How to become a veterinary nurse

Wildlife Aid Foundation veterinary nurse Lucy Kells flew to Italy to release a cuckoo she had rehabilitated. 

Lucy Kells caring for a tawny alongside Wildlife Aid founder Simon Cowell

What does a veterinary nurse do?

Registered Veterinary Nurses (RVNs) work alongside vets in order to provide a high standard of care for animals. An RVN may work at a veterinary surgery or veterinary hospital, as well as specialist referral centres, or charities. The role involves providing skilled supportive care for sick animals as well as undertaking minor surgery, monitoring during anaesthesia, medical treatments and diagnostic tests under veterinary supervision. It may also be your responsibility to educate animal owners on good standards of animal care.

What is the difference between a veterinary nurse and a vet?

A veterinary nurse studies for two to three years at college to become a qualified nurse. A vet needs three A-levels and to do a five-year degree course, too. Vets have more responsibility than nurses do - a nurse cannot diagnose or operate, for example. Nurses can stitch wounds, give medications that have been prescribed by the vet and do minor surgery, but our biggest job is to care for the animals. RVNs can specialise as there are many certificates you can obtain. I have a Diploma in advanced veterinary nursing

How would you describe a typical day in the job?

My average day consists of giving medications to all the patients in our care, and as we are a charity I supervise all the volunteers who help care for the hundreds of animals we have staying with us. I also answer public queries about wildlife in their local area or gardens, assist our voluntary vets with operations, and provide first aid and care to the multitude of wildlife admissions we get every day. In my whole time as a veterinary nurse at Wildlife Aid Foundation, no two days have ever been the same. We deal with more than 20,000 wildlife emergencies every year, including foxes, badgers, deer, swans, ducks, pigeons, cuckoos, squirrels, hedgehogs, and even the occasional otter!

What has been your most memorable case?

I would say the most memorable case was working with a cuckoo, named Idemili. Cuckoos are a red listed species and their numbers are declining at a dangerous rate. This particular cuckoo was very special as she was part of the BTO cuckoo tracking project so had a GPS pack attached to her. It took us two months to nurse her back to health so she could be released, but by the time she was ready to fly she had missed her window of opportunity to migrate with other cuckoos. She would have struggled to find food and never made the journey to Africa. British Airways agreed to fly Idemili and myself to Italy to release her. I will never forget that emotional journey and my time with such a special little bird.

What advice would you give to an aspiring vet nurse?

Visit the British Veterinary Nursing Association website. It has everything you need to know, such as job specifications, what qualifications you need, how to find a training practice, how much a vet nurse might earn and career progression.

Find out more about the Wildlife Aid Foundation.

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