The veterinary degree is structured so that it’s possible to take a year out in the middle to study in the final year of an alternative science degree, then return to the veterinary program to complete the course. This process of intercalation of a basic science degree means that you spend six years at university rather than five, but finish with the degrees of Bachelor of Veterinary Science (B. V. Sc.) and Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.)
So, given that being an undergraduate can be an expensive business, why would you want to consider spending an extra year?
Despite the observation that performance on the veterinary course and performance on the science degree aren’t related, all our intercalators perform very well. About half finish with first class honours and the remainder with upper seconds (2.1).
We’ve carried out surveys on the types of jobs which our intercalators and control groups of non-intercalators go into. Not surprisingly, the intercalators are more likely to be in research-related jobs than the non-intercalators. However, it’s also true that intercalators are more likely to be in specialist clinical jobs such as hospital or veterinary school residencies or interns (here and abroad) than are non-intercalators.
The value of an intercalated science degree for a subsequent career in research in animal disease is clear, and our survey results indicate that very few non-intercalators go on to research careers. However, there’s a strong argument that a science 3rd year can contribute to a later clinical career. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the specialist associations are starting to push the ideas of ‘evidence-based medicine’ and ‘clinical audit’ for veterinary practice. These are essentially similar to the processes of ‘reading and critically evaluating the literature’ and ‘analysis of experimental results’ that you’ll improve during an intercalated degree.
Looking at overall marks for the yearly exams on the veterinary course, there is a clear correlation between performance in the first, second and third years. We take this to indicate that we’re teaching and testing the same type of skills each year. In contrast, there’s no correlation between performance in any of the first three years of the veterinary course and performance on an intercalated degree. That is, the skills which determine performance on the veterinary course are very different from those which affect performance on the third year of a science degree.
Performance on the first three years of the veterinary course (Level_1_Av, Level_2_Av, Level_3_Av) plotted against performance on an intercalated degree. Different colour symbols represent the different degree options chosen by our intercalators.
The reasons for offering intercalation as an option are dealt with elsewhere, but the School has been encouraging it since the Selbourne Report on Veterinary Education in 1999. Since then, the numbers of intercalators have been rising fairly consistently, from three or four per year to 28 for the academic year 2008-2009. The undergraduates who intercalate seem to enjoy it and to encourage the following years to intercalate as well. The numbers of intercalators also means that you’re part of a group, rather than being out on your own, doing something strange.
Numbers of intercalators at Bristol by academic year, starting in 1992. From 1999, we began specifically encouraging intercalation
Surveys of second and third year veterinary undergraduates show that this is a big reason why they consider intercalation. The veterinary course, necessarily, covers a large number of subjects. This has the advantage of providing a very broad background in everything related to animal disease, but the disadvantage that we need to simplify a lot of it to cover it all. The third year of a science degree gives you the opportunity to study one area in depth, to do the reading around yourself, and to realise that many things are not as clear-cut as they might appear.