What the job involves
Veterinary nurses are key members of the veterinary team. They work alongside vets to provide care and treatment to a variety of animals.
Each day you are likely to be involved in a variety of different tasks, from helping a veterinary surgeon in theatre to advising an owner on the most appropriate method of flea control for their pet. Other tasks you may be involved in include:
- Preparing animals for surgery and performing minor surgical procedures
- Monitoring anaesthetised animals
- Nursing sick animals and administering medication
- Taking x-rays and carrying out diagnostic tests
- Advising owners on the health and welfare of their pets
- Taking bookings, payments and completing necessary paperwork
- Running nurse clinics, such as diet, worming and grooming consultations
Inevitably, there will always be kennels and cages to clean, and floors to mop. So you need to be prepared for hard and dirty work sometimes!
Good veterinary nurses are hard-working, passionate about animals and dedicated to their work, as many veterinary nurses end up taking their work home with them – often quite literally in the form of kittens that need hand rearing or abandoned or stray animals! You must enjoy working as part of a close knit team but also have the confidence to work with little supervision and be able to cope with the emotional and physical demands of the job.
There is no doubt that being a veterinary nurse is a physically and mentally demanding job. The role often involves long and unsociable hours, including weekend and on call work.
However the rewards that come from nursing an ill animal back to health and working as part of a close knit team make the job very worthwhile.
Qualifications and training
There are two main types of veterinary nurse training:
- Further Education – Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing / Advanced Apprenticeship
- Higher Education – BSc (Hons) Veterinary Nursing / FdSc Veterinary Nursing
Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing / Advanced Apprenticeship
The Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing programme can either be studied on a day release basis alongside employment in a veterinary practice, or on a full-time basis where you will spend periods of time in the classroom and time on work placement in practice. The veterinary practice where you are either employed, or on work placement within, must be a Training Practice approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).
To undertake the Level 3 Diploma as part of an apprenticeship you must be employed in a Veterinary Training Practice.
If you want to train as a veterinary nurse but perhaps don’t have the qualifications or finances to study at University, or you want to find employment in a practice and therefore earn a living whilst studying at the same time, then this could be the course for you!
There are various colleges around the UK that offer this programme, a list can found on the RCVS website. The College of Animal Welfare offers the Level 3 Diploma/Advanced Apprenticeship in Veterinary Nursing programme in Huntingdon, Potter Bar, Leeds and Edinburgh
BSc (Hons) Veterinary Nursing / FdSc Veterinary Nursing
If you would prefer to study to the highest academic standard and experience University life, then undertaking a degree level training course could be what you are looking for. Degree programmes are generally between 3 and 4 years in length.
You will have the opportunity to undertake work placements in a variety of veterinary practices. Having a degree in veterinary nursing will also open up additional opportunities for you in the future, such as post-graduate training in areas such as physiotherapy or perhaps even a career in teaching.
There are various colleges/universities around the UK that offer these programmes, a list can found on the RCVS website. Examples of these include:
- BSc Honours Veterinary Nursing Degree – Middlesex University (London, Huntingdon or Leeds)
- BSc Honours Veterinary Nursing Degree – Edinburgh Napier University
- FdSc Veterinary Nursing – Royal Veterinary College, London
What qualifications do I need to start training as a veterinary nurse?
The minimum academic requirements to train as a veterinary nurse are:
You must have a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades A*-C (or 9-4), including English Language, Mathematics and a Science subject. Students with Scottish qualifications are required to have 5 subjects at a National 5 or Higher/Advance Higher at level A, B or C; to include Maths, English and a Science.
If you do not have the required GCSEs, you may wish to consider the Level 2 Diploma for Veterinary Care Assistants course. This qualification, along with English and Maths GCSEs (A*to C) or Functional Skills Level 2 in English and Maths will be an acceptable alternative.
Other entry requirements relating to work experience, employment status or additional qualifications may be required depending on the course, particularly with Higher Education programmes. It is advisable to check with the individual college/university you are looking to apply to as to what is required for each course.
Getting into the profession
You must be a minimum of 16 years of age to train as a veterinary nurse.
Increasingly there are large numbers of people wanting to join the profession and so entry onto a veterinary nursing programme can be very competitive with numbers as high as seven applicants for every available place. Given this, course providers will look at grades, references from veterinary practices (where you have gained work experience) in support of your application and your commitment and knowledge of the profession you will be joining.
If you are looking to undertake diploma level training, employment in a Veterinary Training Practice or a confirmed work placement will go a long way to support your course application.
There are several places to look for job vacancies in practice, including:
- Local newspapers
- The College of Animal Welfare online Jobs Board
- Vet Times Jobs
Salary and benefits
For newly qualified nurses, the good news is that there is a national shortage of veterinary nurses meaning that your job prospects once qualified are excellent. Salary prospects have also improved significantly in recent years, meaning that veterinary nurses now earn an average of £20,229 per year (SPVS Salaries Survey 2014).
Other benefits may include on site accommodation and subsidised veterinary care.
Many veterinary nurses choose to remain in first opinion veterinary practice. Others choose to move into referral practice or into a large veterinary hospital and specialise in a particular area, such as surgical nursing.
Other opportunities include:
- Head veterinary nurse (team leader)
- Practice manager
- Sales representative
- Rehabilitation (i.e. physiotherapy or hydrotherapy)