Learning outcomes define the veterinary curriculum and inform students about what they must be able to demonstrate to succeed. Stakeholder consultation during their development ensures that programme learning outcomes equip graduates to contribute to the veterinary profession. Effective learning outcomes form a hierarchy linking the programme, its courses and tasks. Clear outcomes direct students towards higher quality learning by indicating the achievements intended, but leave scope for emergent learning outcomes. Defined technical competencies fit within this overarching framework, complementing higher order learning. Mapping is used to align learning outcomes horizontally and vertically so students are systematically guided towards entry-level competence and professional independence. Constructively aligned learning and assessment tasks ensure learners spend the focused time required to sequentially develop programme outcomes. Assessment by staff, peers and other stakeholders certifies achievement of intended outcomes. Effective assessment also empowers students to define and achieve their own learning outcomes, so they develop the habits of autonomous life-long learning. Evaluation of the quality and consistency of achieved outcomes informs ongoing programme improvement. If we are going to achieve the objectives of this set of papers, i.e. to improve public health education globally (Rev. sci. tech. Off. int. Epiz., 28 , 2009), then it is essential that they be well defined in the learning outcomes statement of all veterinary schools.