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Veterinary Nurse Awareness Month – what does it take to become a veterinary nurse?

In her final post, Student Veterinary Nurse Becca Talbott covers the training process to become a qualified Registered Veterinary Nurse.

Are you wanting to become a veterinary nurse? If that is the case, this is a short article about my journey to becoming one. I also just want to add that it is never too late to become a veterinary nurse or have a change in career path!

There are so many different routes to becoming a veterinary nurse.  Some people start as an animal nursing assistant (similar to a kennel hand), others start as a veterinary receptionist, some dive right in – I am one who dove straight in at the deep end. I also know of people that have gone from being a veterinary nurse to a veterinary surgeon, anything is possible if you are willing to put the work in. I am afraid that no matter the route you decide to take there is going to be a lot of gruelling hard work, but trust me it all pays off in the end.

Unfortunately, all of us have to start with work experience, so go and get the hours in at any local veterinary practice you can! This is also a great opportunity for you to decide if it is actually the course for you.

Now, get applying to some courses. There are several types of course out there and the one thing I will say is: Do your research and consider what is best suited to you and the route you wish to take. There are options to go down the small animal route (family pets), or large animal (farm) or equine and even exotic, the choice is yours. For the small animal route which I chose, there are a few options on how to become a qualified veterinary nurse. There is the diploma option that takes 3 years, this includes a few days at college during the week and the rest spent on a veterinary placement. There is the option of a university degree which usually takes 4 years and requires the addition of work experience in the holidays. Make sure you consider costings of the course, accommodation, extra requirements and work-life balance when deciding on a course that is best for you, as well as what you want to achieve qualification wise by the end of it. As although no matter the course you choose upon passing we will all be put on the same Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons register for nurses, which is a paid privilege, each course works up in difficulty and the extent of knowledge learnt. In turn, this leads to higher qualifications received at the end and potentially opening up further career prospects in the future.  Veterinary nursing can act as a stepping stone onto many other routes and specialisation.

Now, there is the course that I am due to be completing the end of this academic year, a Foundation Degree in Veterinary Nursing that takes 3 years. This is a cross between the two mentioned above, as I am learning everything in depth and have to partake in skills and studies like a dissertation. But, I do this whilst working in practice during the other half of the week doing a veterinary placement. I decided a veterinary placement based course was one of the best options for me as it is on the job learning towards the day one skills needed to qualify and I find that I need to physically practise what I am learning for the benefit of memory. I have also found that this has prepared me for when I am qualified, as I will not feel as though I have been thrown in at the deep end.

Training is difficult, I will not pretend that it is not.  It is like learning an entirely new language and time management is a priority. You will have assignments and written exams on modules like theatre practice and anaesthesia, or care and rehabilitation. Then the dreaded OSCEs at the end of the course that no matter the route you have taken are a requirement to be added to the RCVS register. The OSCEs are a series of practical exams that asses your competency at being able to carry out day to day tasks you may be asked to in practice. As well as these forms of examination, you are required to complete a nursing progress log. This outlines any task that you may come across in practice, these each have to be completed and monitored by a person in your training practice known as a clinical coach – who is your Godsend at this time of study! This log is there to indicate your competency at these tasks, highlighting to the RCVS that you are ready to be given professional responsibility and held liable for your own actions upon qualification. Your OSCEs cannot be taken until this log is signed off at 100%, otherwise, it shows that you are not yet ready to be a practising veterinary nurse.

At this moment in time, I have nearly completed the 3 years of my course so have finished all written work to include assignments, exams and my dissertation, with just my practical exams to go. I must say at this point in time, even before taking my practical examinations, I am proud of how far I have come and can say for certain that all the hard work has paid off. Not only has this path helped me improve my career prospects, but better myself as a person and meet people I could never imagine being without.

Now it is time for me to go and take my OSCEs and get qualified, I hope to see some of you wanting to do the same sometime soon!

You can read Becca’s other posts about what a veterinary nurse does and why she chose this career in our news blog.

You can also learn more about our veterinary nursing team in their ‘Guess Who?’ series which featured on our Facebook page this month.

The title ‘Veterinary Nurse’ is not protected, we believe it should be. You can read more about this campaign here.

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