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Career Advice

How to become a veterinary nurse

Just like people, animals require a high level of care when they are sick. Key in the provision of this care is the veterinary nurse who assists the veterinary surgeon (vet) to provide health services to ill or injured animals… that’s it in a nutshell.

The role of veterinary nurse

As you can imagine the work of a veterinary nurse is rather different from that of a typical nurse.  There will be a wide range of duties and responsibilities which you may be required to undertake on a day-to-day basis, here are just a few of them:

  • Creating and administering nursing care plans in accordance with the vet’s instructions

  • Administering medications, drugs and anesthetics

  • Ensuring that animals remain calm during procedures and examinations

  • Collecting blood and urine samples from the animalsvet nurse

  • Carrying out work within the surgery’s lab

  • Preparing animals for surgery and other procedures

  • Sterilising, maintaining and laying out surgical equipment

  • Carrying out x-rays

  • Assisting the veterinary surgeon during procedures and operations

  • Carrying out some minor procedures

  • Liaising with pet owners and providing information, advice and support about the care of their pet

  • Helping to maintain areas used in medical procedures

  • Providing general care to animals which are ‘hospitalised’ in the surgery

  • Keeping records of animals medical procedures and history

  • Providing receptionist/secretarial duties when required

Veterinary nurses are employed by a number of different companies and organisations including private veterinary practices, zoos, charities and groups involved in ensuring animal welfare such as the RSPCA.

A general working week for a veterinary nurse will last 35-40 hours full time and will include working standard 9-5 hours, as well as occasional evening and weekend work.  You need to be able to work flexibly as a veterinary nurse as there may often be times in which you are working in an ‘on-call’ basis.

As is the case with most roles, the salary that you can expect to receive will depend significantly on the level of skill and experience that you have. The pay structure is not divided into incremental bands (as is the case with NHS nurses) but those beginning their career could expect a salary of around £14,000. With increased experience you should be able to achieve a rate of around £22,000 but highly experienced veterinary nurses are known to receive salaries of £25K +.

What skills and personable attributes do you need to have?

It goes without saying that in order to have a successful and fulfilling career as a veterinary nurse you need to have a strong interest in animals and a genuine concern for their welfare, but there are a number of other skills and question-mark (1)attributes which are equally important;

  • Emotional stability to be able to care for the animals without becoming too sentimental about them

  • You should be able to work with the animals in a calm and confident manner ensuring that they remain comfortable and relaxed as far as possible

  • Excellent skills of communication- this will be particularly important as you will often be dealing with very distressed pet owners

  • A very strong interest and knowledge of science and in particular biology

  • No squeamishness – or at least the ability to overcome your squeamishness

  • A willingness to undertake duties which may be unpleasant

  • Good computer and general administration skills

  • Great organisational skills and the ability to carry out your work to high standard in what can often be a stressful and busy environment

  • Good manual dexterity which will be required to carry our small procedures and the administering of medications and drugs

  • A very responsible attitude to your work, and an understanding that the role of veterinary nurse required a person who is not simply there in order to collect a pay cheque

Qualifications

There are two main routes which you can take in order to become a veterinary nurse. One involves gaining the relevant skills and qualifications through on the job, work based training, and the other through higher education. Both of these routes lead to the same level of qualification and accreditation which is awarded by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS).

Higher Education Route

If you choose to follow this path you will need to complete a RCVS-approved veterinary nursing degree which has been approved and accredited by the RCVS. This educational training will comprise both academic study in the classroom and a significant level of practical experience gained through a number of placements. The length of timegraduates that you spend on the course will depend upon the institution in which you are studying but generally, full time you can expect the course to take around 3-4 years.

As with any degree course the level of qualifications which an institution expects from applicants varies significantly so be sure to check with the relevant university before application. However, generally they will require

  • Two or more A Levels with at least one being in a science subject (although chemistry and biology are normally given preference)

  • 5 pass grades at GCSE which must include English, maths and science.

It is important to note that given the highly specific nature of the role it is also very important that you are able to demonstrate your passion for animals and drive to have a successful career in the field.  There are a number of ways that you could do this, but many universities will look favourably on paid/voluntary work experience in a relevant role.

The Work Training Route

As mentioned this is a path in which you will complete your qualifications alongside a job in a  veterinary practice, therefore it is a prerequisite for this route that you are already employed in a relevant, full-time or part-time role before the beginning of the course you choose to complete.   There is normally a two tiered approach to becoming a temporary workveterinary nurse which first encompasses the completion of a Level 2 course and then the gaining of a level 3 qualification.  However it is important to note that the courses which you are required to complete will be largely dependant on the previous qualification which you have and those with solid GCSEs may not always be required to undertake a level 2 course.

There are a number of Level 2 courses which can be completed at this stage including;  City & Guilds (C&G) Diploma for Veterinary Care Assistants, Diploma for Veterinary Nursing Assistants, Diploma in Animal Nursing and Certificate for Animal Nursing Assistants.

Following the successful completion of your Level 2 course you will move on to a Level 3 diploma in veterinary nursing. This Diploma normally lasts for around 2 years during which you will study a number of main areas and will be given the opportunity to specialise within a specific area.

If you still fancy a career as a veterinary nurse then best of luck and we hope you have found this guide useful – but if you prescribe to the ‘never work with animals’ mantra then why not take a look at our career directory where you will find plenty of other great careers!

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