ABSTRACT: RVNs are arguably amongst the most clinically educated animal nurses in the world. But how does an RVN wishing to move into management fare in the world of business? For veterinary nurses who want to move away from a clinical role, the move into practice management can be very attractive. Practice management roles generally offer higher salaries and additional benefits, whilst giving the opportunity to remain in a practice environment.

Veterinary practice management is not very different from management positions in other industries. If you are planning to move into management you can expect competition not only from other people within the industry – such as veterinary surgeons and administrative staff – but also people from non- veterinary related industries who have transferable management skills.

This may mean that career progression must be taken in stages – for example, by progressing within your team to a senior nursing role, increasing administrative duties and gaining the skill sets that a manager will require through CPD, before seeking employment as a practice manager. This will greatly improve your chances of finding a suitable management position and will also give a good grounding of skills that you may rely on in the future.

The challenges

The veterinary industry is currently undergoing changes that have to be managed by practice owners to ensure that the business can remain viable in current times.

   Declining numbers of pet owners has increased competition between local practices. This has resulted in greater emphasis being placed on bonding clients to the practice.

   Veterinary diets and pharmaceuticals, that at one time could only be purchased in veterinary practice, are now available through the internet, often at a greatly discounted rate. Practices have had to investigate other means of securing their income.

   Today’s pet-owning public expects its veterinary practices to deliver a service that fits around them and their lifestyles. This requires practices to offer improved methods of communication, based on the use of modern technology.

   Employees of veterinary practices have higher expectations of the working environment. Practices may inadvertently fall foul of employment law if they do not have the necessary human resource skills in place to effectively manage staff.

   There is a greater emphasis on professional development of all staff in the practice – not just veterinary surgeons. Costs associated with staff development can be expensive and these, plus any consequent increase in salaries, need to be balanced against the benefit to the business.

Enlightened veterinary practice owners have had to evolve quickly to meet these changes, especially if they want to stay ahead of the competition and this has placed an increased burden on them, particularly if they are also involved with the clinical workload of the practice. This has led to an increase in full-time practice managers whose role is to work with the practice owners to develop the practice, its staff and facilities.

Size matters

The role of a practice manager is individual to the practice. If you are considering making a move into management it is worth giving some thought to the type of practice in which you would like to work.

Small practices

Small practices – on one site or a small group of sites – will commonly be managed by a single practice manager, albeit with administrative support. In this situation the practice manager can expect to encounter and manage a wide array of situations and so will need to have a broad range of management skills, including covering the areas of finance, human resources, marketing, general management and project management.

Knowledge in each of these areas is critical to the role, although they would expect to consult an external source of expertise, such as a solicitor, if the situation dictates. Managers of smaller practices have daily contact with the practice owners, staff and clients.

Corporate veterinary practices

These are becoming increasingly widespread within the industry. They may be owned by an individual or be part of a partnership or franchise. The head office may be separate geographically from the clinical practice and there may be several departments, each employing managerial and administrative staff who collectively manage the business and the staff within it.

There is often an extensive pool of expertise within the management team. Managers of larger practices may have to manage their staff or area of responsibility remotely, which can be impersonal.

Default or design?

Historically, nurses who make the move into management tend to do so by default – by means of a gradual increase in the number of practice management tasks that are delegated to the head nurse until a practice management role is established.

This subtle move into management means that the role grows with the individual and there is already an established relationship between the staff and the manager.

This model of development does, however, mean that the role may not be clearly defined. It may lead to expectations not being met for the practice owners, practice staff and for the practice manager.

It is important for managers who have assumed their position by default to recognise their limitations and to seek appropriate training in these areas. For example, they will have minimal formal managerial training and this may lead to poor performance through ignorance of proven management techniques.

If you don’t want to wait until a vacancy arises in your practice, then you may have to consider entering management by design rather than by being ‘promoted’ into the role. This is likely to become more common as the number of practices advertising for managers increases, leading to more opportunities for veterinary nurses.

This approach allows the manager to gain a clear expectation of what the role entails. There is also time to plan for self development as it is much easier to judge where your strengths and weaknesses lie in relation to a clearly defined job description. However, you may find that instead of a gradual increase of duties, as in the case of a default management role, a move by design will require you to ‘hit the floor running’, whilst being surrounded by new colleagues who are all looking to you immediately to know what their needs are!

Horses for courses

If you have ever looked at the CPD courses available for managers, you will know that the options are staggering. With every possible level of qualification – ranging from NVQs to MBAs, let alone the smaller individual courses that are available – it can be quite a challenge to investigate the available options.

The first stage is to, think about the following:

Course fees

Management courses can be very expensive. How will the course fees be met? This may need to be discussed with your employer. It is also worth contacting Business Link or Train to Gain, both of which are government bodies that can offer some support and funding for courses.

Time management

Course attendance may mean that you have to spend time away from practice which, if you are a practice manager, can be virtually impossible. What effect will your absence have on the business in the short term? Can this be justified in the long term by the benefits the
training will have for you?

If time away from the practice is not possible, then a correspondence course may be an option. Thought, however, needs to be given to when you would find the time to study.


With any CPD, it is worth considering not only the course content but, importantly, the course provider and awarding body. The ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) and CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel Development) are two of the UK’s leading organisations that offer a range of externally accredited management courses.

Externally accredited courses appear on the QCF (Qualifications and Credit Framework). Gaining an externally accredited qualification allows you the freedom to use the accreditation points gained against other qualifications in the future, which may give exemption on to courses, or can be used as APL (Accredited Prior Learning) to give points towards certificates, diplomas or degrees.

Small standalone courses are available from many course providers. These can be very valuable to increase or update skills in a specific area and are available to meet every budget. ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) provides local, cost-effective training courses and these are a very good way for both new and experienced managers to top up management skills.

Are you ready to jump?

The field of veterinary practice management is still in its infancy.

So if you are considering making the move into management, what are you waiting for?


Lisa Cooper rvn cvpm

Lisa qualified through WrittLe College in 1999, whilst working for a mixed practice in Essex.

She joined the Goddard Veterinary Group in 2001 as a theatre nurse at the Wanstead Veterinary Hospital where she gained Assessor, Internal Verifier and VN Examiner certificates. Lisa became Wanstead Hospital Manager in 2008 and achieved the ILM Diploma in Veterinary Practice Management and the Certificate in Veterinary Practice Management (CVPM) in 2009.


   Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), www.acas.org.uk

   Business Link, www.businesslink.gov.uk

   Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) www.cipd.co.uk

   Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), www.i-l-m.com

   Train to Gain, www.traintogain.gov.uk

   Veterinary Practice Managers Association (VPMA), www.vpma.co.uk

Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 25 • No11 • November 2010 •