Veterinary Nurse - How to enter the job
Tapuhi KarareheAlternative titles
Veterinary nurses help in the examination, treatment and rehabilitation of sick and injured animals. They also interact with clients and perform receptionist duties.
Veterinary nurses with up to three years' experience usually earn
$16-$18 per hour
Veterinary nurses with five years' experience or more usually earn
$21-$26 per hour
Current job prospects
How many people are doing this job?
Source: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
Pay for veterinary nurses varies depending on qualifications, experience and employer.
According to industry sources, veterinary nurses usually earn the following rates:
- New graduates and those with one to three years' experience, who hold a Diploma of Veterinary Nursing, are likely to earn between $16 and $18 an hour.
- Veterinary nurses with three to five years' experience can earn between $18 and $21 an hour.
- Those with five years' experience or more can earn $21 to $26 an hour.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Veterinary nurses may do some or all of the following:
- carry out administrative and receptionist duties at a clinic and give advice to clients over the phone
- feed and exercise animals
- perform duties under the direction of veterinarians, such as taking and developing x-rays, collecting blood samples, and testing animals for pregnancy
- clean, sterilise and prepare surgical instruments and other equipment used during operations
- assist during surgical procedures including monitoring the anaesthetic
- perform diagnostic tests and keep records
- clean the cages and surgery areas, and carry out general cleaning duties at a veterinary clinic
- accompany and assist veterinarians on call-outs to locations such as houses and farms.
Skills and knowledge
Veterinary nurses need to have:
- animal-handling skills
- knowledge of basic science, including the anatomy and physiology of animals
- knowledge of animal care, hygiene and medicines.
- may work regular business hours or flexible hours. They may be required to be on call, do shift work, and work on weekends
- work in veterinary clinics or surgeries and other locations such as farms and stables
- may have to travel locally to visit clients, especially if working in a rural area.
What's the job really like?
Caring for animals – but not too much
"There's quite a bit that I enjoy about vet nursing, mainly caring for a sick patient in the hospital and seeing that patient get better and happier.
"You need to be able to love the animals and treat them well but at the same time not get too attached. Because even though you've done everything you can for them, sometimes it's just not enough and they do pass away so you need to be able to just carry on with your job, and not be too upset about it."
What aspiring vet nurses need to know about the job
"The advice I would give to someone looking at becoming a vet nurse is to definitely go to a clinic and do some work experience before they choose to study.
"Just to see what the vet nurse actually does because it's not all fun stuff – there is a lot of cleaning involved. You need to be somebody that pays attention to detail. You do need to have a lot of housekeeping skills."
Watch the video above to find out about being a vet nurse - 8.23 mins. (Video courtesy of Just the Job)
Clinton: Emily is going to join two Nelson veterinary teams, one based at Richmond, and the other here at Stoke Vets.
Donna: Hi Emily?
Emily: Hi there!
Donna: I heard you’re interested in having a career in vet nursing?
Emily: I am, yep!
Donna: Wonderful, that’s great. We’ll give you a show around and see what we can do with you today.
Emily: Yep! Thanks.
Clinton: Donna Lindqvist has worked at Stoke Vets as a vet nurse for five years. This veterinary practice mainly deal with domestic pets, mostly dogs and cats.
Donna: Basically, vets cut, and we do everything in between.
Donna: Vet nurses they seem to see the animals from start to finish – see them recover, send them off home and deal with the clients as well.
Clinton: And the job is very varied.
Donna: It can be from dealing with dealing with clients, doing nurses consults, getting your hands dirty, helping with surgery, scrubbing in, taking radiographs, doing cytology. It’s huge, it’s one of those days that everyday is something different.
Clinton: This is Cody who’s in for de-sexing. It’s a very routine operation which involves a full anaesthetic.
Emily: [checking heartbeat] Sounds normal to me…
Clinton: After a pre-med check-up, Cody gets a tranquilising shot.
Donna: A little injection..
Donna: …and that’s it…
Donna: …what a brave puppy.
Clinton: One of the side effects of the sedative is the dog is likely to vomit and poo. It’s the job of a vet nurse to clean it up.
Donna: They need to have a lot of initiative, it’s really important. You need to be able to hit the ground running – it’s a busy job.
Donna: What we’re looking at here his heart rate…
Emily: Oh yep…
Donna: …and his oxygen saturation. So we’ve got his blood pressure here as well of 98, so anything above 90 is what we want to see, so we don’t want to see anything under 90.
