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Veterinary nursing

Veterinary nurses work alongside Veterinary Surgeons in the care and treatment of animal patients, within veterinary surgeries or hospitals. They work with domestic and exotic animals, horses and farm animals. Veterinary nurses provide skilled supportive care for sick animals as well as undertaking minor surgery, monitoring during anaesthesia, medical treatments and diagnostic tests under veterinary supervision. Alternative treatments and therapies are becoming increasingly popular, so veterinary nurses need to extend their traditional skill base to cover these areas and nutritional management. Veterinary nurses also play an important role in the education of owners on good standards of animal care.

Veterinary nurses expect that the demand for nurses will increase over the next 10 years. Although recruitment is not a particular issue for the industry, retention rates are low. The trend for higher level skills is also reflected in veterinary nursing with Higher National Diploma and BSc in Veterinary Nursing becoming increasingly popular.

Key statistics:

  • There are approximately 7,419 registered veterinary nurses, there are also:
    • 1,478 unlisted nurses whose registration has lapsed within the last 5 years
    • 196 unqualified veterinary nurses (i.e. recently completed training, but have not yet registered)
    • 3,781 student veterinary nurses
  • Training to be a Veterinary Nurse usually takes at least two years.
  • Most students are female, white British, and between the ages of 25 – 35.
  • Veterinary nursing requires a minimum entry at Level 3, which high compared to other industries in the sector.
  • There are around 4,036 practices.
  • There is an average of 16 people working in each practice, of which 13% are listed qualified veterinary nurses and 43% are support staff.
  • Only 2% of the workforce is male.
  • 1% of veterinary nurses are from an ethnic minority group.
  • 56% of the workforce is aged 20-29 years and 31% is 30-39 years.
  • 3% of the workforce has some form of work limited disability.
  • 64% of veterinary nurses are employed full-time.
  • 98.5% hold or are working towards a small animal qualification.

Jobs in the industry include: head nursing assistant, student veterinary nurse, senior veterinary nurse, nurse assessor, student nursing assistant

Veterinary nurses who qualified after 2007 are required to be registered on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ (RCVS) Register of veterinary nurses. This is optional for those already qualified as a Veterinary Nurse. Nurses can train and register as either a small animal or equine veterinary nurse.

To enrol as a student veterinary nurse, entrants are required to be employed as a student veterinary nurse at an RCVS-registered training practice (either small animal or equine) and have 5 GCSEs at grade C of above in English Language, Mathematics and one science subject. Alternatively, entrants will have passed the Animal Nursing Assistant qualification and Key Skills Level 2 in Application of Number and Communication, or a comparable or higher standard qualification may be accepted. A BSc Honours in Veterinary Nursing degree is also a route into the industry. Those over 21 years without formal qualifications can apply, but should be able to show high levels of ability and experience.

Current and future skills shortages in the industry are:

  • The care and treatment of animal patients, including assisting in operations, preparation for theatre, post-operative monitoring, the monitoring and maintaining of equipment and drugs
  • High level sector specific technical skills
  • Administration of medicines by injection
  • Administration of anaesthetics pre-medication and anaesthetic monitoring
  • Setting up an intravenous line
  • Taking blood samples and radiographs
  • Performing in-house laboratory tasks
  • Dental hygiene
  • Preparing and dispensing medication.
  • General housekeeping, cleaning the kennel area, consulting room and theatre
  • Customer service skills, managing customer expectations and needs in advising owners on care, nutrition, vaccinations etc.
  • Receptionist skills including dealing with bereavements
  • Animal welfare skills in response to new legislation and the associated duty of care
  • Animal behaviour in light of increasing customer demands, especially nutrition and alternative therapies
  • Mentoring and supervisory skills and such as team building, delegation, networking, and supporting trainees
  • Managerial skills on some occasions

The industry does not have any particular recruitment difficulties as veterinary nursing is a popular choice for school leavers and career changers.


National and regional data:

  • North West – There are an estimated 617 employees in the regional workforce.
  • Yorkshire and the Humber – There are an estimated 432 employees in the regional workforce.
  • East Midlands – There are an estimated 370 employees in the regional workforce.
  • North East – There are an estimated 185 employees in the regional workforce.

[N.B. The following estimates are for veterinary nurses, veterinary surgeons and ancillary services.]

  • South East – There are an estimated 7,555 employees in the regional workforce, in around 775 businesses.
  • East of England – There are an estimated 4,326 employees in the regional workforce, in around 500 businesses.
  • South West – There are an estimated 4,093 employees in the regional workforce, in around 580 businesses.
  • West Midlands – There are an estimated 3,930 employees in the regional workforce, in around 355 businesses.
  • Scotland – There are an estimated 2,933 employees in the regional workforce, in around 415 businesses.
  • Wales – There are an estimated 2,726 employees in the regional workforce, in around 255 businesses.
  • Northern Ireland – There are an estimated 2,346 employees in the regional workforce, in around 145 businesses.
  • London – There are an estimated 939 employees in the regional workforce, in around 360 businesses.

Pay scales in this industry are variable, so the following only provides an indication of the average annual salary paid to some full-time positions:

  • Qualified veterinary nurse £16,635
  • Degree veterinary nurse £15,838
  • 1st Year Student £10,516
  • 2nd Year Student £11,574
  • ANA/VCA £10,609
  • Other staff (including receptionists, office staff, practice managers) £13,934

Further information on salaries can be found on the Defra and British Veterinary Nursing Association websites.

Source: Lantra AACS LMI report 2010