The RVNs’ Exciting Journey of Postgraduate Study, Courtney Scales, DipVN, NCert(Anaesth), PgCertVAA, RVN

5 June 2024 -

Veterinary nurses are known for being passionate and driven by challenges, and they frequently seek a career that allows them to feel fulfilled while working with both people and animals. The veterinary nursing profession has advanced dramatically in the last decade, with numerous specialised job roles and study opportunities available, allowing many of us to find our niche in all aspects of the industry. This development is exciting and promising for our future as veterinary nurses. 

When you find your niche, you will naturally want to learn more about it. You may also choose to pursue your passion by obtaining an advanced qualification in that field. It can be both daunting and exciting to think about where to start and which courses are appropriate for your desired level of qualification and time constraints. 

If you are interested in a specific aspect of veterinary nursing, there will almost certainly be postgraduate study opportunities available. In addition to the sense of accomplishment that comes with obtaining additional qualifications, you may become the ‘go-to’ person for this topic in your veterinary practice, or you may pursue it as a full-time career in a referral hospital—perhaps in anaesthesia, transfusion medicine, internal medicine, orthopaedics, soft tissue, dermatology, dentistry, ICU and emergency rooms, diagnostic imaging, equine, or laboratory. These postgraduate studies can also be used outside of the clinical setting, in areas such as management, conservation, and international charity work. 

Improve Veterinary Education provides courses in anaesthesia, surgical nursing, behaviour, dentistry, nutrition, and a variety of other topics. The final exam is accredited by the International School of Veterinary Postgraduate Studies, which is why I chose Improve Veterinary Education to complete my Nurses Certificate in Anaesthesia in 2017: I wanted a credential known for its high standard of content and assessment. 

Depending on your preferences and location, you can attend either in-person or complete online modules. I chose to take my course in person because I wanted to interact with other enthusiastic RVNs, feel the energy in the classroom, and ask the tutors questions as they came to mind. I was fortunate to have time away from clinical practice to complete this. 

If you want your employer to help you pursue a postgraduate qualification but are not sure how to approach the subject, you could write a proposal and then schedule a meeting with your line manager. Here are some steps to help you navigate the proposal process and get your employer’s support: 

1.Begin by writing down your previous roles, experiences, and skills learned. This is also an excellent opportunity to step back and reflect on everything you have accomplished in your career.

2.Next, list a few things you are passionate about; some of these may overlap with your previous accomplishments.

3.Write down your ultimate goal (no matter how crazy it sounds) – go beyond “I want a postgraduate qualification” and consider “I want to become the vascular access RVN in my practice for high risk anaesthesia.” For example, by placing and monitoring arterial and central lines while using an ultrasound to do so.

4.Working backwards, step by step, write how you believe you can achieve them, both personally and professionally. Incorporate study, CPD, or training, as well as working with a mentor or travelling to different locations for experience. Spider diagrams are an excellent way to express and connect all of your ideas. 

  • Let us take a look at how you can plan to achieve this while keeping your finances and time in check. After considering various courses, review your employment contract to determine your CPD budget in terms of course length. Your CPD budget is what you are entitled to as an employee benefit, and if you require additional funding, feel confident that you can discuss it with your employer and possibly reach an agreement for complete funding.


  • If you want to study only online, is there any time you think you could fit into your workday? For example, not just “when there is quiet time,” but protected time, such as on Thursdays you have an extra hour after lunch to study. Employees value it when their employers invest in their skills and experience in ways other than monetary compensation.


  • If you plan to study in person, review the course dates online (or email the provider) and inquire about which days of the year must be attended in person. 

6.Now that you have your goals in mind, schedule a meeting with your manager. Lead the meeting by discussing your career goals, how you believe you can achieve them, how you would like the practice to support you, and how it will ultimately benefit the practice. Leave the meeting with some action points and request another meeting in a few weeks. Remember that you are the project leader here. 

7.Finally, work on some of those action points, no matter how small they seem! They form the foundation of a much bigger picture.

Planning how you will efficiently manage your time is my last piece of advice for you now that you are prepared and eager to begin studying. As exciting as new projects may be, try to set aside a certain amount of time each day or week to work on them so you can unwind and enjoy life outside of study and work. Don’t forget to talk to your family about how much dedicated time you will need and where it fits into your home-life schedule and current commitments so that you are supported throughout.

By Courtney Scales, DipVN, NCert(Anaesth), PgCertVAA, RVN AKA @VeterinaryAnursethesia