Working as part of the veterinary team – whether as a vet or a vet nurse – is a very demanding, stressful, and incredibly rewarding job. However, as a result, both jobs are pretty competitive to get into! So, here are our Top Tips if you want to train as a vet or a vet nurse…
What’s the difference?
It’s vital to remember that a nurse isn’t just a junior, inferior copy of, or an assistant to, the vet.
The vet’s job ultimately is to make decisions on medical and surgical treatment of animals, and then to prescribe treatment or perform surgery.
The primary role of a veterinary nurse is completely different – their job is to care for the animal and look after it while treatment proceeds.
Of course, both vets and nurses do lots of other jobs as well (anaesthetist, radiography, radiologist, pathologist, clinical pathologist, receptionist, administrator, cleaner, dog-walker, groomer, grief-counsellor, midwife, and many more!), but these are their key responsibilities.
How do you become a Veterinary Surgeon?
In the UK, to be a vet, you have to be a registered Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (that’s why we all proudly put “MRCVS” after our names – it proves we have the right to practice!). To gain Membership, you have to complete a 5 or 6-year degree course at one of the Veterinary Schools. At the moment, there are only seven schools in the UK – at Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Nottingham Universities, and the Royal Veterinary College in London. Completion of the degree entitles the student to admission to the Royal College, and the right to practice – although not everyone does, and some people will spend much or all of their career in industry (especially pharmaceuticals), research or education.
What are the academic requirements?
Very high! There are usually 12-15 applicants per place, and so the vet schools can pick and choose from the most highly qualified candidates. This usually means 3 or 4 As at A-level, 36 points at IB, or equivalents (with a strong showing in Chemistry); or a previous degree in biological sciences. Occasionally, a lower (“contextual”) offer may be made, if there are particular reasons, or if the candidate is particularly strong in other areas, but don’t bank on it.
Is that all?
Not at all – most of those 12-15 applicants per place will have this level of qualification. If you want to put yourself in the running, you must have a broad experience of practical “work experience” in veterinary practices – as long and as wide as possible, seeing different areas of practice. You should also spend time working with animals in a non-veterinary context – on a farm, or at a kennels, or in a zoo or wildlife centre.
Universities nowadays are also very keen on what they term “well-rounded individuals” – those for whom academic study and preparation are only part of their life. So, evidence of hobbies, musical, literary or cultural accomplishment and similar are invaluable.
Is it worth it?
Definitely. Although the work is very hard, there’s a heavy burden of responsibility, and it is sometimes stressful, the rewards are fantastic (although not necessarily financial!).
Where can I find out more?
See the Royal College’s website here: http://www.rcvs.org.uk/education/i-want-to-be-a-vet/
Also, check out the individual Vet School websites and prospectuses for their specific offerings.
OK, what about veterinary nursing?
To practice as a veterinary nurse, you also need to be registered with the RCVS as a “Registered Veterinary Nurse” – RVN. There are, however, more gateways to becoming a nurse than being a vet. Nursing training is much more vocational, with time spent in both practice and the lecture theatre; and there are two major routes.
Level Three Diploma in Veterinary Nursing
The Diploma is a vocational qualification, usually run by agricultural and rural FE colleges. In most courses, you’ll spend one day a week at college, and the rest of your time working as a student veterinary nurse in practice. For this, you’ll have to be employed at a recognised and certified Training Practice, where the staff are trained in how to train you! To get onto the course, you MUST have C-Grade GCSEs in English and Maths or the Functional Skills equivalent – this is an RCVS requirement. If you’re coming straight from school, you’ll need at least three other Cs at GCSE, or a suitable Level 2 qualification (such as the Level 2 Animal Nursing Assistants course).
Degrees and Foundation Degrees in Veterinary Nursing
The degree courses are the Higher Education route, and are much more academic courses (although much of the material is similar). At the end, you will graduate with a BSc or FdSc in Veterinary Nursing. In most cases, you will be splitting your time between work (which may be unpaid) in a Training Practice, and academic study at a University or College. In addition to the GCSEs, you will usually need about 120 UCAS points (including 80 at A2 level). That said, the exact requirements vary from course to course, and there may be some leeway for mature students.
Where can I find out more?
See the RCVS website here: http://www.rcvs.org.uk/education/i-want-to-be-a-veterinary-nurse/
Also, check out your local FE and Rural Colleges; and University prospectuses.