8 Essential Traits You Need To Thrive As A Veterinary Nurse or Assistant

Do you love spending time around animals? Are you a pet owner? If so, you may be considering a career working with animals. Taking courses and earning a degree in pet care can kick start your career as a veterinary nurse or assistant. In less than a year, you can graduate with a diploma and begin your job search at veterinary clinics, animal welfare organisations, or wildlife preserves and zoos.

Loving animals and caring about their welfare are important qualities for a career in veterinary service and medicine. However, these traits are not enough to be a successful animal nurse. There are other vital qualities that this position calls for in a job that presents new challenges daily.

What do veterinary nurses or assistants do?

Veterinarian nurses and assistants are responsible for critical daily tasks involving the care and well-being of animals. From assisting veterinarians in surgery to welcoming pets and their owners into the clinic, nurses have a wide array of responsibilities to perform quickly and efficiently multiple times a day. These are some of the primary duties of a veterinary assistant or nurse:

  • Clean and sanitise kennels, cages, waiting and examining rooms
  • Hold intake interviews for animals and owners
  • Collecting blood, urine, stool, and tissue samples for laboratory testing
  • Give immunisations and medications to pets according to veterinarian instruction
  • Provide emergency assistance to animals in emergencies
  • Support veterinarians during standard procedures involving the administration of anaesthesia, such as spay/neuter surgery and dental cleanings
  • Restrain animals when necessary for examinations
  • Performing laboratory testing like blood draws and x-rays
  • Observing and caring for animals during and after surgery
  • Sterilise and maintain medical and surgical equipment

Additionally, veterinary assistants learn about various aspects of animal care, including parasites, medical conditions, and diets.

8 essential traits of successful veterinary assistants

Aside from their job responsibilities, veterinary nurses and assistants need to possess specific personality traits to thrive in this field. Here are 8 of the critically important qualities assistants and nurses should possess.

1. Being calm under pressure

Staying calm amidst the action, especially during pet emergencies, is a necessity for veterinary nurses. Animals can sense a person’s emotions, and if a nurse or assistant isn’t in control of their feelings in stressful moments, the pets — and their owners — can panic. Already difficult situations can become worse, and frightened animals may act out by scratching or biting. A veterinary assistant needs to be calm and rational, especially as many pet owners will be upset and anxious about their pet’s health and safety.

2. Handling squeamish situations

At times, being a veterinary nurse requires a strong stomach. Assessing and caring for animals often involves messy and dirty work, including contact with urine, faeces, diarrhoea, blood, parasites, guts, and vomit. A pet may come in with a protruding eye or a compound fracture, and you will need to set aside your feelings about what you see, hear, and smell. Pet owners and your colleagues will count on you to help animals in distress no matter what.

3. Possessing physical stamina

Most of the work that veterinarian assistants do involves physical tasks. Restraining a frightened cat or dog, handling heavy medical equipment, and standing on your feet for hours are all part of the job description. A gentle touch combined with physical stamina can help a nurse calm a scared pet, restrain a large dog, and lift animals onto tables and platforms.

4. Having emotional intelligence

Self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship management are key components of emotional intelligence, a valued trait in a veterinary assistant. Being aware of colleagues and pet owners’ emotions and responding accordingly to them is necessary to analyze your environment and make the best decisions possible. Having emotional intelligence is invaluable, especially in emergencies when anxiety and emotions are high.

5. Having a passion for animals

Veterinary nurses have a deep love for animals and a desire to care for them. They forge strong and significant bonds with animals and derive an emotional reward from helping them stay healthy or recover from injuries or illnesses. Having a passion for animal welfare is a must in this career.

6. Adapting quickly to different situations

A necessary skill for veterinary nurses to have is the ability to adjust rapidly to a variety of daily circumstances. Uncertainty is a regular occurrence in a nurse’s job, and you need to be ready for anyone and anything that walks through the clinic doors. Shifting priorities and changing demands are part of veterinary life, and capable nurses can quickly respond to changes in environment and circumstances.

7. Thinking on your feet

Life in a veterinary clinic is full of sudden changes, and the ability to think and act fast is a necessary trait in veterinary assistants. Making smart and sensible decisions with little notice can be the difference between life and death for a pet. The capability to think fast and with confidence will also boost your colleagues’ faith in your skills.

8. Being positive and enthusiastic

No matter what is happening in a veterinary clinic, assistants and nurses need to keep an upbeat, positive attitude. Remaining professional in your conduct is necessary for a job that involves animals and owners experiencing stress and anxiety. Exhibiting your passion and care for animals in a positive manner will help put owners and their pets at ease and better their experience at the clinic.

Use your talents to impact animals’ lives

Enrol in the International Career Institute’s Pet Care/Vet Assistant program and fast track your career as a veterinary assistant or nurse. Put your passion for animals to work and make a positive impact on their lives.

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Gladys Mae


Gladys Mae serves as the General Manager and Head of Student Services at the International Career Institute. Gladys holds a degree in Mass Communication - Broadcast Media from the University of San Jose-Recoletos. She joined ICI in 2010 and has over the past 12 years been instrumental in providing leadership and guidance to staff and students alike. Prior to joining ICI Gladys led a multifaceted career with key roles in the banking and business process outsourcing industries.