Holly works as a Veterinary Nurse in a small Animal Hospital. Her main responsibilities include assisting vets in theatre; animal aftercare; feeding and cleaning the animals under her care; administering anaesthetics; analysing fluid samples and running weight clinics.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have recently taken further training to specialise in nutrition and currently run the dog weight clinics at the practice.
So how did you get to this point in your career?
I have always had an interest in animals but never thought to pursue it as a career. I studied English at University and in my final year I decided I wanted a practical, hands-on job rather than going down the academic route. I had studied Biology A-level and loved it so thought about going back to using these skills. After speaking to my careers advisors, I decided to get some work experience in a veterinary practice to see if this kind of work would be something that I could enjoy doing.
I worked at a few practices, each for a few weeks at a time, and found that the job was quite different to what I had expected. I didn’t realise how much responsibility veterinary nurses have however, this does vary between practices, depending on how large they are. Work experience really gave me an insight into the work involved and made me realise that it was what I wanted to do. I had also been weighing up the pros and cons of veterinary nurse versus vet and this allowed me to see both jobs in action and make my decision.
In the end, I opted for veterinary nursing as vet training is long and difficult and whilst the role is more prestigious and the responsibility is greater, the amount of time spent with each animal is minimal.
What are the highs and lows?
- The pay is not great
- It’s difficult dealing with suffering animals who must be put down, especially when you have spent a lot of time caring for them
- It’s quite difficult getting into the profession and you need to demonstrate experience in the area
- Cleaning up after very messy pets
- Some practices require you to work night shifts but it depends how big the practice is as smaller ones tend not to do this
- There is a lot of studying involved, 2 years worth, as well as exams at the end of each year
- It’s a very satisfying job
- Spending a lot of time getting to know the animals and watching their health improve
- Varied workload – every day is different to the next
- Hands-on, practical work where you get to use the skills you learnt whilst training
- Whilst it’s a difficult profession to get into, when you’re in there is no shortage of jobs nationwide
Any qualifications/training you would recommend?
You can either train with a practice, who will send you on the relevant courses whilst you gain experience on the job. This is the route I took and I would spend 3 days at the practice and 2 days at college learning the theory for the exams, for 2 years. Some practices send you out on a block release basis where you spend 6 weeks in the practice and say, 3 weeks at college. This route is probably better if you have a degree and want to get paid whilst studying.
The other route you can take is studying at college full-time and there are numerous veterinary colleges that run veterinary nurse courses and degrees. The advantage of this is that you have already completed your training so practices are more willing to take you on, but the disadvantage is that you will have to pay for it yourself. This is probably the most common route but both ways work.
The most important thing is to gain work experience as this shows an interest in the subject and often, as in my case, the practice might decide to employ you, if you impress. You will also need 2 science GCSE’s. You will be studying animal biology in depth for the Veterinary Nursing exams so you will need the basics beforehand. After you have completed the Veterinary Nursing exams, you can do advanced exams or specialise in certain areas.
What about attitude, personality or interests?
- You need to be tough as you will be dealing with sick animals who may not get better and this can be very emotional
- You must have a good level of fitness as you may be lifting very heavy dogs or equipment
- Be compassionate and caring as you will need to console worried pet owners
How have you found opportunities in this field?
My work experience allowed me to network with practice managers and this got me a foot in the door. I also joined websites and became a member of the BVNA which gave me access to job opportunities and veterinary journals which helped with my research for interviews.
What advice would you give someone considering a similar career?
- Get experience, it’s so important as it gives you an insight in to job itself and allows you to ask any questions you may have and also looks great on your CV, especially if you have not carried out any relevant training.
- Join the BVNA, it has a wealth of information that is very useful. Also, look at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons online as it is also very useful.
- If you have no science qualifications, you will need to either take science GCSE’s or you could do BTEC qualifications in Animal Management.
- Most of all, be patient and determined. It may take time to find a job or even work experience but keep trying, keep calling practices, speak to people you may know in the profession and eventually something will come along.
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