Donna: In the veterinary industry, you’re really close-knit with the vets, the support staff and the nurses and all that kind of stuff. It’s a collaborative thing that we all have to work well together.
Donna: This is probably the most dangerous period of an animal’s anaesthetic – it’s the recovery phase so we need to still monitor them really vigilantly.
Donna: When we do routine surgeries and things like that, they bounce back hugely. They’re up and about, they’re fine to go home and they’re happy.
Donna: So we’re going to give him some pain relief. So this is the dog equivalent of our voltaren or nurofen.
Emily: [inserting medicine into dog’s mouth] Quite far?
Donna: No, that’s plenty. Just onto his tongue is perfect.
Emily: Good boy!
Donna: What a good boy!
Clinton: Cody will soon be good to go. Heading in today for a check-up is DJ. He’s overweight and on a long term programme to get his size down.
Donna: 7.58kg. So he was 7.8 kilos last time so that’s really good so we’re still continuing to lose the weight that we want to, but this is a long term progress – we don’t want to make them lose weight too quickly.
Donna: What a star, DJ!
Clinton: A prescription food, high in nutrients but low in calories, is being used to sustain weight loss.
Donna: It is nice to know he’s on a really good quality food and it’s a little bit like having a nice wholegrain sandwich as opposed to some takeaway burger. It makes you feel fuller for longer.
Clinton: And this is Dylan, who seems to have made a dog’s dinner out of his cage. Out you come Dylan.
Emily: He’s really shredded that up!
Donna: You’ve got to be able to get down and dirty when you need to. Sometimes it can get a bit messy!
Donna: It’s one of those jobs that every day is a different day. It’s not the same thing every day. You can never get bored; there’s always something to do.
Donna: And it’s nice to be able to see that you are making a difference with animals.
Clinton: A vet nurse will do lab work too. It might be preparing a swab from a cat’s infected ear, or a urine test for a diabetic dog.
Donna: So you see anything strange in that abdomen?
Emily: I can see a spine here…
Donna: Yep, that’s a spine…
Emily: …and a baby spine!
Donna: A baby spine! So we’ve got a mummy dog! And we’ve got one puppy.
Donna: We all love animals and that’s why we work with them, so it’s nice when we help them and it’s lovely when we see a happy client with a happy pet at the end of the day.
Clinton: Next day Emily’s headed out to join the team at Richmond’s Town and Country vets. The practise looks after larger farm animals, cows, pigs -and horses too.
Clinton: Emily’s first job is a faecal egg count for a deer farm nearby. The test will decide if treatment is needed for worms.
Annette: This is the lab area Emily where we will do the faecal egg count.
Clinton: With a sample of deer poo, Emily teams up with vet nurse Annette McFadgen who will show her how it’s done.
Annette: Sometimes you’ll get 25 of these to do and it’s just non-stop.
Annette: We need to know quite a bit about the large animal side of things. We do get goats, pigs, alpaca, llamas and things that all do come in out the back – we’ve had a miniature horse out the back that had to have surgery.
Emily: [looking down microscope] I can see something moving around…
Annette: Can you?
Annette: Oh yeah, you’ve actually got a worm. That’s not what we’re looking for, we’re looking for the eggs – this one is out of its egg already. So that’s a larval stage, goodness me.
Emily: They’re tiny aren’t they?
Annette: Yep, they are tiny.
Annette: Good one, keep going.
Clinton: The deer will definitely need a drench. Out the back there’s an unusual arrival. Meet Rosie, a tame wallaby who has a jaw bone infection. She’s here for something rather rare in New Zealand, treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
Annette: It helps to heal wounds about 15 times faster than they would normally heal.
Clinton: Breathing oxygen at an increased pressure dissolves much more into the blood. This, in turn, promotes faster natural healing. It’s a good additional treatment for problems like tissue damage or infection.
Annette: It keeps costs down, it reduces the amount of antibiotics that need to be used and the animals seem to like it as well.
Annette: Are you coming out?
Annette: She quite likes it in there, thank you very much! I might stay there.
Annette: Whoops! Here she comes…
Clinton: With Rosie on the road to recovery Emily hits the road too, off to the Beacon Hill Equine Clinic and another vet nurse to meet.
Clinton: Laurie Talbot loves horses, and she’ll be showing Emily another aspect of the job.
