Kate Davies is a student veterinary nurse (SVN), and currently holds one of the student seats on BVNA Council. In this blog, Kate looks back at how she came to join the profession, alongside some of the progression the VN profession has seen in its history. She also discusses the skilled work carried out by veterinary nurses every day, and why it is so important that the VN title should be protected.

This year, the BVNA and veterinary nurses around the UK are celebrating 20 years of campaigning to raise awareness of the veterinary nursing profession.

The BVNA is the representative body for veterinary nurses. It was established in 1965 and since then has been promoting the interest of veterinary nurses and more recently restarted campaigning to protect the title ‘veterinary nurse’.

Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month (VNAM) was launched by the BVNA to raise awareness of the role of the veterinary nurse, and raise awareness for the hard work veterinary nurses do.

I have been studying veterinary nursing for 2 years and worked as a veterinary care assistant for 6 years. I am also a council member on the BVNA. In my journey of studying and working in the industry, I quickly realised how many roles veterinary nurse can have.

I started studying animal care in college when I was 16 and went to a veterinary practice for 2 weeks. Before then, I wasn’t really aware that a veterinary nurse was a role; when you tell people you want to work with animals, they automatically think you want to become a vet – so I also always thought I wanted to be a vet! Once I discovered the role and the role they carry out, I knew instantly that’s the job I wanted – but I couldn’t believe it took me 16 years to realise that being a veterinary nurse was a job role.

As I continued my studying and working in the veterinary industry, I became more and more aware of the roles available to veterinary nurses, and not just within the practice.

However, sadly we are sometimes underestimated and overlooked as a profession – which is why we still need campaigns such as VNAM.

The title ‘veterinary nurse’ was first officially used in 1984, but in 1925 Louis Sewell (veterinary surgeon to Queen Alexandria) was writing of “specially trained canine nurses”. As far back as 1888, J H Steele (a prominent early veterinary scientist) wrote that nursing required, “strict attention to the animal’s comfort and well-being in matters of warmth, quietude, cleanliness, pure air and diet”.

In 1991, the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966 was amended and the role of veterinary nurse formally recognised in law (schedule 3). This allowed registered veterinary nurses and student veterinary nurses to perform certain procedures in veterinary practice, such as giving medical treatment or carrying out minor surgery under the veterinary surgeon’s direction.

In 1992, the first group qualified as DipAVN (surgical) and in 2002 the first cohort was awarded BSc Hons in Veterinary Nursing.

In 2012, a New Code of Professional Conduct includes, for the first time, a declaration to be made by registered veterinary nurses on professional registration.

These events highlight just some of the progression that the veterinary nursing profession has gone through over the years, and thanks to these changes, veterinary nurses are allowed to carry out many more tasks than people often realise.

The most common misconception is that we get to cuddle puppies and kittens all day, however this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Firstly – depending on what practice you work in, there is general practice, referral practices, small animal practice, exotics practice, equine practice etc.

As I work in a small animal general practice, I can tell you about the everyday tasks our veterinary nurses carry out.

We carry out nurse clinics, which can range from health checks, and second vaccination appointments to emergency triaging and diabetic checks.

We admit and discharge our operations for the day. During these appointments we speak to the owner regarding the process of the day, discuss aftercare with them, and discuss any medication the animal may go home with.

We have kennel shifts; during these shifts animals are monitored throughout the day and after anaesthetics, we give them medication as directed by the vet, and we carry out checks such as heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature checks.

During our lab shift, we carry out diagnostic testing mainly with blood and urine samples. We can look for urine crystals, bacteria, infections using the microscope and other lab equipment. We can also draw the bloods ourselves.

Our theatre shift mainly involves monitoring anaesthetics; during this we assess the patient’s heart rate, respiratory rate, blood pressure and much more.

Other roles in the practice include, reception work, placing I.V. catheters and setting up I.V. fluids for the patient. Providing CPR to animals, carrying out X-rays. Cleaning surgical equipment.

These are just the roles that carried out in general practice. There are many more routes a veterinary nurse can take and they don’t necessarily have to be within a practice.

They can choose to specialise within a certain area, such as:

  • Anaesthesia
  • Nutrition
  • Physiotherapy
  • Exotics
  • Equine
  • Lab work

Or there are other roles such as teaching, becoming a head nurse and clinical coaching. A popular choice for veterinary nurses is also to go abroad and work for charities and sanctuaries.

This also why the BVNA and veterinary nurses are campaigning for the title of a veterinary nurse to be protected, so registered veterinary nurses are more appreciated and valued by the public and not just seen as “just” a veterinary nurse. Under the social media hashtags #VNAM2024 #20YearsofVNAM #WhatVNsDo and #ProtectTheTitleVN you will be able to see all the hard work the veterinary nurses do and the hard work they go through to become a veterinary nurse.