by Dr Becky Nicholson MRCVS
If you’re working as a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) and the idea of being a veterinarian tempts you, or aspects of being a nurse frustrate you, switching from nurse to vet could be an obvious move. A career change doesn’t have to mean a new industry. So, how easy is it to make a change within the veterinary profession?
The term ‘switch’ may be misleading – it implies a rapid change – and the transition is far from quick. Making the career change from vet nurse to vet is arduous and expensive, but it is possible with the appropriate resources.
Do job similarities help?
RVN and veterinary surgeon, two of the professional roles within our industry, do have some similarities. However, there are also some key differences. Making a move from nurse to vet means completely retraining, despite the partial overlap in skills and knowledge. Once qualified, however, the skills learnt in veterinary nursing could prove invaluable during the first weeks as a veterinary new grad.
Retraining – what’s involved?
Both the RVN and veterinary surgeon’s roles require specific qualifications, and these cannot be circumnavigated – even with relevant experience. This is to protect the validity of our vets and RVNs, keeping their respective powers sacrosanct. The consequence is that, in most cases, if you are working as an RVN and would like to switch to being a veterinarian, you have got to start on day one of veterinary school and progress through the numerous hoops, the same as everyone else.
To retrain, it’s back to university – there’s no alternative. The time needed to retrain as a vet is extensive. Consequently, the financial investment is large. Time studying makes family and socialising hard and earning a living near impossible.
The good news is that there is a small shortcut…
The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London offers a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine Graduate Accelerated programme – a four-year course that accepts a veterinary nursing degree at 2:1 or above as a valid entry criterion. The course allows those with higher education in the sciences to reduce their preclinical veterinary studies to one year, completing their veterinary training in four years – rather than the more usual five or six. This is as short as the path from veterinary nurse to vet can become, it seems.
Working in practice is perhaps the best experience you can hope for to assess your suitability for a veterinary surgeon’s role. Experience is preferred for most veterinary undergraduates attempting to enrol on a veterinary medicine course. An RVN’s experience will, no doubt, stand out at both the application and interview stages.
An article in the Vet Record, published in 2019, reflects on one RVN’s experience in practice and how it helped her make the change to being a vet student. The author, Sandra, was still in training at the time of print. She talks of how in-practice experience was useful through the transition from nurse to veterinary student, but she is yet to reflect on how it will help her at the start of her new career.
There are financial and time-orientated costs involved in an RVN retraining as a vet.
The financial investment is enormous. Even on the four-year fast-track degree option at RVC, the tuition fees are likely to be around £40,000 – and let’s not forget the need to pay living costs alongside. There are few opportunities for generating income when holidays are filled with obtaining practical experience – which is still required to complete your degree, even if you have plenty under your belt as an RVN. As a foreign student studying at RVC, costs could rise to nearer £160,000. At other universities where the course is full length, these figures could be even higher.
The time commitment required to retrain is huge. Studying veterinary medicine is not like studying for many other degrees, with long days, short holidays, and a full timetable.
If you are considering retraining, these are all factors to bear in mind. That said, if your heart is set on veterinary medicine as a career path – like so many other students who share your passions – not much can scare you away!
When the money has been paid, the time invested, and the mortarboard thrown high in the air, it’s time to job hunt – and this is where the RVN experience is likely to pay off. The practical skills an RVN offers are a huge asset. From popping in a catheter to placing a dressing, to the nuanced diplomacy of discussing euthanasia – it’s likely to be second nature for experienced nurses. Experience is attractive to a prospective employer and will aid an easy transition to vet life.
Is it worth it?
Having outlined the realities, it’s clear any candidate would want to be pretty sure the nurse-to-vet change is worth it. Veterinary nurses have a close-up view of a veterinarian’s world – but this doesn’t guarantee an understanding. Ask yourself – does every veterinarian understand what it’s like to be a nurse? If you’re thinking of this career move, you might assume you know what you’re letting yourself in for – and maybe you do – but it’s wise to prep carefully before making such a seismic shift in your career.
The transition from vet nurse to vet is not a simple one. There are few favours in exchange for the qualification and experience an RVN brings. It is possible to reduce the time in education by a year, which may shave a little off the overall tuition fee bill. The investment is big, but the rewards could be bigger if veterinary medicine is where you have set your sights.
There’s no guarantee an RVN won’t find the veterinary role more stressful than expected (just as many undergraduate veterinary students do – as any RVN will know!). Prior experience doesn’t eliminate all the surprises, but there are bound to be good surprises too. For some, the grass is greener on the other side.