35-40 per week
£14,000 + per year
Veterinary nurses help veterinary surgeons (vets) by providing nursing care for sick, injured and hospitalised animals. They also play an important role in educating owners on good standards of animal care and welfare. If you love animals and want to look after their health, this could be ideal for you.
A veterinary nurse needs to be calm and confident when handling animals. You’ll need to be sympathetic when dealing with upset or nervous owners. You’ll also be willing to carry out messy or unpleasant tasks.
You can qualify as a veterinary nurse either through work-based training or by taking a higher education qualification.
As a veterinary nurse, your duties would include:
- preparing and carrying out nursing care plans
- holding animals and keeping them calm during treatment
- giving injections and drugs (as instructed by the vet)
- getting blood, urine and other samples from animals, and carrying out laboratory work at the practice
- sterilising instruments
- taking x-rays
- preparing animals for operations
- helping vets during operations
- carrying out minor procedures such as removing stitches.
- talking to clients about the care and progress of their animals
You would often have other responsibilities, including:
- taking care of animals staying in house (feeding, cleaning their accommodation, grooming and exercising)
- holding clinics for suture removal, post operation checks and weight management
- giving owners advice about caring for their animals
You could also have administration and reception duties.
You would work between 35 and 40 hours a week, often with evening, weekend and on-call duties.
Your employer would usually provide a uniform and protective clothing.
Veterinary nurses can earn between £14,000 and £22,000 a year, depending on experience. Senior veterinary nurses can earn around £25,000 a year.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
You can qualify as a veterinary nurse either through work-based training or through higher education. Both of these routes lead to Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) registration as a veterinary nurse.
For this option, you will need to find work at a veterinary practice before you can start on a relevant Level 2 qualification. The work may be full-time or part-time but should cover the duration of the course, which can take up to 12 months to complete.
Level 2 qualifications include:
- City & Guilds (C&G) Diploma for Veterinary Care Assistants
- Central Qualifications (CQ) Diploma for Veterinary Nursing Assistants / Diploma in Animal Nursing
- ABC Certificate for Animal Nursing Assistants.
Entry requirements vary between colleges offering these courses, so please check with them for exact details.
See the RCVS website for a list of training centres.
Once complete, you would then move onto the Level 3 qualification:
- C&G Diploma in Veterinary Nursing
- CQ Diploma in Veterinary Nursing.
For the Diploma, you will normally need five GCSEs at grade C or above, including English, maths and a science, or have completed one of the qualifications at Level 2.
The Diploma can take around two years to complete and, along with core units, you can choose to specialise in equine care or working with small animals.
When you are looking for work as a trainee or assistant, it will help if you have relevant experience. This could be as a volunteer with a local vet or in other kinds of settings, such as local kennels or RSPCA centres.
The British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) has some useful advice about looking for a first position.
The higher education route involves taking an RCVS-approved veterinary nursing foundation degree or degree. This combines a substantial amount of time on placement with the academic qualification. It normally takes between two and four years to complete.
For a higher education course you would usually need:
- at least two A levels, preferably in chemistry and/or biology, or equivalent qualifications
- at five GCSEs (A-C) including English language, maths and a science
- evidence of relevant work experience (paid or voluntary).
Check the exact requirements with individual colleges and universities.
You can search for course providers on the RCVS and UCAS websites.
Training and development
Once you are qualified and experienced, you can add to your skills and knowledge by doing short courses or further qualifications. The BVNA run a number of short courses as part of their continuing professional development programme for members and non-members.
You could also develop your career prospects by taking higher qualifications such as a foundation degree or degree in veterinary nursing or, if you already have a degree, several universities offer postgraduate options in veterinary sciences.
Skills, interests and qualities
To become a veterinary nurse, you will need to have:
- concern for animals without being too sentimental
- calmness and confidence when handling animals
- a tactful and sympathetic approach with upset or nervous owners
- an interest in science, particularly biology
- willingness to carry out messy or unpleasant tasks
- the ability to communicate well with owners and colleagues
- administration and IT skills.
