Want to be a Vet Nurse?

Advice on becoming a Veterinary Nurse

Veterinary nursing is a rewarding career that offers variety and daily contact with pets and their owners. Veterinary Nurses are involved in the supportive care of pets receiving treatment within a veterinary practice. They are trained to a high level, enabling them to work in all aspects of the veterinary practice environment from reception through to the operating theatre.

What is veterinary nursing?

A Veterinary Nurse (VN) works as a member of the veterinary team, providing expert nursing care for sick and injured pets. As a qualified VN, you will be responsible for the welfare, comfort and recovery of pets that may have undergone trauma, surgery or are receiving treatment for medical conditions. VNs also play a significant role in the education of owners about maintaining the health of their pets. They carry out technical work and are skilled in undertaking a range of diagnostic tests, medical treatments and minor surgical procedures, under veterinary direction.

Which pets do they care for?

All student nurses commence on the same veterinary nursing course and complete the same general core units. Students get the opportunity to specialise later in the programme, taking either small animal, equine or ‘mixed’ practice units.

Small animal nurses work mainly with cats and dogs but will also learn to care for smaller pets, such as guinea pigs and hamsters, and sometimes more exotic animals, such as snakes and tortoises. Equine nurses mainly work with horses, and nurses in mixed practice work with farm animals and horses, as well as pets.

Entry to training

All veterinary nurse training is conducted through colleges or universities that offer qualifications approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), and their linked veterinary training practices. The RCVS regularly inspects veterinary nurse education programmes to ensure that high standards are maintained.

To start training, you will need to meet minimum entry requirements, which will be set by the awarding organisation or institution for your qualification. For further information on entry requirements, you should contact your local college or awarding institution for advice.

A list of RCVS approved qualifications in veterinary nursing and colleges is available to download from the RCVS website at www.rcvs.org.uk.

  • Vocational training
  • Work experience and placements
  • Higher Education

Vocational training

Level 3 Diplomas are offered on either a full-time basis or apprenticeship-style alongside a job in veterinary practice. Upon successful completion of the qualification, you will be able to apply to register with the RCVS.

If you enrol on a full-time course your time will be divided between that spent in the classroom and periods of training on placement (paid or unpaid) in veterinary practice. These placements will be organised by the college for you.

As an apprentice, you will first need to find employment in an approved training practice and then attend college on a part-time or block release basis. You can obtain a list of training practices from www.rcvs.org.uk.

Training is quite intensive and takes between two and three years. A large proportion of this time will be spent gaining clinical experience in a training practice. You will be working under the supervision of qualified veterinary nurses and veterinary surgeons, learning how to provide nursing care and treatments in a range of different situations. You will be assessed throughout the course via theory exams, practical examinations, a work-based progress log and assignments. You will also be expected to undertake several hours of private study each week.

Work experience and placements

Veterinary nursing is a popular career choice to people of all ages. There is no age limit when you can start training and there are many excellent VNs who didn’t enter the profession until later in life.

Many veterinary practices choose existing staff members for student placements, so you may have to accept a ward assistant or receptionist role to enable you to get a little experience before you are successful.

Gaining work experience or a placement is very competitive and demand often outweighs availability. Therefore you need to stand out from the crowd.

Below are some suggestions to help with this:

  • Get as much pet handling experience as possible. Stables, catteries, kennels, pet shops, dog training groups, rescue centres and private zoos all provide invaluable experience. If you detail these in your CV be sure to include what you learned and enjoyed.
  • Explore the internet for free courses. Many animal charities and Vet Schools put short distance learning courses online. Completing these will show commitment and real interest. Remember to check these are accredited by a well-known educational organisation or the RCVS; never pay for any online course that is not accredited.
  • Familiarise yourself with websites set up by the industry bodies (links below). They will keep you up to date with what is going on in the industry and provide a realistic view of the jobs that are currently available.
  • Provide a well-written CV to a practice. However, it is best to go in person, ask the name of the Head VN and if you could have a short appointment with them to discuss your CV.
  • Investigate ‘College Open Days’ that provide VN training, attend them and discuss their entry requirements. Speak to the Tutors about what is going on in the local area they will be best placed to advise on possible contacts.
  • Enlist your Guidance and Careers Teachers, they may be able to approach practices through local initiatives that provide work experience.

Higher Education

Alternatively, you can take a veterinary nursing degree at university. Universities will have their own entry requirements and you will need to apply via UCAS. Bachelor (BSc) and Foundation (FdSc) degrees are available and courses often include additional subjects, such as practice administration or farm animal care.

Training takes three to four years, depending on the type of course. VN degree courses include a significant proportion of practical training based in approved training practices, alongside an academic programme. A programme taking either small animal, equine or ‘mixed’ practice units.

What’s best for me?

Vocational and higher education qualifications in veterinary nursing both lead to registration as a VN. If you are very practically-minded, and want to get ‘stuck in’ to a job in a veterinary practice, vocational training is probably for you.

A degree course will take a little longer, but could lead to additional career opportunities, such as research, the pharmaceutical industry and teaching.

Small animal nurses work mainly with cats and dogs but will also learn to care for smaller pets, such as guinea pigs and hamsters, and sometimes more exotic animals, such as snakes and tortoises. Equine nurses mainly work with horses, and nurses in mixed practice work with farm animals and horses, as well as pets.

Registering as a student


You should register for an RCVS-approved vocational or degree qualification with your chosen college or university. Your college or university will enrol you with the RCVS as a student VN, which gives a legal dispensation for you to administer certain veterinary treatments to pets under supervision as part of your training.


If you plan to undertake apprenticeship-style training, you must be employed as a student VN at an RCVS approved training practice before you can enrol for training. A list of colleges and approved training practices is available at www.rcvs.org.uk.


You should contact your nearest college for information on the courses available and details of linked practices. You may also approach training practices directly if you are considering apprenticeship–style training.

Qualifying as a Veterinary Nurse

Once you have successfully completed your qualification and provided evidence of your training, you will be eligible to join the Register of Veterinary Nurses. On entering the Register, you will be awarded a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Certificate in Veterinary Nursing. Your entry to the Register entitles you, by law, to practise as a Veterinary Nurse under veterinary direction.

For further information on becoming a Veterinary Nurse, contact:

RCVS Veterinary Nursing Careers
Tel: 020 7202 0788
Email: vetnursing@rcvs.org.uk


Other useful contacts

The British Veterinary Nursing Association
Tel: 01279 408644

The Sector Skills Council for the environmental and land-based sector
Tel: 0845 707 8007

Veterinary industry websites

Veterinary Nurse careers and contacts information courtesy of the BVNA and RCVS.

Veterinary Nurse jobs at White Cross Vets

We’re always on the look out for outstanding and caring Vet Nurses. If you would like to become part of the White Cross Vets family, please get in touch.

Visit our Careers page and find out why our employees voted us into the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to work for four years’ running.