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How to become a veterinary nurse

Curious about starting a career as a veterinary nurse? Find out how to become a veterinary nurse as we explore the requirements, responsibilities and more.

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Have you always wanted a rewarding animal-oriented career? If so, the role of a veterinary nurse could be ideal for you. But, we know it’s not always easy to know where to start your career journey. Find out all there is to know about how to become a veterinary nurse. Here, we explore the veterinary nurse role, opportunities, salary, requirements and more.  

What is a veterinary nurse?

If you’ve never heard of this role or only heard of it in passing, you might be curious about what a veterinary nurse is. So, before we answer how to become a veterinary nurse, let’s look at what a veterinary nurse is. A key member of any veterinary surgery – a veterinary nurse assists in the treatment and diagnosis of sick or injured animals.  

Veterinary nurses work alongside veterinary surgeons, supporting them with anything from emergency care to routine checks. The role of a veterinary nurse is a rewarding, hands-on approach to an animal-oriented career. 

Veterinary nurse career progression

Naturally, you may be curious about veterinary nurse career progression. What opportunities are available for veterinary nurses? And where will your career take you? 

Student veterinary nurse

As a student veterinary nurse, you’ll begin your career by working in the practice supporting other vet nurses and veterinary surgeons. You’ll complete training as well as learn from the role itself. 

A student veterinary nurse is an important member of the team. They can carry out tasks such as administering vaccinations if delegated to do so by the veterinary surgeon. We’ll explore this role as a means of getting into this career later on. 

Registered veterinary nurse (RVN) 

In the UK, after becoming qualified as a vet nurse, you can register with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons as an RVN. To stay qualified as an RVN, you’ll need to continuously carry out training each year. 

Once you’re registered, you’ll hold professional accountability for your work in the same way that surgeons do. We’ll explore some of the responsibilities of a veterinary nurse shortly.   

Head veterinary nurse

Once you have experience working as an RVN, you’ll be able to apply for a head veterinary nurse role. As a head vet nurse, you’ll lead and manage teams of other veterinary nurses. Head veterinary nurses also manage workloads, recruit new staff, and organise insurance claims and stock control.  

Beyond becoming a head nurse, you can also progress onto a managerial role and become a practice manager. If you reach a point where you want to try a less hands-on role, you could even move on to an education-based role. You could become a lecturer for animal management courses or teach other veterinary nursing students. 

It’s also worth noting that a veterinary nurse role is not exclusive to veterinary clinics. There is also demand within zoos, conservation sites, rescue centres and other organisations. This could be an exciting way to develop your knowledge and expand within your career.  

Veterinary nurse career progression will depend on your location, specialisation, leadership skills and more. However, there is a lot of room for opportunities and new experiences in the industry.   

What does a veterinary nurse do? 

So, we now know what a veterinary nurse is. But what exactly does a veterinary nurse do? What can we expect from a veterinary nursing role? Let’s find out just some of the common responsibilities of a veterinary nurse. 

  • Administering medications, injections, drugs and anaesthetics
  • Disinfecting and sterilising the surgical space and surgical equipment
  • Carrying out diagnostic tests and x-rays
  • Effectively communicating with pet owners, including the discussion of delicate topics and reassuring pet owners
  • Writing and maintaining various reports and files
  • Recommending animal food depending on the species, breed, and specific needs of the animal
  • Assisting during surgeries, or even performing minor surgeries such as removal of soft tissue mass
  • Monitoring anaesthetised or unwell animals, including the feeding and walking of them where necessary
  • Taking blood samples from animals 

Why should I become a veterinary nurse?  

Veterinary nursing is understandably a highly sought after profession. Many people express their desire to do good or to work with animals – and this role encompasses both. Let’s explore a few reasons why you should become a veterinary nurse.  

It’s a rewarding profession 

Lists of fulfilling careers have long since listed veterinary nursing as an option. And it’s true – could it get more rewarding than providing animals with emergency care and support? As a veterinary nurse, you’ll get the chance to have a hand in saving the lives of beloved pets.  

No two days are the same 

While other career options may be repetitive, the role of a veterinary nurse is a versatile one. Each day will bring new challenges, new clients to meet, and new pets to take care of. Not to mention the fact that many veterinary nurses move around amongst local clinics frequently. Thus, if you’re looking for a role to keep you on your toes this could be ideal for you.   

It’s a global profession 

No matter where you are in the world, there will always be animals. Where there are animals, there is a need for veterinary services. Once you have the status of a registered veterinary nurse (RVN), you could travel to another country and work where you please. There are many opportunities to work and travel as a veterinary nurse.  