Tel: 02476 696996
Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS)
62-64 Horseferry Road
Tel: 020 7222 2001
British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA)
82 Greenway Business Centre
Harlow Business Park
Tel: 01279 408644
British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA)
31 Market St
Tel: 01638 723555
Many veterinary nurses are employed in general veterinary practices, but you could also find work in research establishments, laboratories, universities, colleges, zoological/wildlife parks, charities, pharmaceutical companies and breeding/boarding kennels.
You may be able to find work by joining the British Veterinary Nursing Association Employment Register, which publishes job seekers' details and lists vacancies. See the BVNA website for details.
With experience, you may be able to take on more responsibility, such as practice management, supervising and training new staff or working in veterinary supplies. You could also complete further studies to become a lecturer or researcher.
You may find the following link useful for job vacancies and general reading:
Related industry information
The veterinary nursing industry is part of the environmental and land‐based industries, represented by Lantra Sector Skills Council, which also includes the following industries: agricultural crops; agricultural livestock; animal care; animal technology; aquaculture; environmental conservation; equine; farriery; fencing; fisheries management; floristry; game and wildlife management; land‐based engineering; horticulture, landscape and sports turf; production horticulture; and trees and timber. The sector as a whole currently employs 1,126,000 people (approximately 4% of the UK workforce) in around 230,000 businesses. In addition, there are an estimated 500,000 volunteers working in the sector on a regular basis. Approximately 42% of the workforce is self‐employed.
Veterinary nurses work alongside Veterinary Surgeons in the care and treatment of animal patients, within veterinary surgeries or hospitals. They work with domestic and exotic animals, horses and farm animals. Veterinary nurses provide skilled supportive care for sick animals as well as undertaking minor surgery, monitoring during anaesthesia, medical treatments and diagnostic tests under veterinary supervision. Alternative treatments and therapies are becoming increasingly popular, so veterinary nurses need to extend their traditional skill base to cover these areas and nutritional management. Veterinary nurses also play an important role in the education of owners on good standards of animal care.
- There are approximately 7,783 registered veterinary nurses, there are also:
- Training to be a veterinary nurse usually takes at least two years
- Most students are female, white British, and between the ages of 25‐35 years.
- There are around 4,036 practices.
- The industry is dominated by female workers who account for 69% of all employees, rising to 98% for Veterinary Nurses.
- 64% of veterinary nurses are employed full‐time.
- 98.5% hold or are working towards a small animal qualification.
Jobs in the industry include: head nursing assistant, student veterinary nurse, senior veterinary nurse, nurse assessor, student nursing assistant.
National and regional data
[N.B. The following estimates are for veterinary nurses, veterinary surgeons and ancillary services. Data derived from IDBR, 2008 and Labour Force Survey, 2008.]
East Midlands – There are an estimated 2,932 employees in the regional workforce, in around 275 businesses.
East of England – There are an estimated 4,326 employees in the regional workforce, in around 500 businesses.
London – There are an estimated 939 employees in the regional workforce, in around 360 businesses.
North East – There are an estimated 1,412 employees in the regional workforce, in around 145 businesses.
North West – There are an estimated 2,967 employees in the regional workforce in around 420 businesses.
South East – There are an estimated 7,555 employees in the regional workforce, in around 775 businesses.
South West – There are an estimated 4,093 employees in the regional workforce, in around 580 businesses.
West Midlands – There are an estimated 3,930 employees in the regional workforce, in around 355 businesses.
Yorkshire and the Humber – There are an estimated 3,419 employees in the regional workforce, in around 320 businesses.
Northern Ireland – There are an estimated 2,346 employees in the regional workforce, in around 145 businesses.
Scotland – There are an estimated 2,933 employees in the regional workforce, in around 415 businesses.
Wales – There are an estimated 2,726 employees in the regional workforce, in around 255 businesses.
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