Veterinary Nursing Careers

Quicklook at Vets by Bob LehnerThis site is for veterinary nurses, veterinary nursing assistants, veterinary nursing students, veterinary surgeons and other members of the profession only, and we are unable to offer individual career advice. However, one of our members has written a book, Quicklook at Vets, all about the veterinary profession, an extract of which we are delighted to reproduce here.

If, having read the extract, you are still considering a career in the veterinary profession, I thoroughly recommend you buy the book. It really is an excellent primer for anyone planning to work in the profession, whether as a nurse, a surgeon or in industry.

Quicklook at Vets is available as a download from Quicklook books, for only £7.99. Click here for more information.

In addition, please scroll to the foot of this page for links to other organisations that provide advice about a career as a veterinary nurse.

Arlo Guthrie

Quicklook at Vets. Chapter Six: Veterinary Nursing

Small animal practice did not begin to evolve in any serious way until the late 1950's, when increasing affluence lead to a demand for better health care for pets. At that time, important advances were being made in medicine generally and the new anaesthetic agents, analgesics (pain-killers), antibiotics, steroids and hormones to treat a wide variety of diseases. Many of these could be used in dogs and cats and provided scope for small animal practitioners to offer far more than they could in the past. 

Effective vaccines against the major infectious diseases of dogs and cats were developed and became accepted by the public, providing a good source of income to small animal practitioners. This allowed them to invest in more equipment and expand their services.

Bob LehnerAs small animal practice developed, it became clear that the vets needed skilled personnel to assist them. Many practices employed someone (usually a young woman who was 'good with animals') and trained them to undertake tasks such as holding animals for treatment, cleaning and preparing equipment, looking after in-patients, helping with operations, monitoring anaesthesia and so on. This was not entirely satisfactory. It was evident that there was a need for properly trained individuals to assist vets in small animal practice and so the veterinary nursing profession came into being.

The original veterinary nurses were called Registered Animal Nursing Auxilliaries (RANAs) as the term 'Nurse' was protected, referring only to those concerned with looking after human patients. The first RANA qualified in 1963 and the training was 'in house', supplemented in some cases with attendance at a college. Over the years, the training of veterinary nurses has evolved and become more tailored to the needs of modern practice.

To begin training as a veterinary nurse, it is necessary to have a minimum of five GCSEs at Grade C or higher, or hold an Animal Nursing Assistant (ANA) or Veterinary Care Assistant (VCA) qualification. 

The most common training route used to be via the NVQ Level 2 and 3 in Veterinary Nursing. This is now being phased out, and replaced with the Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing which takes between 2 and 3 years to complete. It can be undertaken either full-time, or alongside a job in an RCVS-approved training practice. Alternatively the student can undertake a Veterinary Nursing Foundation or BSc Honours degree in veterinary nursing at university.

Qualifications are available either in small animal or equine nursing and there are now advanced qualifications at Diploma level for those wishing to progress further.

On qualifying, veterinary nurses are entered on the Register of Veterinary Nurses, which was established by the RCVS in 2007 to give veterinary nurses a more professional status and may use the letters RVN (Registered Veterinary Nurse). RVNs are governed by a professional code of conduct, similar to that of the MRCVS. They are also required to undertake continuing professional development, currently 15 hours per year.

In 2009 there were some 8,400 nurses listed or registered with the RCVS. The veterinary nursing profession is predominantly female.

In a Qucklook at VetsToday, qualified veterinary nurses have an extremely important role in most veterinary practices, many of which would find it impossible to function properly without them. RVNs are permitted to perform certain designated clinical procedures and minor operations. They are responsible for all aspects of the care of in-patients, administer medicines, hold animals for procedures, help with radiography, take and analyse blood and other laboratory samples, assist at surgery and undertake minor surgery themselves, monitor anaesthesia, run the pharmacy, liase with sales representatives from drug companies and much else. Nurses often hold clinics for various groups of patients such as geriatrics, or those needing to lose weight. Some nurses take a particular interest in nutrition and can give clients advice on this. Many hold 'puppy parties', to educate owners on the care, feeding and health of their new acquisitions.

Veterinary nursing is not an entirely glamourous job. Sick animals vomit, defaecate and urinate, often to excess. A lot of the nurse's time is spent cleaning animals and kennels, laundering bedding and mopping floors. There is a constant need to maintain a high level of hygiene in the surgery. Operations are often bloody and messy and as much time can be spent cleaning up after an operation as in actually doing it. Instruments have to be washed and sterilised and surgical gowns and drapes laundered. 

Most veterinary nurses work in general practice, but there are other career opportunities with pharmaceutical and animal feed companies, universities, research institutes, charities and so on.

To buy Quicklook at Vets and read the other 13 chapters about the veterinary profession, and working within it, please click here »

Links to career advice about becoming a veterinary nurse

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons
Regulates the veterinary profession, including veterinary nurses. This link takes you straight to the section about a career as a veterinary nurse.

British Veterinary Nursing Association
The representative body for the veterinary nursing profession. This link takes you to the career section.