Careers Guide for jobs

Veterinary Nurse Career Advice

If you are wondering how to become a veterinary nurse, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of working with animals or agriculture, as well as job prospects in the UK.

The Job Description
Veterinary nurses help veterinary surgeons (vets) treat and look after sick and injured animals.

Typical responsibilities:

holding animals and keeping them calm during treatment
giving injections and drugs (under direction of the vet)
collecting blood, urine and other samples and carrying out in-house lab work
sterilising instruments
taking x-rays
preparing animals for operations
assisting during operations by handing instruments and maintaining levels of anaesthetic
carrying out minor procedures such as suture removal.
taking care of in-patients (feeding, watering, cleaning quarters, grooming and exercising)
conducting clinics for suture removal, post-operation checks and second vaccinations
giving advice and information to owners about the care of their animals.
some administrative and reception duties.

Person Specification
The key personal attributes of veterinary nurses include:

care about animals without being too sentimental
a tactful and sympathetic approach with upset or nervous owners
calmness and confidence when handling animals
an interest in sciences, particularly biology
willingness to carry out messy or unpleasant tasks
the ability to communicate well with owners and colleagues
administrative and keyboard skills.

How to become a vet nurse
You can qualify as a veterinary nurse in two ways – work-based training or higher education. Both lead to registration with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) as a veterinary nurse.

Work-based training
To begin training as a veterinary nurse you must be at least 17 years of age and be employed at a veterinary practice which is approved by RCVS – visit the RCVS website (in Further Information) for details of approved practices.

You will need:

five GCSEs at grade C or above including English Language, Mathematics and two science subjects or equivalent qualifications – check with the RCVS; or
the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) Animal Nursing Assistant qualification – you can do this from age 16, see the BVNA website (in Further Information) for details.
The City & Guilds/NPTC National Certificate for Veterinary Care Assistants is available in some areas as an alternative to the BVNA Animal Nursing Assistant qualification.

You could have an advantage when looking for work as a trainee or assistant if you get some relevant experience – for example, with a local vet, or in other kinds of work with animals, such as local kennels or RSPCA centres.

During your training you will work under the supervision of qualified staff. You will also attend college on day-release or block-release and do private study. Your training will take at least two years, with exams at the end of each year. You will then receive:

NVQ levels 2 and 3 in Veterinary Nursing; and
RCVS Certificate levels 2 and 3 in Veterinary Nursing Theory.
You may be able to get into this job through an Apprenticeship scheme. The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers. To find out more about Apprenticeships, visit

Higher Education
As an alternative you can do a RCVS-approved veterinary nursing degree or BTEC HND course, which includes work experience placements, and combines the RCVS-approved training with the academic qualification. This way of qualifying will take longer than work-based training, but could give you more career opportunities, such as research or teaching.

To get on to these courses you will usually need at least two A levels/three H grades or equivalent qualifications, preferably in chemistry and biology, and five GCSEs (A-C)/S grades (1-3) including English language and maths and two sciences.

Training and Development
When you are qualified and experienced, you can add to your skills and knowledge by doing short courses or further qualifications, including:

RCVS Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing (Surgical/Medical)
RCVS Certificate in Equine Veterinary Nursing
BVNA Pharmacy Management for Veterinary Nurses
BVNA Certificate in Dentistry.
You could develop your career prospects by taking higher qualifications such as HND, foundation degree or degree courses. You should check entry requirements with individual colleges and universities.

The Pay (a rough guide)
Starting salary ca be around £10,000 a year
Experienced veterinary nurses can earn between £15,000 and £18,000
Senior veterinary nurses can earn around £20,000.

Job Prospects
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.

With experience in a veterinary practice you may be able to take on more responsibility, such as practice management, supervision of staff, and training support staff. You could also do further study to become a lecturer or researcher.

Useful resources:
British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA)
82 Greenway Business Centre
Harlow Business Park
CM19 5QE
Tel: 01279 408644