How to become a vet nurse (including duties and skills)

Updated 17 January 2023

Veterinary nurses work alongside veterinarians completing a variety of tasks, including monitoring animals post-operation and performing safe medical and surgical procedures. Veterinary nurses play a vital role in educating pet owners about maintaining the health and safety of their pets whilst also providing expert nursing care for sick and injured animals. Understanding how to become a veterinary nurse is a great way to determine if this is a career you're interested in. In this article, we explain the responsibilities and necessary skills of a veterinary nurse alongside a step-by-step guide on how to become a veterinary nurse.

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What is a veterinary nurse?

A veterinary nurse, sometimes referred to as a veterinary technologist or veterinary technician depending on the degree, is a medical professional that works closely alongside licensed veterinarians to provide medical care to animals who are sick and injured. Veterinary nurses work with both larger and smaller animals and are typically based in an animal clinic, animal hospital or research centre.

How to become a vet nurse

Review the following steps to learn how to become a vet nurse:

1. Pursue your education

There are three different educational routes to becoming a veterinary nurse:

  • College course: Complete a level 3 diploma in veterinary nursing at college from a training organisation that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons or RCVS approves.

  • University degree: At university, pursue a veterinary nursing degree that the RCVS accredits.

  • Apprenticeship: There is the option to complete an advanced apprenticeship in veterinary nursing which includes a mixture of college and university-based learning and workplace training and education.

2. Gain relevant work experience

Gaining relevant work experience is essential for becoming a veterinary nurse and is typically required for many training programmes. Relevant work experience for this role includes in a veterinary practice or any other animal-related environment, such as a shelter or a kennel. Gaining experience like this is important for developing your knowledge and your skills whilst also helping you to determine if this is the right career path for you.

Related: Popular careers with horses and stables

3. Finalise your veterinary nursing qualification

The RCVS recommends that you undergo at least 60 full-time practical experience at an RCVS-registered training practice alongside completing different examinations before finalising your veterinary nursing qualification and becoming licensed. The examinations include a written exam with multiple-choice questions centred around the theory of veterinary nursing and a practical exam demonstrating your veterinary nursing skills. It's also typically expected that you complete an electronic nursing progress log (NPL) to provide a complete record of the clinical skills that you have learned throughout the course of your veterinary training.

Related: How much does a veterinarian make? (with FAQs)

What does a veterinary nurse do?

A veterinary nurse performs similar tasks to a veterinarian and usually assists them with the more advanced tasks, including surgical procedures. Veterinary nurses also assist with an animal's nutritional management, surgery preparation and dental cleaning alongside performing physical therapy and laboratory specimen analysis and working on client education about their animal's health. Other duties that veterinary nurses perform on a day-to-day basis include:

  • running tests on an animal's stool and blood samples

  • helping veterinarians to administer anaesthesia before a surgical procedure

  • preparing both an animal and the necessary surgical equipment for a surgical procedure

  • taking X-rays of animals to diagnose problems

  • performing dental procedures on animals

  • feeding animals who are inpatients

  • educating pet owners about important aftercare information and protocols

  • helping to bandage an injured animal

  • interviewing clients about their pet's behaviour and problems during intake

  • maintaining reports and records of an animal's history and medical care

  • regularly providing necessary medication to animals

  • cleaning out the animal kennels

  • safely and securely holding animals during surgical procedures


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Required skills for a veterinary nurse

Veterinary nurses usually have a specific set of interpersonal and soft skills. To be successful in this role as a veterinary nurse, it may be beneficial to develop and refine the following skills:

  • Communication: Good communication is useful between a veterinary nurse and a veterinarian during important procedures. It's also valuable to be able to communicate well with other members of staff and clients about an animal's condition and treatment.

  • Knowledge about the animal anatomy: Being knowledgeable about an animal's anatomy is valuable when helping veterinarians to work on a specific part of an animal's body during procedures and treatment plans.

  • Teamwork: Teamwork is a valuable skill as veterinary nurses work collaboratively with veterinarians and other veterinary employees to accomplish the overall goal of helping as many sick and injured animals as possible.

  • Patient care: A thorough understanding of patient care and knowledge of the ways to prevent and treat different injuries and illnesses is useful for a veterinary nurse when assisting veterinarians.

  • Compassion: It's the responsibility of the veterinary nurse to provide clients and animal owners with disappointing and potentially upsetting news about the health of an animal. It's valuable to be understanding and compassionate in these situations.

  • Physical stamina: Physical stamina and physical strength are advantageous for veterinary nurses when performing different tasks. For example, you may have to lift animals onto examination tables and stand on their feet for most of the working day.

Related: Work in animal welfare: 10 interesting jobs (plus salary)

FAQs about veterinary nurses

Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about the role of a veterinary nurse:

What is the difference between a veterinary nurse and a veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant?

The roles of a veterinary nurse, veterinary technician and veterinary nurse assistant all perform duties that significantly assist a veterinarian in doing their job, yet they each have different education requirements and perform various kinds of tasks. For example, veterinary nurse assistants have no educational requirements and instead go through a certification process, whereas veterinary technicians have bachelor's degrees. Veterinary nurses can achieve qualifications from either a college course, university degree or apprenticeship.

The day-to-day duties and responsibilities of these roles vary also. Veterinary nurse assistants work under the supervision of a veterinary nurse. Because of that, their responsibilities are less technical. It's the responsibility of veterinary nurses to perform more medical-based duties, for example, administering medication to animals. Veterinary technicians perform similar medical-based duties, for instance, preparing surgical equipment for surgery.

Related: Veterinary nurse vs veterinary technician: what to know

Is it possible for a veterinary nurse to progress and become a veterinarian?

To become a licensed veterinarian, a veterinary nurse can continue their education to earn their veterinarian's license. It typically involves an additional four years of education to progress from the role of veterinary nurse to the role of a veterinarian. Some significant advantages of progressing from the role of veterinary nurse to a veterinarian are the increased salary. If you have aspirations to advance to the role of a veterinarian, you may benefit from asking a vet in your practice to mentor you or shadow them outside of your work duties to learn more about their role.

Related: How to become a veterinarian

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What are some common interview questions that veterinary nurses may encounter?

During interviews for the role of a veterinary nurse, employers typically ask questions to gauge your skills, qualities and work ethic. Some interview questions you may encounter in an interview include:

  • Are you comfortable working with all kinds of animals?

  • How do you plan to keep animals calm during a medical procedure?

  • What skills do you possess that make you an effective veterinary nurse?

  • How do you think you would remain helpful during a procedure whilst avoiding getting in the way?

  • Can you share an example of a complex veterinary procedure that you assisted your veterinarian in successfully performing?

  • How would you thoroughly sterilise a veterinary room?

  • How would you communicate with a client or a pet owner about disappointing or upsetting news following an examination or procedure?

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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