Veterinary nurse salary 

If you’re wondering how to become a veterinary nurse, you’re likely wondering about your potential salary. So, what can we expect from a veterinary nurse’s salary? Let’s take a look. Please note that salary will go up depending on experience or if you choose to specialise in specific areas (such as emergency veterinary care or referral practices for more complex issues). All salary estimates are from Payscale.com

  • The average veterinary nurse salary in the UK is £20,454, with the higher end of the scale reaching £26,000.
  • In the US, the average veterinary nurse’s salary is $40,500, reaching around $73,000 at the higher end.
  • The average veterinary nurse’s salary in Canada is $77,994, going up to $82,000 towards the higher end. 
  • In Australia, the average veterinary nurse salary is $50,757, with the potential to reach $65,000. 

How to become a veterinary nurse – veterinary nurse requirements 

By now, you’re probably wondering what the veterinary nursing requirements are. What skills and qualifications do you need to start your career? What does it take to become a veterinary nurse? Let’s explore these questions.   

What qualifications do you need to be a veterinary nurse? 

Thankfully, the veterinary nursing industry welcomes both university graduates and those without degrees. There are two main ways to get yourself into a veterinary nursing role – university and an apprenticeship.   

How to become a veterinary nurse via university

If you’re planning on taking the university route, you’ll need to achieve a degree in veterinary nursing. In the UK, this degree is accredited by the royal college of veterinary surgeons, or the RVCS for short. To get into university for this degree, you’ll need two A-levels minimum. There is a preference of them being biology and other science-related A-levels.  

How to become a veterinary nurse via an apprenticeship

If you’re eager to start your career straight out of school, here’s what you can do. In the UK, you’ll typically need to have 4-5 GCSEs in grades A-C. You can seek out an apprenticeship at local clinics or look online for opportunities.  Your apprenticeship will consist of work-based training and education in a college or university setting.

 It usually takes between two and three years to complete an apprenticeship style veterinary nursing qualification. To become a registered veterinary nurse, you’ll need to complete The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Diploma in Veterinary Nursing. The alternative is to take an RCVS approved degree program.  

How to become a veterinary nurse – veterinary nursing work experience 

It’s also worth noting that many clinics prefer those who have work experience. Getting some work experience will increase your chances of securing a veterinary nurse position. Plus, you’ll be able to see the role for yourself and experience the industry.  

We recommend that you contact local veterinary surgeons to see if they’ll host you for work experience. Alternatively, we provide a virtual veterinary work experience opportunity.   

What skills do you need to be a veterinary nurse?

While it’s true that a veterinary nursing role comes with many benefits, it may not be for everyone. Unsurprisingly, veterinary nurses also have their fair share of challenges in the workplace. Here are some of the key responsibilities you’ll need to succeed as a veterinary nurse.  

  • Compassion – A career as a veterinary nurse is best suited to compassionate individuals. You’ll need to be empathetic to the animals and treat them with the highest quality of care possible. Animals at the surgery will be going through a variety of hardships. You can improve their experience by providing compassionate care. 

Learn how to build your compassion in our Emotional Intelligence at Work course. 

  • Teamwork – Working together as a team is incredibly important within the role of a veterinary nurse. As a major part of your day-to-day, you’ll support the veterinary surgeon with treatments, diagnoses and surgeries. Being able to do so effectively is critical to ensuring that the animal is diagnosed and treated effectively. This is also the case with working alongside fellow veterinary nurses. You’ll need to communicate what has and hasn’t been done to avoid any neglect or mistreatment. 

Tied in with teamwork – leadership skills can also be very valuable. Learn all about leadership skills in our What is Leadership course. 

  • Resilience – As rewarding as this role is, it is equally as demanding in many ways. Most veterinary nurses have to work long hours, unsociable hours, and endure an array of emotionally and physically draining work. You’ll need to be determined and resilient to succeed as a veterinary nurse. 
  • Communication – Working with animals is a driving force for becoming a veterinary nurse – but it’s not all about the animals. In this role, you’ll have to communicate effectively with pet owners. These conversations are often tricky as you’ll have to demonstrate your expertise and reassure owners during difficult times, making communication skills key. 
  • Observational skills – It is crucial to have strong observational skills as a veterinary nurse. You’ll be responsible for noticing anomalies within an animal’s physical appearance and behaviour. Observation skills are needed to pick up on any red flags that may indicate any issues with the animal’s wellbeing. This is especially important for post-surgery animals. 
  • Scientific interest – You’ll need to have an interest and understanding of animal anatomy and biology as a veterinary nurse. This is so that you can truly understand the ins and outs of what a healthy animal should look like and help heal animals accordingly. 

Veterinary nursing courses

Since veterinary nurse roles are in high demand, it can be beneficial to take some additional courses before job-seeking. This could not only boost your CVs but also equip you with beneficial knowledge and skills. We’ve put together a handful of courses to help you get started:  

Final thoughts

So there you have it, all you need to know about how to become a veterinary nurse. If you’re ready to dive into a fulfilling career surrounded by four-legged friends, it’s clear what you need to do! The role is full to the brim with opportunities and variety, all while providing a fulfilling career.  

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the process of becoming a veterinary nurse. Ready to start your career journey today? Why not sign up for one of the highly-rated courses we outlined above?

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