The role of a veterinary nurse is one of the most popular positions in the veterinary profession. It can be a stepping stone into a job as a head vet at a practice, or a way of experiencing different types of veterinarian work to decide which area you would like to specialise in.
Becoming a vet nurse is a career path that takes time and dedication, so it’s useful to understand what the journey will hold before you decide whether this role is right for you. This article contains everything you need to know about training to be a vet nurse, as well as including advice on the kinds of qualities that will help you succeed in the role.
What do Veterinary Nurses Do?
A veterinary nurse works as an assistant to head vets and veterinary surgeons, providing hands-on care to ill or injured animals and helping with the general running of a veterinary practice. Their role tends to focus on day-to-day care and treatment of creatures who don’t require immediate medical attention, although more experienced veterinary nurses may be called upon to help in these situations.
As well as assisting with animal care, vet nursing jobs also tend to involve helping with the upkeep of a veterinary practice, ensuring that the space is clean and tidy. Nurses may also get involved with speaking to owners and delivering aftercare advice as well.
Here are some of the common day-to-day duties of veterinary nurses:
- Handling or restraining animals during inspections
- Helping with tests or sample collection
- Assisting senior veterinary staff during surgery
- Completing basic surgical procedures
- Speaking with owners and providing updates on their pets
- Monitoring the health of animals in a veterinary surgery
- Performing regular check-ups on animals undergoing treatment
- Feeding and hydrating animals staying at the practice
- Grooming and walking animals where necessary
- Cleaning cages and outdoor enclosures
- Assisting with administrative duties where necessary
How to Become a Vet Nurse
The route to becoming a vet nurse is a long one, so you’ll need to really love what you do to succeed along the way to gaining qualifications and necessary experience.
In order to become a vet nurse, you will need to choose between two pathways. One of these is vocational training, and the other is higher education.
If you want to study to be a vet at university, you will need to complete a degree in Veterinary Nursing, Veterinary Medicine or Veterinary Science. You will need to have achieved high grades at A-Level in subjects such as Biology, Chemistry and Maths, and may also need above a grade C at GCSE level for Maths and English.
The degree you study must be accredited by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) if you want to qualify as a vet at the end of your training.
Vocational routes into vet nursing jobs are available for those who don’t want to study at university. You can qualify as a veterinary nurse by completing a Level 3 Diploma in veterinary nursing, which can either be done as a full-time course or as a kind of apprenticeship alongside work experience at a veterinary practice. Again, this vocational course must be accredited by RCVS if you want to be able to carry out the necessary training.
In order to qualify for either route, you must complete a certain number of hours of training to gain practical experience, compile a record to illustrate the skills you have learned, and pass a written and practical examination.
Veterinary Nurse Training
Alongside completing your education to become a vet nurse, you will also need to undertake work experience in the role to gain practical skills and experience that will prepare you for the world of work. Most courses see work experience as an entry requirement, so it’s an essential part of the career path to this role.
Many vet nurses begin their training as a volunteer at an animal shelter, before then undertaking unpaid work experience at a local veterinary surgery or practice. It is recommended that you try and experience a variety of scenarios as a veterinary studies student, so as well as working at a regular practice it can be useful to visit farms or try and work with more exotic animals.
You will have to clock a certain number of hours of work experience as part of the veterinary nurse course you take, usually with a practice or surgery that is recommended by the accrediting organisation. This is the minimum requirement; you will be more employable if you try and find additional student veterinary nurse placements as well.
Vet Nursing Jobs
At the end of studying for your vet nurse qualifications, you will need to find a graduate job. The more experience you have and the higher your grades, the more opportunities are likely to open up to you, but you may also be able to secure a graduate job with a surgery where you have previously undertaken work experience.
Most veterinary nurses start in junior positions and then may work up to being a head veterinary nurse or specialist veterinary nurse. From here, some candidates may decide to pursue a career as a lead vet or vet surgeon, whilst others may continue in their role as a nurse and take on more responsibility as their career progresses.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Veterinary Nurse?
Most veterinary nursing courses take between 3-4 years to complete, so are slightly longer than a regular higher education qualification. If you study to become a vet nurse through an apprenticeship or alongside work experience then it will take longer to gain the necessary qualifications to get a full-time job.
