From school leaver to vet nursing leadership

Craig Tessyman and tortoise

From a very early age all I wanted to do was to work in the veterinary field, I was inspired by television shows and books, imagining it was me making a difference to animal’s lives. I started to carve out my career path by gaining work experience at farms, stables, pet shops, and a placement at a busy veterinary practice. My mind was set, nothing would stop me. I sat my GCSE exams and did well. However, while doing A levels, I realised I was more of a kinaesthetic learner, so working and learning on the job was more suited to me.

I started to gain experience by working three days a week at a new practice, while I enrolled on an animal management course. Shortly after starting, the head nurse and senior vet said they could see something in me and asked if I had thought about pursuing a career in veterinary nursing. This was something I was considering at the time and having people in the profession tell me I had what it takes was the push I needed.

Beginning my veterinary nursing journey

I left college to start my journey towards being a veterinary nurse. I gained my qualification in pre-veterinary nursing, then a veterinary nursing qualification, while working in a practice that saw a large exotic animal case load.

After five years, I found a job as a rotating nurse in a busy multi-disciplinary referral hospital. This opened up new exciting learning opportunities. I enjoyed being a rotating nurse working within different teams, but ultimately I decided to work in theatre with the referral orthopaedic team.

After needing to take time away from work to recover from an injury, I returned as a rotating first opinion nurse. I continued in this role for two years before moving to work in an emergency critical care and out of hours centre. I learnt new procedures and protocols, and again this pushed me forward to learn more.

I worked out-of-hours for five years and I encourage any veterinary nurse and veterinary surgeon to go and work a couple of out-of-hours shifts; the skills and knowledge I gained have been instrumental in my progression and passion as a vet nurse.

I was then contacted by my first boss who asked if I would be interested in covering a maternity contract at his practice. This practice had a larger exotics case load and rekindled my passion for exotic animals. I looked at my work-life balance, considered my passion for exotic animals and decided to accept his offer. This part-time contract turned into full-time, and I became the head nurse. I became active within the British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) nursing community, where I began to lecture for nurses during the annual CPD events.

Craig Tessyman and ring tailed lemur

In 2015 the exotic veterinary practice and the referral hospital where I had previously worked came together to discuss the potential of integrating. Twelve weeks later we moved into the hospital. After a 6-month trial the hospital offered us full-time residency. During my time at the hospital, I have become a team leader; a clinical coach to several students; and provider of in-house CPD on many exotic and wildlife cases, and have expanded into chairing an exotics and wildlife special interest group as well as also being a member of rabbit and veterinary nursing groups.


I volunteered for BSAVA publishing committee for five years where I co-wrote a chapter on animal enrichment for a new textbook. In 2019 I was a finalist for Petplan’s vet nurse of the year award. To be recognised was truly amazing. It also meant a great deal to me as a male nurse in this field. A hurdle I had to face when I began was a lack of male role models in the veterinary nursing profession, and I feel privileged to now be one.

At lunch with a good friend and wonderful vet nurse, they convinced me to apply for a seat on the BVNA council. I sent through my application, shortly after I received news that I had been nominated by the public as a member of council. I was honoured. The wider public had taken the time to vote me into a position that I held in such high regard, and which has great relevance and importance for the future of the veterinary nursing profession.

In 2021, I moved into a seat as an officer and took the role of honorary treasurer, this came with an extra level of responsibility that I enjoy. Working with the officer team is inspirational and I feel lucky to hold this position along with some exceptional nurses.

My responsibilities within BVNA have surpassed the work of BVNA council. I now also sit on boards for the BVA, discussing non-traditional companion animals and the ATBC canine and ABTC Equine sub-committees and working group. I find these roles incredibly rewarding and insightful. To sit on a board of incredibly knowledgeable vets and experts where my opinion is appreciated and valid is humbling. At times I’ve found it hard to overcome my own feelings, in terms of believing I am good at what I do, but I think this has been an important part of my professional development. Without being able to self-reflect, develop and learn, I wouldn’t be where I am now.

Craig Tessyman rabbit surgery

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