This year, BVNA are working on raising the profile of Veterinary Care Assistants (VCAs). Dependent on the setting, the VCA may be known by a variety of different names or job titles – but their role is vital in order to support vets and student/registered veterinary nurses (SVNs and RVNs) to provide care to patients, and ensure the smooth running of the practice.

Often, the impression is that VCAs will automatically progress to become a veterinary nurse – but we want to champion VCAs as a role in their own right. This year, we’ll be showcasing some of the diverse career opportunities available, and how VCAs can embrace and utilise their skills.

In this blog we hear from Paul Nicholson, who has worked in a variety of VCA roles within the veterinary industry since 2010. Paul is now Head ‘Auxiliary Nurse’ (a VCA-equivalent role) at Westway Veterinary Group, and discusses the leadership opportunities which can be available to those within similar roles.

Are you a VCA looking for more support? As the professional representative for veterinary nursing, BVNA are here for you too! Join us so your voice can be heard – more information about our Associate membership package can be found here;

“Hello, my name is Paul Nicholson – I am 34 years old, and I am a qualified Veterinary Care Assistant (VCA).

“I started my journey in the Veterinary profession in March 2010. I have always had a big passion and loved and cared for animals. I had many different species growing up as a child including horses, rabbits, hamsters, goats, pigeons, hens, dogs, and fish. I always toyed with the idea of working with horses or small animals and could never decide. I attended my local equine college, completing a National Diploma in Horse Management and my BHS Stages 1 and 2, before working on a livery yard and riding school teaching for 3/4 years.

“I was asked by my equine vet whether I would be interested in working in the veterinary industry, as I was “always a good hand”. As it’s something I wanted to do as a child, I considered this and applied for a position in a local mixed veterinary practice dealing with farm, equine and small animal patients. This contained a variety of mixed shifts: days, nights and out of hours (OOH). I found OOH very interesting and thought this work suited me best, so I applied to work for Vets Now as part of their team doing OOH emergency work. I really enjoyed the work; even though these shifts were evening shifts and weekends, I didn’t mind at all as I loved the OOH work. You never knew what was going to come through the door or what emergency was going to be on the end of the phone. After working here for 3 years gaining a lot of experience, I went on to work for PDSA OOH service as an Animal Care Assistant.

“At PDSA as an Animal Care Assistant I used to work 2-3 nights a week, on a 12 hour 8pm-8am shift pattern including weekends working. This included working alongside the Vets Now team also, as they operate inside the PDSA building and covered PDSA OOH. As an Animal Care Assistant within PDSA, I was responsible for OOH emergency calls, liaising with the vets regarding calls and logging calls on patients’ files, feeding and watering inpatients, changing bedding, toilet breaks for inpatients, cleaning and packaging instruments, stock replenishment for the next working day and general cleanliness of the building. I worked here for 5 years before deciding to apply for an Auxiliary Nurse (VCA) position within Westway Veterinary Group, part of Vet Partners.

“After being a successful applicant for this position in 2018, my shifts included working Monday to Friday shift work, and 1 in 5 Saturdays and 1 or 2 Sundays per year at their main hospital. I found this quite a change from doing OOH emergency work to general first opinion practice – not only the culture of work between OOH and day practice, it was getting used to working through the day too! I really enjoy my role working within Westway, they are very supportive and always want the best out of their staff.

“After working here for 2 years, in 2020 I applied for a Senior Auxiliary Nurse position within the company. This broadened my knowledge and skills massively from a line manager’s point of view; I got to be part of interviews, training new Auxiliary nurse members, engage with the RVN team more and be part of practice meetings. Since then, I have also completed my distance learning apprenticeship with Lynwood School of Veterinary Nursing, enabling me to become a qualified VCA.

“I worked as a Senior Auxiliary Nurse for 2 years, and then in 2022 a brand-new position within Westway became available – Head Auxiliary Nurse. I applied for this position and was successful. After being in this position for 1.5 years, I have enjoyed every minute. I am still learning the role as it has so much scope and the business have really invested into the position. Westway are the only company I have worked for who offer CPD allowance for support staff, so this enabled me to further my knowledge. I have completed my bronze, silver, and gold award within Colourful CPD which has been fab. I’ve also attended London Vet Show with the company, which was a fantastic opportunity for the business and for myself, as I am enabled to utilise any knowledge I have learned across my role.

“A lot of VCAs often want to progress and go onto doing veterinary nursing – but for those who don’t, that’s fine – they can shine within their role as a VCA! The VCA role is a massive part of the veterinary team as we do such versatile things which include reception duties, admissions, discharges, inpatient care, theatre float, clipping and prepping patients, cleaning and packaging instruments, dealing with enquiries and telephone calls, inpatient care, assisting vets for blood samples, lab work including microscopy, running blood and urine – and so much more.

“I often look back over my time within the veterinary field and never ever imagined to be where I am today. Hard work and dedication have really paid off, with massive support from Vet Partners and Westway for the career progression.”