Some people think that veterinary nursing is all about cuddling fluffy animals while the vets perform their examinations, but it isn’t always that glamorous! Animals and their caring owners are wonderful to work with and are a huge part of the job but Veterinary Nurses (VNs) work very hard caring for pets and this includes dealing with poo, wee, snot, vomit, blood, body organs, parasites, nasty smells and the occasional challenging patient or owner. Veterinary nursing can be an extremely emotional and physically demanding job, but all of the VNs at Castle Vets agree that it is also an extremely rewarding one.
Veterinary Nurses, like human nurses are highly skilled professionals in their own right. VNs work alongside Veterinary Surgeons to provide the highest standard of care and treatment for your pet. This treatment includes skilled supportive care for sick and injured animals, nursing clinics, monitoring anaesthetics, assisting with operations, performing minor surgery, providing medical treatments and carrying out diagnostic tests under veterinary supervision. VNs also play a very important role in the education of pet owners.
A veterinary nurse’s job includes
- Skilled supportive care for sick and injured animals
- Ensuring that patients receive appropriate care
- Monitoring vital signs, such as temperature, heart rate, pulse and breathing rate
- Holding and calming animals while a vet examines and treats them
- Post operative care
- Monitoring and maintaining anaesthetics, to ensure your pet is safe and pain-free during the operation
- “Scrubbing in” and assisting vets with operations
- Performing minor surgery
- Providing medical treatments
- Administering medication in the form of tablets, liquids, injections or topical treatments
- Taking blood samples
- Administering intravenous fluids
- Wound management and changing dressings
- Taking X-rays
- Recording ECGs
- Assisting vets to perform diagnostic techniques such as ultrasound and endoscopy
- Carrying out diagnostic tests (urine tests, blood tests, faecal tests, examining samples under a microscope etc)
- Maintaining and sterilising equipment and instruments
- Cleaning up after the patients (and the vets!)
- Keeping the surgery clean and tidy
- Looking after the needs of and advising the pet owner
VNs also play a very important role in the education of owners with regard to good standards of patient care during their nursing consultations, over the phone or via blogs and articles such as this one. We do this by
- Providing advice and guidance to the owners of the animals on all aspects of their care
- Offering nursing clinics for services such as
- General advice on things such as health, growth, training, nutrition, aging, behaviour, housing and husbandry, weight management and dental care.
- Nail clipping
- Emptying Anal glands
- Diabetic monitoring
- Blood pressure monitoring
- Post operative checks and suture removals
- Wound management and bandage changes
- Taking blood samples
- Giving medications
- Clipping out mats
At Castle Vets all of our qualified veterinary nurses are listed and/or registered with the Royal college of veterinary surgeons. We NEVER rely on support staff to perform veterinary nursing roles and all of the nursing care for your pet is performed by qualified veterinary nurses or registered student veterinary nurses under strict supervision as part of their training.
To be a successful VN you will need to have all of the following skills
A strong desire to work with animals and people
Just liking animals is not enough; at times being a VN can stretch you to your emotional limits and your day to day work may include seeing animals in a great deal of pain, putting an animal to sleep or dealing with horrific cruelty cases and at all times you have to do what is best for the animal. In just a few minutes you can go from receiving a hug from a client because you have spent that extra bit of time to explain what the problem is with their pet and reassuring them that everything will be ok, to putting an animal to sleep because there is simply isn’t enough money for treatment or it has no home to go to.
Sympathy, compassion and understanding
You need to be able to relate to the owners of the animals as well as understand the animals themselves. You have to remember that the animals you deal with are much loved by their owners and are sometimes their best friend in the world.
The ability to work hard and commit to your patients and their owners
If you are in the middle of an operation, dealing with an emergency, or talking to an upset client you can’t just down tools at the end of your shift. This is not a normal 9-5 job, we often go home thinking about our patients or even end up popping into the surgery to check on them on our days off.
Patience and understanding
Your patients cannot tell you what is wrong with them and some will be in pain and frightened when they visit the practice. Patience is also a requirement when dealing with clients and colleagues.
You will need to be good at maths because you will need to calculate dosages several times a day and the ability to communicate with pet owners and colleagues verbally and through writing is essential.
