9 Essential Steps To Boosting Your Vet Nurse Career
It may come as a surprise to you, but the very best specialist Vet Nurses or Technicians earn a six-figure income.
Admittedly, these roles are rare with the majority of Vet Nurses or Vet Technicians earning less than the average wage – in Australia $40-65k, in the UK £18-25k and in the USA $30-50k based on the most recent data available.
Now, we all know that few in the industry are motivated purely by money, and the nature of people who go on to study, qualify and eventually become Vet Nurses tends not to be pushy when it comes to negotiating salaries. That must stop, but that is a subject to be addressed another day, as it is an issue that the industry needs to address across the board and will take a lot of effort.
In the shorter term, one way to enhance your income as a Vet Nurse is to focus on your career development and work your way rapidly up through the ranks. Let your experience, expertise and ability “self-negotiate” career advancement and achieve the rewards that may enable you to one day earn that six-figure salary we mentioned earlier.
So, we went out and asked some of the leading Vet Nurses around the world who have achieved personal, professional and financial success, what are some of the key steps for you to consider…
On your marks
It may sound obvious but, having a sound education in Veterinary Nursing knowledge and skills is an essential foundation for you to excel in your Vet Nurse career and to secure a pathway to the most rewarding and fulfilling Vet Nurse jobs.
If you are just starting your studies, a pass in each subject is just not enough, you must strive for credits and distinctions – not just from a potential career path perspective. You need to commit to helping animals recover or plan for their longevity and you need to be able to do that from a position of confidence and strength based on your studies as well as knowing how to hold a tabby cat crossed with a puma.
And nothing says, “You HAVE to employ me!” better than good grades in your exams and sound practical skills.
Don’t get comfy
OK, so you have secured a great job – the people are friendly, the clients are nice, the money is OK, and the working environment is, well, “fine” and you find yourself in snooze mode. Well, wake up and smell the acetylcholine, because if you get too comfy then the prospect of career advancement and becoming the best in your field will start to fade.
You are going to have to move on. Most Vet Hospitals and Clinics are small businesses and internal opportunities to advance are rare, especially when the most senior Nurse or Technician is married to the practice owner. Even with the bigger Vet Groups or larger hospitals, advancement usually means moving, across town or across country – get used to the idea; maybe do a little Locum or Relief work to help you feel more comfortable with change (plus It actually looks good on a resume).
Yes, you thought that you had seen your last anatomy text book and yawned through your last lecture. But if you want to excel, they were just the start – they don’t call it Continuing Education for nothing.
You need to be learning at every step. On a day to day basis take the time to learn about every part of running a busy Vet practice. Just because you are a Vet Nurse doesn’t mean you don’t need to know the ins and out of the Practice Management System or how the supplier bills get paid – ask to be shown and be persistent.
On a more formal basis, you need a rolling two-year plan to upskill. Your career pathway may have multiple journeys, through puppy schools and behaviour training, dentistry right through to complex surgical skills. And it won’t be nicely linear, it will have to do with timing but if you have focus and a plan, you will continue to build your knowledge and ability that will be noticed, recognised and rewarded.
Not at the local rescue group, although that too is a great thing for your career. Volunteer to sit in on a complex procedure on your day off. Be prepared to offer to start early or finish late, to help out, to build a reputation as the reliable, go to person when the s**t hits the fan; because that reputation will start to precede you. You want to be the person that your peers on Facebook mention when they say, “Great place to work, and Fiona is just the best!” – that’s you.
Ask for more responsibility
This is a bit like volunteering, but this is more about building up your management and leadership abilities. To reach the highest echelons of Veterinary Nursing means that yes, you will be highly skilled, but your greatest value to that Vet Hospital, Emergency Centre or Oncology Specialty Clinic will mostly be about your ability to lead, and to get the best out of your peers or team.
And learning how to manage systems, people, and how to lead is another whole article – suffice to say that it starts with small steps and practical experience, as well as formal courses (yes, more study) and training. In recent times, mentorship from fellow industry professionals, not necessarily from within your current work environment, has helped many to gain further traction in their careers. Just remember that, when you “make it”, pay it forward, and be prepared to act as a mentor to someone following your journey.
Build your network
The very best career opportunities tend to come about through serendipitous coincidences, and mostly from mentions of whispers of conversations that turn into great opportunities. But if you aren’t in the loop, you won’t hear the mentions. The obvious online networks of LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are a good place to start. LinkedIn, now owned by Microsoft, is fast becoming the go to place for making work connections, and in the Veterinary space, there are a few good Facebook groups that are well worth joining, that will keep you in the loop.
In the bricks and mortar world, there are plenty of industry events to attend. You should go to at least one major conference a year (it’s tax deductible) and you should sign up to the event lists of the major pet food, pharmaceutical and equipment distributors and plan to attend one event every quarter – and make sure you mingle. Have some personal cards made up with your name, contact details and an aspirational quote so that people will remember you after an event.
Learn public speaking
A tough one. Standing up in front of an audience and espousing on the virtues of modern feline dentistry will make most Vet Nurses go weak at the knees. But you are not a “most”, you want to succeed and be in the top 1.0% of your profession. And public speaking goes with that territory. Find a local Rotary or Community group and take the plunge to learn about how to engage with an audience. You will be surprised how valuable public speaking is, not just for the direct skill, but also in terms of your overall self-confidence.
We mean it. There are too many instances of people who do advance to the top of their field, but at the cost of losing touch with the initial appeal of the Veterinary profession. Vet Nurses are pretty nice people and you should remind yourself frequently that your journey to the top of your profession must not be at the expense of your own self worth nor that of others. Be kind, be understanding, yes be determined, be focused, but always be nice.
When one of those rarefied, life changing, premium senior Vet Nurse Jobs actually does turn up on your radar, go for it. Don’t vacillate, don’t ponder – decide that you want it, and then go get it. Do you research, stalk the decision makers online (not in their backyard) to learn more, understand the competition and develop a strategy and a plan to own that job. And then go out and get it.
We started off talking about six figure salaries, and that they are indeed rare as powdered Unicorn poo. Everyone likes to quote extremes. But there is a way to boost your personal rewards as well as your financial rewards through taking a more assertive approach to career advancement. The steps above are based on feedback from Vet Nurses and Vet Technicians who have indeed “been there, done that” and have secured their future financially, but perhaps more importantly, they have achieved the highest level of professionalism, and have done so with grace, kindness and humility.
Are you ready to start your journey with the same destination in mind?
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Before you know it you’ll be starting a new job in an exciting Vet Hospital, Vet Clinic or in Pet Retail, and it all starts with a click.
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