATA Signatory.THE FISH VET, Perth, Western Australia, AUSTRALIA.

Mobile Aquatic Veterinary Medical & Diagnostic Services.http://www.thefishvet.com.au
Ph: +61 (0)421 822 383

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Skype: thefishvet

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