What’s involved in becoming a Vet Nurse?
Anaesthetist, surgical nurse, dental technician, shoulder to cry on, phlebotomist, radiographer, lab technician, infection control specialist, a sympathetic ear and givers of TLC – the career of a veterinary nurse is a varied and rewarding one. It is one in which you can help a puppy or kitten enter the world crying and squirming one minute, and provide comfort to an older pet as they make their way over Rainbow Bridge the next. Being a nurse is a privilege, but also a demanding job, and the training is extensive.
The title ‘veterinary nurse’ is not protected in the UK, but for the purposes of this article we will take veterinary nurse to mean ‘Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN)’, which is someone who has passed exams and been certified by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and is maintained on the veterinary nursing register.
So you have decided to be a veterinary nurse?
Knowing where to start when looking at how to become a veterinary nurse can be a minefield! There are lots of providers offering ‘Veterinary Nursing’ courses which do not lead to a recognised qualification. These are often based on-line, and while they may give you some theoretical knowledge they will not be enough on their own. All the accredited routes into veterinary nursing have some requirement for practical training. There are two recognised routes into becoming an RVN: Doing a degree and an on-the-job apprenticeship.
What’s the difference between the two routes?
The degree option is a more academic route into the industry, with a lot of your time based at university. Essentially, it suits people who want to know WHY and then put it into practice. Degree qualified nurses are also able to use their qualification in other, related, areas such as research and teaching. This route can take 3-4 years to complete. Details of the organisations accredited to offer this route into Veterinary Nursing can be found on the RCVS website.
The vocational route involves getting a placement, or employment, as a student or apprentice veterinary nurse in a training practice. You then learn ‘on-the-job’ and complete a Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing which allows you entry onto the RCVS Register when completed. This normally takes between two and three years to complete.
Whichever route you choose to take, the path to becoming a veterinary nurse is one of intensive and varied training, always with a focus on being able to perform the practical skills needed in the job, as well as the theory to understand why something happens.
Whether you choose to take the degree or vocational route, you will need to have a placement within a veterinary practice that is registered as a Training Practice (TP) with the RCVS. We are proud to say we are a member of this scheme and are delighted to be able to help train the next generation of veterinary nurses that will be there to help our patients in their time of need.
What does the training involve?
Essentially, a student veterinary nurse works under supervision as a veterinary nurse in practice, doing all the things that they will do when qualified. However, they will be carefully supervised by more experienced colleagues, the vets, and especially by their Clinical Coach. At the same time, however, they’re learning the theory behind what they do in college.
So, for example, they might learn about what the parts of the anaesthetic machine do and how they work from their expert lecturers in the classroom; then practice assembling and testing the system in a practical class. The next day, in their training practice, they will set up the machine and monitor the anaesthetic for a cat having exploratory surgery, all under the watchful eye of the head nurse.
Or perhaps they’ll learn about the different types of bacteria and how to kill them in class, and then put that into practice working on sterilisation, and setting up theatre for an operation in practice.
Or maybe they’ll learn how to interpret an X-ray in lectures (is this film overexposed? Or underexposed? How should the patient be positioned if he vet wants to see this bone more clearly? How should you correct the settings if the first image isn’t clear enough?). Then, back in practice, they’ll do it “for real” with a dog suffering from a broken leg.
The whole point is that theory and practice are complementary – and everything a student nurse does in practice will be recorded on their Nursing Progress Log, an online portfolio of skills. Before they can take their final exams, they must have been signed off as competent on everything on that list.
Being a veterinary nurse is one of the most rewarding and demanding careers available in the veterinary industry, and as more and more post-graduate qualifications and career paths emerge, it is an exciting time to be joining us!