2011 – The Year of the Vet

Marking the 250th anniversary of the start of veterinary education

In 1761, the world’s first veterinary school was founded in Lyon, by Frenchman Claude Bourgelat. 2011 marks the 250th world anniversary of veterinary education and the establishment of veterinarians as a profession. The first veterinary school in the UK was founded in London in 1792 some 31 years later.

Claude Bourgelat collaborated with human surgeons in Lyon and he was the first scientist to suggest that studying animal biology and pathology would help to improve understanding of human biology and pathology. Therefore, 2011 also marks the 250th anniversary of the concept of comparative biopathology, without which modern medicine would never have emerged.

It is for these reasons that 2011 has been declared “World Veterinary Year”.


Claude Bourgelat was born in 1712 to a distinguished Lyon family. By the time he was 28, he was Director of the Lyon Academy of Horsemanship. The Academy taught young noblemen mathematics, music, how to ride a horse and use a sword, and ‘elegant manners’. He published works on horsemanship, farriery, and equine anatomy, but it was his analytical approach to dissecting a horse that gained him recognition by the scientific community.


Claude became close friends with the Administrator for the Lyon region, Henri-Léonard Bertin. Both Claude and Henri quickly ascended in status. Henri was promoted to Lieutenant General of Police in Paris and ultimately became Controller General of Finance. Claude became responsible for horse breeding in the Lyon region and was Censor and Inspector of Publishing in Lyon.


In 1761, Louis XV’s government wanted to promote the prevention of cattle disease, the protection of grazing land, and the training of farmers. Henri was responsible for this agricultural reform and he proposed that a veterinary school should be founded in Lyon, and that the director should be Claude.


In 1762, Henri was made Minister of State by Louis XV, and, two years later, Claude was made ‘Director and Inspector General of the Lyon Veterinary School and of all such schools which exist or which shall exist in our Kingdom’ and ‘Commissioner General of the Royal Horse-breeding Establishments’.


In 1765, Henri gave his consent to the founding of the veterinary school in Alfort, Paris. Therefore it is reasonable for Henri to be considered a co-founder of the veterinary profession alongside Claude.


Both veterinary schools in Lyon and Alfort focused teaching on horses and livestock. In Lyon there was particular expertise in anatomy through collaboration with human surgeons for dissection. While the Lyon vet school moved to a new site in 1974, the Alfort vet school still occupies its original site.

Claude was never taught veterinary science and never went on to practice as a vet. His energies were directed at establishing the two veterinary schools, running them, and establishing regulations for the veterinary profession. The good conduct of the students and qualified vets was one of his priorities. A quote, taken from the ‘Rules for the Royal Veterinary Schools’, written by Claude reveals the ethical vision of the founder of the veterinary profession:

‘Securely anchored in honourable principles which they have prized and of which they have seen examples in the schools, they will never stray from them; they will distinguish between rich and poor; they will not put too high a price on talents which they owe only to the beneficence of the King and the generosity of their country. In short, they will prove by their behaviour that they are all equally convinced that riches lie less in the goods one possesses than in the good one can do.’
This summer about 760 graduates from the seven UK veterinary schools in Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London (Royal Veterinary College), and the new School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at the University of Nottingham. The graduates have now been accepted as Members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (MRCVS) and can practice in the UK.


Following the registration of graduates as MRCVS, the Royal College President, Dr Jerry Davies, offered ten personal observations for a successful professional life as a veterinary surgeon, which can be remembered by the mnemonic ‘Heart Beats’:
  • Humility – show humility and be prepared to accept that you may not always be right
  • Enjoyment & enthusiasm – enjoy your work, your personal life, and your interaction with animals, and be enthusiastic in all that you do
  • Advice – accept advice from others whatever their position (especially veterinary nurses!)
  • Respect – respect animals and their owners and respect those who work with you
  • Trust – trust your colleagues and your own judgement
  • Best – strive to do your best at all times
  • Experience – every success that you achieve and, almost more importantly, every failure that you suffer, will build your experience
  • Aim – aim high; there is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best in whatever walk of veterinary life you follow
  • Take pride – take pride in your work, your place of work, your co-workers, and in your profession
  • Students – support future generations of veterinary students, student nurses, and other trainees – this is an opportunity to repay some of the favours that have brought you here today.

It is clear that the ethical vision of the founder of the veterinary profession, Claude Bourgelat, is as strong today as it was 250 years ago.

David Chamberlain, BVetMed., proud to be a MRCVS!
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®

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