New standards proposal for Veterinary Nursing Trailblazers Apprenticeship

The apprenticeship programme is a government funded scheme that offers individuals, from the age of 16, the opportunity to gain knowledge and experience in a specific industry or field. The scheme provides an alternative to university or other forms of higher education, allowing candidates to earn a salary whilst learning the tricks of the trade, on the job. Apprenticeships provide businesses with devoted, hard-working personnel whilst providing candidates with a nationally recognised qualification and the skills to develop their own career.

In 2012, a government-commissioned enquiry revealed that the apprenticeship structure was lacking in a number of areas. It was suggested that improvements be made to the programme, making it more demanding and in-line with the needs of the employer. From this, the Trailblazer Apprenticeship was born, stipulating new standards that aim to:

  • Increase the quality of apprenticeships. Apprentices will need to demonstrate their competence through rigorous assessment. This will focus on the end of the apprenticeship to ensure that the apprentice is ready to progress
  • Put employers in the driving seat. In future, apprenticeships will be based on standards designed by employers
  • Simplify the system. The new employer-designed standards will be short and easy to understand. They will describe the skills and knowledge that an individual needs to be fully competent in an occupation
  • Give employers purchasing power. Routing government funding for the external training of apprentices via employers, to empower businesses to act as customers, driving up the quality and relevance of such training.

Following the new standards proposal, an employer group was formulated to develop the criteria. The employer-lead group includes representatives from awarding bodies, training centres, the FIVP and a variety of employers. The group has met on a number of occasions to discuss the veterinary nursing apprenticeship, outlining the knowledge, skills and behaviours (KSBs) expected by employers.

In the latest meeting, the group took a vote on the entry requirements for candidates looking to pursue a veterinary nursing role. The current standards stipulate that students require a C grade or above in five GCSEs (or equivalent), including English and mathematics. The standards presently allow students to complete their English and maths GCSEs whilst taking part in the apprenticeship.

FIVP Chairman Ian Skates represented the views held by many independent practices, in support of the current format of permitting students to gain the necessary qualifications whilst partaking in an apprenticeship. He presented the notion that it encompassed a wider range of potential candidates and allowed flexibility for practices recruiting apprentices. Despite this, the group voted in favour of students attaining at least a C grade in both GCSE’s (or equivalent), prior to enrolling in a veterinary nursing apprenticeship. The comments in support of this proposal suggested that ‘more complex concepts and calculations were expected of Veterinary Nurse’s now, so academic ability needed to be established at the outset.’

The group went on to discuss apprenticeship duration, as well as the importance of conduct, not just at work, but also within the community. With regard to duration, the majority of the group were in favour of a typical 30–36 month course. Although the time is flexible to the needs of the student, the longer period allows students the necessary time to complete the course without added pressure and undue stress. With regards to behaviour, it was agreed that candidates should show the ability to accept and act on constructive advice and guidance, as well as show a proactive commitment to seek clarification and recognise their own limitations. These amendments were added to form part of the behaviour standards of the apprenticeship and can be viewed alongside the knowledge and skills standards, documented below.

The Apprenticeship Trailblazer Group meets again on 20th October.
Requirements: Knowledge, Skills and Behaviour (KSBs)

Knowledge The veterinary nurse will require a comprehensive understanding of:
Legislative compliance and regulatory requirements The RCVS Day One Competences for Veterinary Nurses
The need to be fully conversant with and abide by the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct and its associated guidance
Organisational requirements and legislation related to a veterinary business and animal welfare
The aims of effective health and safety within a veterinary practice
Comparative functional anatomy for veterinary nursing practice Anatomy and physiology in relation to veterinary nursing practice
Normal form and function of body systems in a range of species
The relationship between normal form and function and the effects of disorder in disease processes and the consequent nursing requirements of sick animals
Infection control in veterinary practice The role of infection in animal and human health
The principles of disease transmission in veterinary practice
The principles of disinfection and sterilisation
Maintaining personal hygiene especially in relation to cross-infection
The principles of infection monitoring and control.
Materials, equipment and resources Commonly used instruments and equipment along with their uses and applications
Correct usage, handling, storage, maintenance and disposal of materials and equipment
Stock maintenance to include veterinary consumables and pharmaceuticals
The principles of record keeping
Professional registration The legal framework for veterinary nursing practice
Accountability of veterinary nurses
Application of ethical principles
The principles of consent to veterinary treatment
Legal and ethical duties to clients, colleagues and animals
Nursing Care The essentials of veterinary nursing care for hospitalised animals
The principles of peri-operative veterinary nursing support including Anaesthesia
The principles of veterinary nursing support
The principles of pharmacology and administration of medication
Emergency and critical care The principles of first aid
How to support emergency veterinary care
Nursing requirements of critically ill or injured animals
Species specific nursing requirements for patients requiring intensive care
Special intensive nursing care techniques
Diagnostic techniques for veterinary nurses The principles of radiography and adjuvant imaging techniques
Taking and processing radiographs
The function and use of laboratory equipment
How to collect, prepare and test pathological samples
How to prepare specimens for transportation
Communication The dynamics of communication and methods of communicating
Factors affecting working relationships with clients and within the veterinary team
The principles of customer service
Self-Management The principles relating to evidence based approaches to learning
Recognising and working within personal and professional limitations
Seeking and using feedback and advice where appropriate


Skill The veterinary nurse will comply with RCVS Day One Skills for veterinary nurses and be able to:
Legislation affecting practice Comply with health and safety legislation
Comply with data protection legislation
Follow relevant operating procedures and manufacturers guidelines when using equipment, materials and pharmaceutical products
Communication Communicate effectively using a variety of methods
Create accurate written communication
Communicate effectively expressing appropriate empathy and sympathy
Conduct nursing clinics
Clinical skills Prepare and maintain all areas of the veterinary practice at all times
Prepare records, equipment and resources
Work in a safe and effective manner
Manage and perform effective infection control procedures
Provide nursing support as required
Prepare, use, maintain, store and dispose equipment and materials effectively
Self-Management Manage own performance and development; take measures to improve performance and competence
Engage in continued professional and personal development
Use professional standards of practice to self-assess performance
Professionalism Practice in accordance with the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct


Behaviour The veterinary nurse will abide by the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for veterinary nurses and demonstrate:
Work within legal and ethical limits The ability to conform to approved procedures
The application of ethical issues to their work in veterinary practice
Professional accountability Reliability, working to high standards
The ability to adjust to change
Ability to take responsibility
Effective time management and self management
Development of good working relationships
Appropriate Communication
Responsibility Taking responsibility for own actions
Maintaining a professional appearance and following PPE protocols
Responsibility for own development and contribute to day-to-day decisions
Good application of knowledge and skills, awareness of areas to improve
Ability to plan ahead
Well organised work
Confidence in undertaking tasks, able to use own initiative
Reflection and self awareness A commitment to learning and professional development
Using professional standards of practice to self-assess performance
Ability to accept and act on constructive advice and guidance, a proactive commitment to seek clarification and recognises own limitations