Initiative and problem solving skills
You need to be able to work under your own initiative to get things done – there’s no time for idling around in a busy veterinary practice.
A love of cleaning!
A huge part of vet nursing is about cleaning, you need to keep your patients and their environment clean to prevent the spread of disease.
A supportive network of family and friends
Veterinary nursing is not a very well paid job despite the qualifications we have and a student nurse salary is usually minimum wage. You will also have to work shifts and some of those may be overnight if your practice provides its own emergency cover.
Becoming A Student Veterinary Nurse
Training to become a VN is intensive and takes between two and four years to complete. A large proportion of this time is spent gaining clinical experience by working in practice, with the rest spent attending college, completing assessments and coursework, many hours of personal study and, of course, passing the theory and practical examinations.
There are two main routes to becoming a veterinary nurse and for both routes you will need to have a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade C or above which include Maths, English and a Science subject.
- Vocational Training – If you want to start working in practice straight away, vocational training is probably best for you and will take two to three years to complete. During your training you will be working under the supervision of a clinical coach who may be a qualified VN or a Vet and your time will be divided between work in practice (paid or unpaid) and attending college once a week or on block release. You will first need to gain employment as a student nurse at an approved training practice (a website link can be found at the end) and they will then register you with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and at a training college. At the end of this type of training you will receive a level 3 diploma in veterinary nursing.
- Higher Education – This is a degree course; it will take longer than a vocational qualification (up to 4 years) and is university based. This course is mostly academic but you will be required to undertake several periods of clinical work placement in an approved training practice.
If you haven’t got the relevant GCSE qualifications, don’t give up hope. It may be possible for you to do the Veterinary Nursing Assistant course or an animal management course to give you the necessary skills to move on to VN training. Contact the British Veterinary Nursing Association for more advice.
A Career As A Qualified Veterinary Nurse
Once qualified, VNs must
- Maintain their place on the VN register with the Royal College if Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)
- Take part in Continuing Professional Development, in order to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. This can be in the form of attending courses and lectures, research, writing articles, reading articles written by others or gaining work experience in different types of the veterinary nursing profession.
- Adhere to the professional code of conduct for veterinary nurses (see link below).
Many qualified nurses go on to specialise and develop interests in different aspects of animal health, for example surgical nursing, medical nursing, animal behaviour, exotic pet care, alternative therapies, dermatology or nutrition. Some VNs also go on to achieve an Advanced Diplomas, BSc Degrees or an MSc in Veterinary Nursing.
At Castle Vets we are lucky enough to have veterinary nurses with interests in dermatology (skin problems), nutrition, surgical nursing, behaviour, weight management, diabetes, exotic pet care, senior pet care and bereavement.
VNs may choose to embark on a career in nursing and work in normal practice, large veterinary hospitals, universities or specialist referral centres. They may take on a veterinary practice management role or become a pharmaceutical or nutritional company representative or follow a career in education and become college tutors and lecturers teaching the next generation of veterinary nurses.
Veterinary Nurse Salary
Salary for a qualified nurse tends to depend upon the size, type and location of the practice you work for. The average salary for a qualified VN is around £19,000*, although this may increase over time depending on your skills, experience and any extra qualifications you may gain.
The average salary for student VNs is approximately £13,000* a year, however this may not include your training, college or exam fees depending on the veterinary practice you work for and some training practices do not pay student nurses at all!
(*Figures based on the Society of Practicing Veterinary Surgeons Salary survey 2013)
How do you know if a veterinary nurse is qualified, listed and/or registered with the RCVS?
Qualified veterinary nurses are usually identifiable by the badge they wear
You can also make sure your veterinary nurse has the appropriate qualifications by checking to see if they are on the RCVS register (a link can be found below)
Useful websites and links
- For more information about training to become a veterinary nurse and what qualifications you will need please visit the British Veterinary Nursing Association website
- To find an approved training practice please visit the RCVS Website
- For information about higher education routes into veterinary nursing please visit the UCAS website
- For more information about the Code of Professional Conduct that qualified veterinary nurses must adhere to please visit the RCVS Website
- To check if your veterinary nurse is registered with the RCVS visit RCVS VN List
- Castle Vets