Veterinary Nurse

The Job and What's Involved

Veterinary nurses work alongside veterinary surgeons to provide a high standard of medical and nursing care for animals. They care for domestic pets such as dogs, cats, guinea pigs and rabbits and, in some jobs, farm and zoo animals.

Tasks vary from one veterinary practice to another, but usually include:

  • Holding and calming animals while a vet examines and treats them.
  • Collecting blood, urine and other samples required for diagnosis.
  • Giving injections and drugs to animals.
  • Preparing animals for operations.
  • Sterilising surgical instruments.
  • Maintaining anaesthetic levels and handing instruments to vets during operations.
  • Taking x-rays and doing simple laboratory tests.

Veterinary nurses also provide nursing care for animals staying on the premises for operations and treatment. This can include feeding the animals, providing fresh bedding and water, cleaning their accommodation and giving medicines.

Most veterinary nurses are involved in administration work such as managing appointments and keeping records of treatment. Others have more of a management role including preparing staff rotas, overseeing stocks of drugs and accounts work.

Veterinary nurses provide information and advice to owners about key aspects of animal care, such as diet, feeding and administering tablets or vaccinations.

Veterinary nurses work around 35 to 40 hours a week. Work is usually on a rota basis, including some weekends and on-call emergency duties. Part-time work is often available.

Most of the work is carried out indoors, in all areas of the veterinary practice, including the reception, treatment rooms and operating theatre. In some practices, it may be necessary to visit farms and zoos to treat animals. Practices vary from spacious, modern animal centres and hospitals to small, individual practices run by one or two vets. Work in areas where pets are staying can be noisy. The job may not be suitable for people with certain allergies.

Most employers provide uniforms and necessary protective clothing for the operating theatre and treatment work.

The usual starting salary for a veterinary nurse is around £10,500. In some practices, benefits may include private health insurance or free veterinary care. Accommodation may be provided in some practices situated in rural areas.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 6,500 Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) qualified veterinary nurses in the UK. The majority work for individually run veterinary practices. Jobs are also available in veterinary hospitals, animal welfare centres and colleges, for charities such as the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) and in some larger zoos and wildlife centres. There is often strong competition for training positions.

Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers and specialist publications such as Veterinary Nursing Journal and Veterinary Record. The British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) operates an employment register. This matches suitable candidates to vacancies in participating veterinary practices. The BVNA website has more details. Vacancies may also be found in the online TP Times - The Veterinary Nurse Training Magazine and on the websites of the PDSA and RSPCA (Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals).

Education and Training

The usual route to become a veterinary nurse is through the RCVS veterinary nurse training scheme. Candidates are designated with veterinary nurse status on successful completion of the course.

Applicants must:

Be employed as a trainee in a RCVS-registered veterinary nurse training practice or gain a place on a RCVS-approved course of higher education in veterinary nursing.

Have five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English, maths and a science subject or equivalent entry qualifications.

Other qualifications include:

- Degree in Veterinary Nursing
- Foundation Degree in Veterinary Nursing
- HND in Veterinary Nursing

Entry to a degree course is usually with five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/three H grades. One A level/two H grades may be required for a Foundation degree or HND course.

Experience of pet ownership and/or voluntary work at kennels or with animal charities is useful.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The RCVS training scheme usually takes at least two years. It leads to NVQs/SVQs in Veterinary Nursing at Levels 2 and 3. Students undertake a range of veterinary nursing tasks, under supervision, as part of training and assessment. This is supported by college-based training on day release or block release, usually over four two-week periods, and examinations at the end of the first and second years.

Degree courses last three or four years and HND courses are usually completed over two years. Courses include opportunities for work placements in different settings.

The College of Animal Welfare can provide details of NVQ's/SVQ's and training centres. They also offer Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for nurses wishing to continue progressing and developing their skills.

The BVNA offers a membership scheme, events and up-to-date news for veterinary nurses.

Some veterinary surgeons offer in-house training. However, this may not lead to the RCVS qualification and is unlikely to be recognised by other employers.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A veterinary nurse should:

  • Be knowledgeable about animal care and treatment.
  • Have a tactful, sympathetic approach to anxious or upset owners.
  • Be well-organised, practical, reliable and responsible.
  • Be able to provide accurate and appropriate information and advice.
  • Have good face-to-face and telephone communication skills.
  • Enjoy working as part of a team.
  • Be willing to deal with the messier aspects of animal care.
  • Be physically fit and able to handle animals of different sizes.
  • Have administrative and ICT skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be promotion opportunities for experienced veterinary nurses to supervisor, senior practice nurse or manager. These are more likely in larger animal hospitals and practices.

Some veterinary nurses move into training, lecturing or working in animal pharmaceutical companies.

Veterinary nurses wishing to work overseas must check the suitability of their qualifications with the relevant countries' veterinary boards.

Get Further Information

British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA),
82 Greenway Business Centre, Harlow Business Park,
Harlow, Essex, CM19 5QE
Tel: 01279 408644

College of Animal Welfare,
London Road, Godmanchester,
Cambridgeshire PE29 2LJ
Tel: 0870 062 1122

People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA),
Whitechapel Way, Priorslee, Telford,
Shropshire TF2 9PQ
Tel: 01952 290999

Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS),
Belgravia House, 62-64 Horseferry Road,
London SW1P 2AF
Tel: 020 7222 2001

RSPCA, Wilberforce Way,
Southwater, Horsham,
West Sussex RH13 9RS
Tel: 0870 333 5999

Scottish SPCA, Braehead Mains,
603 Queensferry Road, Edinburgh EH4 6EA
Tel: 0131 339 0222

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