Routes into veterinary nursing

Student vet nurse

(photograph courtesy of the British Veterinary Nursing Association)

The routes into veterinary nursing are varied, so the career is as accessible to as many people as possible. Whether you are very academic, or learn more by doing, the variety of routes means that you have a range of opportunities to succeed in your profession of choice.

Whichever route you choose, there are some elements that you will need to meet during your training to qualify as a veterinary nurse. 

  • You must be enrolled with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) as a Student Veterinary Nurse. This will give you an enrolment number and allow you to complete certain tasks in practice that are protected by law (under Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966).
  • You will need to be at least 16 years old to access the Level 3 diploma and 18 years old if you choose the university route or higher education.
  • You must complete a minimum of 1800 hours in a veterinary practice.
  • You will need to keep a log of the tasks you complete while on placement. This will demonstrate that you have the Day One skills needed to be admitted to the Register of Veterinary Nurses. While on your placement you will be supported by a designated clinical coach, who will train you within the veterinary practice.
  • You must demonstrate your Day One practical skills during exams to show your competency with the practical element of veterinary nursing. 

So now we have got the ‘must haves’ out the way, we can explore the different routes that are available to enable you to reach your goal of becoming a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN).

The first route we will look at is further education

This route provides a Level 3 diploma. To take this route, you’ll require a minimum of 5 GCSEs at a grade C/level 4 and above, and these must include Maths, English and Science. You’ll be working within a practice, which will put you through the training – so it’s good to build relationships with local practices and gain some experience before you start your training.

The veterinary practice where you train must be an RCVS-approved training practice as this ensures it has the staff available to support you and the right equipment. You can find a list of approved training practices on the RCVS website.

There is an apprenticeship available with this route, which will assist with funding.

Within this route there is a blend of learning. You will often be in practice four days a week and attend college one day a week. You can download a list of further education colleges that offer veterinary nursing qualifications here.

Some colleges offer a block-release style where you attend practice for a period of time and then attend college for a separate block of time – this may be useful if you live a distance away from a college, but it would come with accommodation costs.

This route usually takes two to three years.

The next route we will look at is higher education

There are a few different routes to a veterinary nursing qualification within higher education, ranging from Level 4 (diploma) through Level 5 (foundation degree [FdSc]) to Level 6 BSc/BSc Hons (degree) and these routes take between two and four years to complete.

All of these routes do require A-levels/Highers, and the topics and grades needed will vary depending on the course/level and also the institution’s entry criteria.

But there is another way if you do not have A-levels. You can complete a Level 3 qualification in animal care/management or similar and then apply to university to complete the FdSc in veterinary nursing.

Although at the end of the higher education route you still become an RVN like those completing the Level 3 diploma, this route has a heavier weighting on theory – developing research skills, critical thinking opportunities, etc. However the core/Day One skills are exactly the same. 

This route often has to be funded by a student loan though. Placement practices are not required to pay you for your work while you’re on placement, but they will provide you with a clinical coach to support your Day One skills. 

You can find out more about which higher education institutions offer veterinary nursing by clicking here.

Some extra bits of information about veterinary nursing!

Work experience

It is a really good idea to get as much work experience as possible in a variety of animal-based work environments and veterinary practice, to give you a good insight into what is involved in your chosen career; this will also help you with applications to college/university. Often universities require you to have a minimum number of hours of work experience to support your application.


Salaries tend to start at £18,000–£21,000 for newly qualified veterinary nurses and most will increase with experience/qualifications/job role.

Continuing professional development

Once you have completed your training the learning doesn’t stop!

Each year RVNs have to prove they have completed a minimum of 15 hours of continuing professional development, or CPD. This ensures we keep our skills as up to date as possible. CPD is usually supported by your workplace, which may also have some funding set aside to support its team in their development.

Career opportunities

There is a world of opportunities once you have achieved your RVN status. These include:

  • General practice veterinary nurse
  • Referral hospital veterinary nurse (specialist procedures and nursing)
  • Charity nursing
  • Leadership and management roles – veterinary nurses own practices, others have senior roles in many of the larger veterinary companies
  • Animal behaviourist (extra course required)
  • Hydrotherapist/physiotherapist (extra courses required)
  • Teacher/lecturer/writer
  • Sales representative – for veterinary drugs or pet food
  • Research
  • Laboratory work
  • Practice quality assurance roles
  • Pet insurance claims assessor

This list is by no means exhaustive but gives you a flavour of all the options open to you once you have become an RVN. There are also a huge number of pathways available to enable you to pursue a specialism. We have veterinary nurses who have Master’s degrees and even a PhD, but if pursuing higher education isn’t for you, your mark can be made in practice making a difference for the patients in your care. 

Our profession is growing and developing, and it’s an exciting time to be part of it. Upholding animal welfare is at the centre of all we do. 

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