You will need certain qualifications at GCSE and A-Level (or equivalent) before you undertake a higher education veterinary nurse course, which adds a few more years to the total amount of time needed to become a veterinary nurse.
Skills Needed in Vet Nursing
Below are some of the most important skills that you will need in your career as a veterinary nurse. Potential employers will be looking for candidates who can demonstrate all of these and have experience putting them into practice.
The role of a veterinary nurse includes a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities, which means that you need broad clinical knowledge to understand everything you need to do. You may be required to perform procedures such as testing samples, suturing wounds, taking blood, applying dressings and preparing surgical equipment, all of which will require a good level of clinical knowledge.
Vet nurses also take care of animals staying at the surgery and are responsible for monitoring their wellbeing. You will need to be able to identify when a patient’s condition may be deteriorating or improve, know what to do in an emergency and handle or feed animals who aren’t cooperative, which again all require clinical skills and experience.
In order to do well in your training to be a vet nurse, you will need an aptitude for science. A lot of the theoretical knowledge you gain is based on a biological understanding of a range of different animals, and without a solid head for science, you are likely to struggle to succeed.
Veterinary nursing is an incredibly tactile role. You will spend a lot of your time handling animals of all sizes in various conditions of health, and you will need to be very good with your hands to hold and move them correctly and keep them calm and happy whilst doing so.
Some of your responsibilities as a vet nurse will also involve procedures like taking samples, bandaging wounds, and assisting with basic surgical procedures, which again all require a steady hand and good dexterity with your fingers.
Most veterinary practices employ multiple vet nurses to assist with the running of the surgery, so you will be part of a team for the majority of your career. Good teamwork skills are essential in the role because of this, whether you’re working with others to treat a larger animal, delegating tasks to ensure everything gets done by the end of the day or assisting a coworker in a difficult situation.
As mentioned above, vet nursing jobs involve a lot of collaborative working, which means that strong communicating skills are also very important in the role. Whether you’re updating a colleague on a treatment plan for an animal or explaining symptoms to a senior vet and asking for advice, you need to be able to clearly get your ideas and thoughts across in a concise manner, especially if you are in a time-sensitive situation.
Some vet nurses are also required to speak with pet owners, which again will require clear and thoughtful communication.
When you are responsible for ill or injured animals, there will be situations where you need to take initiative to ensure the success of a treatment plan or help an animal whose condition is deteriorating. Whilst vet nurses should always consult senior vets if they are unsure of what to do with an animal, initiative can be incredibly useful in stressful situations and will also make you stand out in a team and increase the likelihood of successful career progression.
Working with animals requires a lot of compassion. When you cannot understand what the creatures you are treating are saying, you need to be able to exercise empathy and provide compassionate care if you want the best chance of recovery. Veterinary nurses who can emotionally connect with their patients and also sympathise with their owners will provide a better standard of care and consequently do better in their careers, so this is a skill that employers will really be looking out for.
Most vet nurses tend to be given a lot of tasks to complete during their shifts, which means that strong organisational skills are needed if you want to stay on track and avoid forgetting anything important. Whether you’re planning feeding schedules, working your way through medicines that need to be administered, or planning how you are going to groom the animals under your care by the end of the day, being organised and knowing how to manage your time best will make you a better veterinary nurse.
Finally, a really valuable skill for vet nursing is the ability to stay level-headed in high-pressure situations. There will be instances in your career where emergency care is needed, accidents take place or quick action is required, and staying calm and acting efficiently will ensure the least amount of damage is done or sustained.
What is the Salary of a Veterinary Nurse?
According to data from Prospects, the average annual starting salary for a veterinary nurse is between £17,793 to £22,300. The more experience you have before securing your first job, the higher your graduate salary is likely to be.
After working in a veterinary nurse position for several years, your salary will likely increase as you are given more responsibility and gain promotions or move jobs. Senior veterinary nurses earn an average salary of £28,000, with the potential to get up to £38,600 in certain positions.
Becoming a vet nurse is one of the first things that many people who work in the veterinary industry aspire to achieve. It’s a role that gives you a great range of experience and involves all kinds of tasks and responsibilities, providing you with a solid foundation on which to build your career and guide you towards any specialist interests.
If you’re a newly qualified student veterinary nurse looking for a job, or already work in veterinary nursing and thinking about a new position, get in touch and see how a specialist veterinary recruitment agency can help you.