Reasons for emigration

I met and married a kiwi hitch-hiker and moved to New Zealand for the space, the lifestyle and being able to afford our own small-holding.

The practice, which has been open for 23 years, is first-opinion, small animal and is situated in a converted bank – the safe is great for the dangerous drugs. Our practice principal has a special interest in ultrasound.

There are three veterinarians, eight veterinary nurses and one practice manager. We have numerous veterinary nursing students in the clinic during the academic year – sometimes as many as eight in a week.

General population and lifestyle

Dunedin is a small (by world standards) city in the south of NZ’s South Island. It is very much a student town, hosting the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic.

Its normal population of 120,000 is increased by another 20,000 during the academic year, which runs from February to November over the southern hemisphere winter. It was one of the first cities settled in NZ in the 1800s.

The main industries, apart from education, are bio-technology and software engineering – reflecting the academic influences on research and technology. Eco-tourism is the other key industry – Dunedin is close to many great locations for sight-seeing and wildlife.

Language, culture and religion

NZ is similar to many other modern western nations. It is officially bilingual, with English by far the predominant language and Maori making up 14.7 per cent of the population. NZ has seen many immigrants over the decades, so cultural diversity and acceptance is wide-spread. NZ was the first country in the world to give women the vote – there is no perceived gender bias or restriction.

Advantages and disadvantages

Dunedin was settled by Scottish immigrants, so has a distinctly Scottish flavour compared to the rest of NZ and is often referred to as the Edinburgh of the South. So I fit right in! Its weather is a little too Scottish for my liking but it has meant I have been able to enjoy seasonal changes which are not as obvious in the North Island. It is close to many wildlife areas, skiing and tramping, but that remoteness has a trade off – you are a reasonable distance from other main cities, making travel long and/or expensive. However, Dunedin has virtually everything you could ask for.

Formal qualifications

There are five types of veterinary nursing and animal care qualification: 

•  National Certificate in Animal Care 

•  Certificate in Veterinary Nursing 

•  Diploma in Veterinary Nursing 

•  Certificate in Rural Animal Technology Bachelor of Veterinary Technology.

The most common qualification is the National Certificate in Veterinary Nursing, followed by the Diploma in Veterinary Nursing. There are 13 training providers – some come under the umbrella of the National Qualification Framework offering common Unit Standards, other providers offer their own qualification, although all have to have the approval of the NZ Qualification Authority and Animal Nursing and Technology Board.

The plethora of courses has led to confusion. Thankfully the situation is under review with a view to streamlining the number and type of courses available with the future qualifications based on a graduate profile.

Overall, support from the veterinary industry is growing. Most veterinarians and practice managers now seek only qualified veterinary nurses for new or replacement positions.

How veterinary nursing is regulated in NZ

Currently, there is no form of regulation owing to lack of support from the Government, who do not see the need. It is not for want of petitioning, although support from the veterinary industry itself was originally slow in coming. The title is not protected and anyone can call themselves a veterinary nurse; qualified or not. There are no special privileges or provisions for veterinary nurses in law such as Schedule 3 in the UK.

The NZ Veterinary Nursing Association (NZVNA) recently introduced a voluntary accreditation scheme recognising those veterinary nurses who actively seek continuing professional development. The NZVNA also has a Code of Conduct for members to abide by.

Representative organisations

Voluntary membership of the NZVNA is available – it’s similar to the BVNA. The NZVNA has around 680 members, just under 50 per cent of the estimated working support staff in NZ. Membership is 70 NZ dollars (NZD) per annum (approximately £38). Benefits of membership include subscription to a quarterly journal, reduced rates to the annual conference and other CPD events, access to research databases, advice, support and representation with regard to employment and related issues and networking opportunities.

It is independent of the NZ Veterinary Association, although the two associations can work well together in providing CPD and conferences, particularly the companion animal society. Having been a president of the NZVNA and more recently a past editor of the NZVNA Journal, I do think the membership is very important. It is a great way to exchange ideas, foster collegiality and as a focus for change and forward momentum.

Typical salary, benefits and working hours

A survey done in 2004, at the same time as a similar one done in the UK, yielded very similar results – even down to comparable comments regarding pay and conditions. However, the cost of living is lower in NZ – particularly outside of Auckland.

There is a minimum wage of 13.50 NZD per hour (approximately £7). New graduates often start at around 14.50 NZD (approximately £8), depending on the qualification and area of the country. Lower wages are often compensated for by better conditions such as favourable hours and some generous benefits, e.g. CPD allowances, discounts on products and professional fees etc. CPD is encouraged and paid for in many practices.

Personally speaking, and I appreciate I am older than most veterinary nurses, having qualified in 1987,1 couldn’t work as a veterinary nurse now, or for the past decade, because of the lack of pay, so moved into education and now into practice management. But I know veterinary nurses who still very much enjoy the clinical role.

Daily duties and responsibilities

A small animal veterinary nurse role in NZ is very similar to the UK. As I am currently managing the practice, I will describe my veterinary nurses’ roster and roles.

There are four full-time nurses and four part-time nurses. The full-time nurses rotate areas each week between the hospital, surgery and reception. The part-timers mainly do reception and help out in the busiest areas when needed. Some of my team are quite new, so are still developing their skills, but we encourage them to do as much as possible and have set training schedules and charts in place to assist them. 

