Veterinary NurseAlternative titles

Tapuhi Kararehe

This job is sometimes referred to as:

Animal Nurse
Rural Animal Technician
Veterinary Assistant
Veterinary Technologist

Veterinary nurses help in the examination, treatment and rehabilitation of sick and injured animals. They also interact with clients and perform receptionist duties.

Pay

Pay for veterinary nurses varies depending on qualifications, experience and employer.

The New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association recommends the following rates:

  • A new graduate with the Diploma of Veterinary nursing earns $19 an hour.
  • Those with one to three years' experience earn between $22 and $25 an hour.
  • Those with more than five years' experience earn $25 an hour or more. 

Employers may pay above or below these rates and many employers will start new staff at minimum wage.

Source: New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association, 'Wage Scale Recommendation 2011'

What you will do

Veterinary nurses may do some or all of the following:

  • clean the cages and surgery areas, and carry out general cleaning duties at a veterinary clinic
  • carry out administrative and receptionist duties at a clinic and give advice to clients over the phone
  • feed and exercise animals
  • perform diagnostic tests and keep records
  • perform duties on behalf 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 operations including monitoring the anaesthetic
  • 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.

Working conditions

Veterinary nurses:

  • 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?

Krystle Kelly - Veterinary Nurse

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)

Emily: I’m Emily Gray and I’m from Motueka. I’m here at the Stoke Vets to see what it takes to be a vet nurse.

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 practise 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.

Emily: Yeah.

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: Yep.

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?

Emily: Yeah.

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.

Pay

Veterinary nurses usually earn
$31K-$50K
per year
Source: NZ Veterinary Nursing Association, 'Wage Scale Recommendation 2011'
Krystal Kelly holding a dog which has an IV drip attached

Krystal Kelly preparing a dog for an operation

Updated 8 Apr 2014