Laurie: We’ve got a mare who has come in and she had a big problem during foaling. The foal’s legs came thought the wrong hole basically when she was having the foal so we are doing an examination of her today to determine the damage that was actually done and we are going to have to do surgery early next week to fix that so it’s just to go through the extent of what the surgery is going to be.
Roger: [checking the horse] I’m very pleased with what I see because it means that the surgical procedure is going to be relatively straight-forward. I’ve had much worse than this.
That’s good, so in terms of my examination today I know that when I come back to do the surgery that I’m only going to need a modest amount of equipment and that’s fantastic.
Laurie: I really love my job. Everyday you come to work and you’re not really sure of what’s going to be involved really, and we’re really helping owners make great decisions for taking care of their pets so it’s very rewarding in that way.
Laurie: Emily has done a great job today. She’s shown definite skills with handling the horses and she’s definitely shown compassion for the animals and I think she’s got the goods to make an excellent vet nurse.
Emily: It’s been really good that last couple of days. We were at the clinic yesterday with dogs and cats and bouncing puppies, which was a lot of fun. I particularly liked being outside with the large animals.
Emily: It’s definitely what I want to do next year, being a vet nurse.
Clinton: You need to love animals. Vet nursing is a messy, often very dirty job. There are certificates and diplomas available in veterinary nursing, all with a variety of tasks and responsibilities. The qualifications available range from Level 3 Certificates to Bachelor degrees.
Entry requirements into these courses do vary, so check the website www.nzvna.org.nz, for links to current course providers.
From 2016, you will need to complete the two-year New Zealand Diploma in Veterinary Nursing to become a registered veterinary nurse.
If you complete the one-year New Zealand Certificate in Animal Technology (Level 5) with Veterinary Nursing Assistant strand, you will qualify as a veterinary nurse assistant.
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a veterinary nurse. However, science subjects, computing, maths and English are useful. Entrance requirements for tertiary study courses vary, but NCEA Level 2 in English and biology (or equivalent) is usually a minimum.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
Veterinary technologist and rural animal technician roles
Some veterinary nurses may choose to train as veterinary technologists or rural animal technicians.
There are two veterinary technologist/rural animal technician qualifications:
- Certificate in Rural Animal Technology – Otago Polytechnic
- Bachelor of Veterinary Technology – Massey University.
Veterinary nurses need to be:
- able to handle stressful emergency situations
- empathetic, patient and concerned for animals
- good communicators
Veterinary nurses must also be able to deal with the process of putting an animal down (euthanasia), and providing support to clients during this difficult time.
Useful experience for veterinary nurses includes:
- any work with animals – for instance as an SPCA volunteer or kennel hand
- voluntary work for a veterinary practice.
Veterinary nurses need to be reasonably fit, healthy and strong as the work can be physically demanding.
From 2016, veterinary nurses will be able to register voluntarily. A full registration process will be set up later.
Find out more about training
- New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association
- 0800 868 773 - www.nzvna.org.nz/
What are the chances of getting a job?
Veterinary nursing to become regulated
Your chances of getting work as a veterinary nurse are best if you are qualified.
From 2016, you will need to complete the two-year New Zealand Diploma in Veterinary Nursing to be a veterinary nurse.
The New Zealand Veterinary Nurse Association has made this change:
- to align with international standards of veterinary nursing training
- because veterinary nurses are increasingly taking on tasks that veterinarians have traditionally done, such as taking x-rays and doing blood tests.
Opportunities vary depending on location
Work opportunities for veterinary nurses are best in large urban areas, such as Auckland, while rural animal technicians have more opportunities in rural areas.
Most veterinary nurses work at veterinary practices
Veterinary nurses tend to work at veterinary practices. New Zealand has about 800 veterinary practices, ranging from small practices employing one or two veterinary nurses to larger practices with 20 staff or more.
Other employers include:
- companies that sell animal and veterinary products
- educational institutes
- government agencies such as the Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries
- kennels and catteries
- animal shelters
- pet stores
- organisations involved in animal research.
Some veterinary nurses are self-employed.
- Hutt, J, president, New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association, Careers New Zealand interview, August 2015.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Waugh, K, membership secretary, NZ Veterinary Nursing Association, April 2014, (www.nzvna.org.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Veterinary nurses can move into related occupations, such as animal pharmaceutical sales and laboratory work, or progress into management positions.
They may also do further training to become rural animal technicians, veterinary technologists or veterinarians.
Last updated 28 January 2016