I believe that new nurses need an experienced nurse to mentor and guide them, at present I am looking for a nurse to fill that role as, at the moment, I am occasionally pulled between my current management role and the clinical one. Currently, my nurses admit and discharge all but the most complex cases; they do all of the anaesthesia, including some inductions. Blood sampling and intravenous fluids are fast becoming the remit of the nurses. Many are starting to develop nursing care plans for in-patients.

So far, suturing is still in the hands of the veterinarians although I have done some surgical stapling when the practice gets very busy.
Radiography is slowly being passed over to the nurses.

To give the veterinarians more time for fulfilling their key rolls (surgery, diagnostics and prescribing), we are utilising our veterinary nurses more and employing more to spread the expanding load. In some referral practices, veterinary nurses are performing epidurals for pain relief.

It is probably fair to say that perhaps in mo're rural areas and practices run by older veterinarians, the nurses might not be permitted to do all that they could, but increasingly mixed, equine and large animal practices are employing veterinary nurses and rural animal technicians.

Differences in working practice

NZ is very similar to the UK, although there are some animal differences on the pet front and certainly in the indigenous wildlife. There are no hamsters as pets, and ferrets were banned from being kept as pets in the late 1990s. There are no wild foxes or badgers – no indigenous wildlife can kill you here, unlike Australia!

NZ has the highest number of cat households per population in the world; however many see this as detrimental to the indigenous bird life. Cats and dogs are banned from the Department of Conservation lands/parks where endangered species such as the Kiwi, the Takahe and Tuatara are found and from remote offshore islands where the worlds rarest parrot, the Kakapo, are cared for.

In parts of the country you may see penguins (Little Blues and Yellow-eyed Penguins), and that doesn’t have to be at the clinic – walking along the beach near my home we often see a Yellow-eye coming in to roost at night.

NZ still has quite a pioneer spirit with a number of veterinary nurses who hunt recreationally. Their quarry are wild boars, goats, deer and, in season, ducks. I cannot quite get to grips with the dichotomy but there it is. Vegetarianism is becoming more common but is still fairly unusual.

NZ’s agricultural industry is huge, with it’s biggest export being milk. Production animals are not seen as sentient beings but as commodities – mostly valued, but seen as a whole herd rather than individuals. In rural communities pet dogs are often treated differently from working dogs. Depending on the farmer, working dogs are either viewed in a ‘use them and lose them’ way, or as the most valuable tool a farmer can have.

This is most evident with the NZ Huntaway breed of dog – a breed of origins mixed over generations that now looks like a big Collie crossed with a German Shepherd. It has a deep bark for driving sheep over vast distances and high levels of endurance. Wonderful dogs to nurse!

NZ Huntaway in action. Image courtesy of Fiona Hastie, NZVNA

NZ Huntaway pup (look at the size of their paws!). Image courtesy of Fiona Hastie, NZVNA

Other roles that are fulfilled by veterinary nurses

Veterinary nurses in NZ have many employment opportunities. Industry trade representatives and veterinary nurse educators are two of main areas, followed by practice management. A number go to work for animal welfare charities. 

Current 'hot topics’ in veterinary nursing in NZ

Pay and working conditions will always be a hot topic. Recognition and respect also rank highly. Regulation and registration have been at the top of the NZVNA agenda for quite some time and will remain so.

Tail docking is sadly still permitted in NZ. Production animal welfare, particularly in dairy cows, is part of the national consciousness at present, with the collapse of a large family-owned dairy farming group – poor management, over- capitalisation, greed and very poor animal welfare have been cited as the causes.

Opportunity to network with other veterinary professionals

For many years the NZVNA has shared annual conference venues with the NZVA. Regionally this also happens, although it depends on the region, with some being more proactive than others. One of the best things about the conference is the ability to network and socialise with other veterinary nurses from around the country.

Experience and impression of UK veterinary nurses

I am a little biased as I am a UK-qualified nurse! Having emigrated back in the mid-1990s I had no problem finding work then or subsequently. I can confirm that the VN qualification is very well thought of in terms of breadth and depth of knowledge for small animals. Most NZ Diploma qualifications have some large animal aspects to the course and that may be perceived as a slight weakness in the UK qualification.

We have not seen as many BSc graduate nurses as we have the vocationally trained nurses. This may just be a matter of time.

Advice for UK qualified veterinary nurses considering work in NZ

I don’t think it is as easy to find employment as it used to be, as NZ now produces quite a few veterinary nurses of its own. However, locum work will still be a viable option, particularly for those travelling in short bursts. Emigration is a different story as veterinary nursing is not currently on NZ Immigrations list of sought-after occupations. However, a veterinary nursing degree is likely to earn points under the points system of entry.

I suggest contacting the NZVNA in the first instance at

If you are looking to emigrate then NZ Immigration is a must for all of the latest requirements at:

To have your qualification assessed against NZ standards if this should prove necessary (for immigration rather than holiday visa jobs), visit


Marie Hennessy


Marie spent her formative years in Scotland and qualified as a veterinary nurse 28 years ago. She has lived in New Zealand for 16 years and is the practice manager in a first-opinion, small animal practice in Dunedin. Marie is married, with one child, two cats and a young dog.

To cite this article use either

DOI: 10.1111/j.2045-0648.2012.00195.x or Veterinary Nursing Journal Vol 27 pp 271-274

• VOL 27 • July 2012 •  Veterinary Nursing Journal