What's it really like?
Jennifer Wilkin age 27 has been a veterinary nurse for 7 years
What did you do before this job?
I worked as a nursery (plants) assistant.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
My job is shift work, so it depends what shift I am on as to what I do. This is common to most practices. If I'm on the morning shift I will do a 'ward round', meaning I take over from the nurse on nights and am updated on the status of the animals in our care. Sometimes I can be on a reception and dispensing (medicine) shift and at other times on an 'operating shift' which involves administering anaesthetics all day. After a ward round I see to any in-patients, checking on their status and any medication that needs to be administered. This might involve contacting the owners. This information is then passed onto the vet and I liaise with him/her as to what needs to be done with the animal e.g. to go home, operation etc. If I'm on the nightshift I deal with any emergency calls or in-patients. I may also have to attend to any emergency operations at night. The night shift is from 6p.m to 9a.m so it's a long night. My working week can be over 70 hours depending on the week.
I work in a small animal practice which mainly deals with domestic pets, however, there are also large animal practices for farm animals, horses etc.
What do you like about the job?
Every day is different and there is lots of diversity
What do you dislike about the job?
The hours are very long and our work is often under-appreciated. There is also very limited career progression
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
It's not just about liking animals but is about doing what's best for them. This can be very difficult for some people to deal with. However, it can be very rewarding.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role (i.e. career progression)?
I am currently studying events management part-time as this is something I am very interested in, however, this isn't a normal career progression.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
You have to be able to communicate with people from all levels from drug reps, to vets, to people with learning disabilities.
Do you mind us publishing your salary - this is very helpful for job seekers?
I started on £6,750 but am now on £15,500.
Veterinary nurses assist in the general administration, operating, medication and client elements of a veterinary practice.
Veterinary nurses are expected to perform a wide range of duties. These can be in terms of assisting the main vets and veterinary surgeons as well as administration of the practice.
Nurses will be expected to support the vet during operations and will develop a wide knowledge of veterinary practices. This may include administering medication directly to animals both via injection and oral means. Nurses will also be expected to collect samples (urine, blood, faeces etc) and may have to analyse these in an in-house laboratory. Normally haematology and urine analysis is performed in-house however faecal samples have to be done on Petri-dishes and are normally dealt with externally.
Nurses will be expected to be involved in both pre and post operative care. This will involve seeing to in-patients and meeting with owners and liaising with drug reps to ensure medication is stocked and up-to-date. The job will also involve performing, X-rays and clipping (shaving) animals pre-operation. Nurses are allowed to do stitch ups and suture removal. This, as well as general support to the vet will be very important.
Salaries are very low starting at around £10,000 with a top range of around £30,000. The average salary is about £15,000, although this will vary between individual practices, area and type of work.
- Assisting in Operations (see above)
- Administration – reception work, liaising with owners, greeting in-patients
- General Duties – grooming, feeding, exercising, post and pre-operation medication, suture removal, post-operation checks, vaccinations
Normally the only qualification to commence training is 5 GCSEs at Grade C or above or the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) Nursing Assistant qualification.
However, there are several professional bodies and professional qualifications available. It is possible to undergo both work-based training from the age of 17 in conjunction with an RCVS approved practice or through proper higher education.
Several colleges and universities now offer an RCVS-approved veterinary nursing degree or BTEC HND course. These will include secondments to registered vets and academic study. Other relevant qualifications which may be achieved through both study and/or work include:
- City & Guilds/ NPTC National Certificate for Veterinary Care Assistants
- NVQ levels 2 and 3 in Veterinary Nursing
- RCVS Certificate in Veterinary Nursing Theory
- RCVS Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing
- BVNA Pharmacy Management for Veterinary Nurses
- BVNA Certificate in Dentistry.
Becoming a veterinary nurse requires significant training and will take a minimum of 2 years.
People Skills – this can be a very stressful and intense job and so a range of people skills are essential. Being able to liaise with a host of different people, empathise and convey upsetting news will all form part of this job.
A desire to work with animals – purely ‘liking’ animals is not enough. This can be a very upsetting job as you have to know what is best for an animal and potentially oversee the euthanasia of creatures in your care.
Technical skills – a detailed knowledge of anaesthetics, veterinary operations and procedures, X-rays and medicines will be developed. There are also a lot of legal implications that you should be aware of.
Work well under pressure – working with vets will mean that an animal's life is in your hands and so ensuring that an anaesthetic is administered in the correct amount can mean the difference between life and death. Attention to detail is thus a must.
Hours can be very long and shift work is common. There are inherent risks in working with animals including the risks of being bitten, kicked and scratched. This job can also be very emotionally and physically demanding. It is common to have to restrain an animal physically during operations or clipping.
Nurses should also be prepared to deal with bodily fluids and other animal samples.
The competition for jobs can be very high. It will be beneficial to have some experience at a vet's practice or in an animal related business e.g. pet shop, kennel and/or animal charity. In order to study for a degree in veterinary nursing or for the BTEC/ HND you will require appropriate A-Levels. Grades A-C in Chemistry and Biology will normally be expected.
Vets4Pets – nurses may have shares in this organisation and thus receive ownership, decision-making and monetary benefits.
Most employment is via small, and often independent practices. A full list of registered practices can be obtained through the RCVS.
Behaviouralist – offers insights and advice on animal behaviour. Vet - significant training will be necessary. Research & Teaching – there are a wide variety of careers available as a teacher or in animal research Charity Work – common animal charities are always looking for support and nurses, as well as inspectors.