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Becoming A Veterinary Nurse

By Jema Bull RVN | May 6th 2020


I’m Jema, a newly qualified Registered Veterinary Nurse currently working full time in a small animal clinic in Tipperary, Ireland.

I graduated from St. John’s Central College, Cork in November 2019 with a QQI Level 6 qualification in Veterinary Nursing. As well as earning a distinction level qualification I was also awarded the Graduate of the Year award from the Veterinary Council of Ireland (VCI), something that I was very shocked, overwhelmed and grateful to receive.
Going back to Study: St. Johns College
As a mature student it was a scary but brave decision to go back to college after so many years away from studying. Veterinary Nursing was always something I wanted to do but I didn’t have the confidence when I was younger.
The course was hard work, there was a lot of content to cover in the two years and staff demanded a lot from us, and rightly so. The Veterinary Nurses don’t get many free periods, when we were shown around the library the librarian called us the “swots” of the college because any spare time you do get is usually spent in there, studying.
Modules covered over the two years vary greatly, most of them are very focused and specific, for example, Animal Welfare, Anatomy and Physiology, Grooming, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Pharmacy, Surgical Nursing and Medical Nursing. Other modules, such as Communications, Database Methods and Customer Service provide students with more general skills for to carry through their working lives.
Over the two years, as well as classes, coursework and exams, the VCI required students to undertake a minimum of 825 hours work placement in a veterinary clinic to be eligible for registration. We were in placement one day a week in first year and two days a week in second year, as well as several block weeks each year. I found that although this was demanding it was a great hands on way to learn and prepare for working life as an RVN.
In my first year I was very fortunate to be chosen to undertake a 3-week Erasmus work placement at a busy small animal clinic in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This opportunity not only gave invaluable clinic experience it also gave me chance to travel to somewhere new and meet some great like-minded people.
My advice for future students would be to make the most of it. Whether you are returning to college after some time away or attending straight from school, work hard but enjoy it. You’ll make some great lifelong friends that you can share the experience with. The objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs) which are carried out at the end of second year are very tough but, at the risk of sounding cliché, practice and preparation does make perfect

My First 6 Months in Practice

My first 6 months as a fully-fledged RVN have been great, I was very fortunate to have been given a full-time job offer from my work placement. The clinic that I work in is small, with only 5 members of staff, but I have found that means that we all work together closely as a team. It is extremely important to work in a clinic where your values match those of your colleagues, and somewhere you feel like you can have a voice.

I have already learnt so much from my colleagues who have been great at helping me along through these first months as I have tried to find my feet, something I think I am still doing. It’s important to remember that you will not know everything once you graduate, and that is okay. It is a profession which is continuously changing and evolving and so you need to continue to learn and grow with it, continued study is essential to that. I try to attend talks and webinars about areas that interest me as well as those areas where I feel I may be lacking skills, in order to gain more confidence.

Veterinary Nursing is a very demanding but rewarding profession where the days can vary massively, you need to be able to wear many different hats and at time have more than two arms! One day you might be with the Vet in an orthopaedic surgery for hours on end and the next you could be at a desk swamped with paperwork.

If there’s one bit of advice I can give to a new graduate,  don’t be too hard on yourself. I have loved it so far, but I have also had moments where I felt like I should have known more or have known how to deal with a particular situation. The important thing is that these moments are used as something to learn from.





Jema graduated from St. John’s Central College, Cork in November 2019 and currently works in a small animal veterinary clinic in Tipperary.  Since graduation she has completed the Fear Free Veterinary Professional qualification, something she and her team believe wholeheartedly in, and has begun the top up Bachelor of Science with honours degree at Edinburgh Napier University as a distance learner. Area’s of particular interest are all things feline and a growing love/hate relationship with anaesthesia. When Jema is not working or studying, she can usually be found outside walking her dog, Phoebe, or gardening. She hates being cooped up in doors and says getting out for fresh air is a big part of her work life balance and help’s her maintain well-being.

To keep up to date with Jema you can follow her on Instagram @vetnursejema where she provides a behind the scenes look at her role along with highlighting the work of veterinary nurses.  



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