• What's it like to be a veterinary nurse?

A Veterinary Nurse's Role in the Name of Animal Welfare


Their uniforms are often hairier than their patients. When you’re in need of pet care and advice, they always lend a helping hand. And when their working day is over, they never stop caring for animals.

Who are we talking about? That’s right. Our veterinary nurses – registered and all.

There are not enough words in the world to show how much we admire all that they do for animal welfare. To put it quite simply, we’d be lost without them.

So, to celebrate and raise awareness of the fantastic work our veterinary nurses do this Veterinary Nurse Awareness Month, we caught up with our Head Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN), Carrie Apps, from Medivet Southend, to find out why she chose a career as a veterinary nurse, and why her role is so important to the health and wellbeing of all animals in Medivet’s care.

So Carrie, why did you become a veterinary nurse?

Despite having a passion for animals from a young age, after I finished school I went to college and studied journalism – one of my many passions.

When I was about 16 years old, I got an afternoon job at a pet shop advising about animal care. The pet shop sold hamsters and rabbits and, inevitably, sometimes animals became sick and we would have to take them to the vet.

I found I got a lot of satisfaction from being able to look after the animals in need and nursing them back to health. I also found that I had a strong desire to do my best to fix every living thing that was in pain or suffering, so I decided to quit journalism and focus on becoming a veterinary nurse.

It took me a few years to get a student nurse placement as training positions are very limited. Eventually I got a placement at a referral clinic for exotic animals and carried out my student nurse training; I haven’t looked back since. I have truly found my vocation in life.

What do veterinary nurses do?

The role of a veterinary nurse is extremely varied!

Not only do we provide inpatient care to sick animals – making sure they are comfortable, providing food and fluids, and administering medication – but we also carry out anaesthesia, prepare patients for surgical procedures, and we can carry out minor surgical procedures under the veterinary surgeon’s direction.

We take and process X-rays and blood samples and we perform laboratory testing. We also carry out nurse clinics for outpatients to clip claws, provide advice on preventative healthcare or nutrition, and many other behind-the-scenes activities, such as cleaning and maintaining equipment needed for the day-to-day running of the hospital.

What training did you do to ensure you provide the highest level of care?

There are two routes that you can take to become a veterinary nurse.

You can carry out vocational training, which means you learn practical skills on the job and go to college once a week.

Or, you can take the higher education route and go to university, which means you learn all of the theory in one chunk and then carry out a practical placement.

I carried out vocational training to gain my NVQ Level 3 in Veterinary Nursing. This took two and a half years, four written exams, one practical exam and a portfolio full of evidence that I was competent in the practical aspects of veterinary nursing. I was very proud that once I had qualified I got to wear the green uniform at a graduation ceremony in London!

I enjoyed my training so much. The first thing I did after qualifying was carry out more training so I could teach student veterinary nurses – something I still have the pleasure of carrying out today.

I believe that the initial veterinary nursing qualification only really scratches the surface of what a veterinary nurse has the potential to be, which is why I have carried out extra training at every opportunity.

I don’t think I will ever stop learning. The industry constantly changes and evolves and there is new evidence and research all the time which changes the way we nurse, so it is important to stay up-to-date and never think you know it all. I’d love to get a Master’s Degree in Veterinary Nursing one day.

What does a typical day look like for you?

In our 24-hour hospital, our nurses are either responsible for the inpatients or the surgical procedures for the day.

The nurses that are responsible for the inpatients tend to start very early in the morning. We start with a ward handover from the night nurses to the day nurse, which involves a review of how the patient has been over the last 12 hours or if there are any nursing interventions or investigations that need to be performed during the day.

Next we clean every patient’s kennel and provide clean bedding, walk the dogs, and administer medication that is due. After this we might have a quick tidy up before the vets start their shift and check the patients over, which we help with by holding the animals and making sure equipment or medication is available to use, and again walk the patients, check beds are dry and administer medications!

At lunch time the next shift of nurses arrive and we have another handover so everyone is informed on the cases that are being cared for.

Eventually the night nurses come and take over from the day staff and it all starts over again. It sounds repetitive, but this is my favourite type of nursing as you really get to know the patient and it is very hands on, allowing me to put all of my skills into practice.

Surgical nurses start the day by preparing for any surgical procedures that are booked in. If it’s a cat spay, a laparoscopic spay, an endoscope of the stomach, or X-rays and a dental, the nursing team then prepare all of the equipment and machinery the vet would need to use, clean the theatres before surgery starts, and prepare for anaesthetic inductions, including calculating and drawing up medications. 

What do you love most about being a veterinary nurse?

This is a difficult question to answer because I love being a nurse in general!

In no particular order: I love the variety of cases. I love that no two days are ever the same. I love bonding with the patients and getting to know owners. I love the problem solving that revolves around how we can improve the patients’ condition. I love the team that I work with. And I love the fact that I work in a 24-hour hospital that provides round-the-clock care.

What advice would you give to anybody who is thinking about becoming a veterinary nurse?

To start with I’d say get as much experience in the animal care profession as you can. This might even mean carrying out voluntary work if you can’t find a placement straight away.

Once you find a placement, embrace every single thing nursing throws at you and you will get the most out of it. The more you put into this job the more you get out of it.

Veterinary nursing is hard work and it can be upsetting at times, but it is definitely worth it when you nurse a patient and get to play a part in their recovery, from illness or injury, and see them return home to their owner.

Is veterinary nursing your dream career? Perhaps you already are one and want to progress your skills. We have a variety of veterinary nursing roles available to suit your needs.

So, if you’d like to join our growing and supportive family, head over to our website to see what opportunities we have available near you.

Or give our friendly recruitment team a call on 01923 920 890 for an informal chat – they’d be delighted to hear from you!

To make an enquiry click here or find your local practice