Reason for emigration

I moved to Hong Kong for the chance to work in an exotics practice and to experience a new way of life.

The practice

The Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotic Hospital functions as both a first-opinion practice and a second-opinion and referral practice for exotics. The building consists of three converted shops, which gives us a two-storey, three-shop-wide practice.

We have six veterinary surgeons (VS), 13 veterinary assistants (VA – that is unqualified nursing assistants), three AIRC-qualified veterinary nurses, two UK-degree RVNs, five receptionists, an accountant, a practice manager and three cleaners.

General population and lifestyle

I work in a village called Tai Wai, which is in the New Territories, across the harbour then further north from Hong Kong Island. The New Territories is the northern part of Hong Kong and is actually connected to the south of China. The village has over 90,000 inhabitants and consists mainly of local families.

It is hard to generalise about Hong Kong because there is such a diverse range of cultures here. Westerners tend to live a very different lifestyle from that of the local inhabitants; however, owing to the lack of space, all people tend to live in much smaller living accommodation than they do in the UK. Most buildings grow upwards to create the needed space, and the landscape is a mix of ‘high rises’, village houses and mountains.

The Tai Wai Small Animal and Exotic Hospital

Life is very urban in the north of Hong Kong Island (a similar feel to London, maybe) but is much more rural in the outlying islands.

Language, culture and religion

The main spoken language is Cantonese; however someone who speaks English only would be able to survive here easily. Many people understand basic English – if not, hand gestures and body language become very important! Owing to the diverse population, there is a wide variety of religions practised in Hong Kong.

Advantages and disadvantage

The location of Hong Kong is fantastic. You can be at a beach or hiking or shopping within one hour of anywhere, and being so close to Macau and China you can even go on day trips to completely different places, or be able to fly to another Asian country within hours. The weather can be a plus … or a minus – it is always warm, but does often reach 100 per cent humidity, which is difficult to handle. 

 Panoramic view of the Hong Kong skyline

Living conditions are cramped compared with the UK. It is expensive to maintain a western lifestyle in Hong Kong, but could be very cheap if you adapted to a local one. Communication issues are rare, but can be very frustrating when they happen.

Formal qualifications

Before 2010 there were no formal, specifically Hong Kong qualifications. However, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University has since begun a Degree course in Veterinary Nursing, which is run jointly with the RVC, London. The other pathway that the clinic I work at uses is the Animal Industries Resources Centre (AIRC) qualification, which is Australian.

Both courses are delivered in English only. Academic qualification is not necessary to work as a veterinary assistant in most Hong Kong practices.

Regulation of veterinary nursing

The Veterinary Surgeons Board (VSB) regulates veterinary surgeons in Hong Kong, but there is no regulation for VNs. Before May 2012, VNs and VAs were not recognised to be part of the veterinary team; however, following a revision in the Veterinary Surgeons' Code of Practice, they are now mentioned and, under continuous direction of a VS, may perform some (not fully defined) duties.

Representative organisation

The idea of a veterinary nursing association is currently in its infancy. An organisation does exist, the Hong Kong Veterinary Nursing Association (HKVNA), but at the moment holds none of the advantages of the BVNA.

Typical salary, benefits and working hours

It is difficult to assess the conditions for British VNs, as there are so few of us out here, and it very much depends on the organisation for which you are working. I personally get paid more in Hong Kong than I would expect in the UK and have generous benefits.

The working hours are longer, as clinics are open seven days a week, and the average working week can be 40-60 hours long (mine is 45). There are fewer legal restrictions on working hours, pay and holidays, and this means that, in general, benefits are poor for workers. There is a legal minimum wage in Hong Kong and it is currently $28/hour – which is just over £2/hour!

Daily duties and responsibilitie

My current duties include working in the hospital (cat, dog and two exotic wards), surgical and administration duties. The VAs and AIRC-trained nurses with whom I work have the vast majority of client interaction, as they consult with the VSs and translate for them. I am able to be very hands-on with patient care and also practical care.

Differences in working practice

The main difference for me in my day-to- day work is the language barrier, which prevents me from being able to answer the phone, speak to clients, and so on. Also, the mentality of pet owners is different here – people are often entirely neglectful whilst being ‘devoted’ to their pets, making it hard to advise them on treatment. Poor husbandry is by far the most common reason for the sick animals we see.

Exotic pets are common because the small living spaces make it hard to keep larger animals. The most common of these are rabbits, chinchillas and red¬eared terrapins!

Fortunately, rabies has not been reported in Hong Kong for many years; however heartworm and Ehrlichia canis are seen much more commonly.

Other opportunities

There are a few key roles that VNs have been involved with in Hong Kong. I am a private clinic VN, but there are welfare roles and the chance to work in education (i.e. AIRC and university courses) as well as being a rep for drug or food companies. Unfortunately these opportunities are uncommon.

Current 'hot topics' for VNs

Unfortunately, veterinary nursing is still in its infancy in Hong Kong, but this also makes it a very exciting time. The de
velopment of a VN association is under way, and the VSB has recognised the role of para-professionals in veterinary practice – which is definite progress. The next few years, with university graduates entering the profession, will develop even further the roles that VNs can fill.

Opportunities to network

There is a Hong Kong Veterinary Association (HKVA) that organises regular CPD for VSs and VAs/VNs. This is a great way to meet other professionals and maintain and gain new knowledge. I think it is very important to be aware of the development and opportunities available for VNs.

Ideally, if an organisation such as the BVNA were created in Hong Kong it would definitely help VNs to communicate and develop the profession further.

Experience and impression of UK-qualified veterinary nurses

On the whole, I would say the veterinary professionals in Hong Kong are unaware of the UK qualification, unless the professional comes from the UK originally. I hope this will change in the future, with the RVC Degree course and also with getting more UK-qualified nurses into Hong Kong to represent us.

Advice for UK-qualified veterinary nurses considering work in Hong Kong

A work visa is needed and, therefore, employment needs to be found before going to Hong Kong to work as a VN. However, this is all you need (depending on the job specifications) and I have found it a fantastic opportunity to experience such a different way of life whilst doing the job I love.

If you come here ready to socialise, network, have a go at the language and embrace the culture, you may decide never to leave! 


Jessica Scofield

BSc(Hons) Veterinary Nursing

Jessica was born in Suffolk and qualified as a veterinary nurse two years ago. She has lived in Hong Kong for 16 months and works in a first-opinion, small animal and exotic practice. Her practice is also a second-opinion and referral practice for exotic animals.

Jessica is married and has two naughty' Hong Kong alley cats.

To cite this article use either

DOI: 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2012.00219.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 27 pp 353-354


• VOL 27 • September 2012 • Veterinary Nursing Journal