Being an equine veterinary nurse specialist
At Liphook Equine Hospital there are around 30 people on duty at any one time, providing round-the-clock care for the patients. The nursing team is divided up into yard nurses and clinic nurses.
In charge of Liphook’s clinic nurses is registered equine vet nurse (REVN) Rosina Lillywhite. She is assisted by deputy clinic nurse Katie Clarke.
Why did you want to be an REVN?
Rosina: I grew up on a family-run riding school near the hospital. I saw an advert for a weekend job at Liphook, applied and got the job. This progressed to become a full-time job as a yard nurse, before I completed my vet nursing training to get to where I am today – heading the team of clinic nurses.
Katie: Having started a career at the RSPCA, I wanted a job where I could help horses while working with the owners’ support.
What did your training involve?
R: I qualified from Hartpury College in 2012, after completing the level 3 diploma in equine veterinary nursing. The course syllabus changed while I was in the middle of my studies, which meant that I had to complete a written portfolio as well as the online nursing progress log.
I completed the qualification on a day-release basis from the practice, which helped me through the course. In the same year, I also completed training to become a clinical coach and have mentored colleagues in training since then.
K: I had worked in equine practice for two years before starting vet nurse training, which gave me the foundation knowledge I needed.
The first two years of a vet nursing course are predominantly small animal based, which I really enjoyed. It gave me a wider range of knowledge in the veterinary field, as well as the opportunity to get to know some lovely small animal VNs.
Katie Clarke in the imaging suite
I completed a level 3 diploma in vet nursing at Plumpton College through the apprenticeship scheme. This was a three-year course that involved spending one day a week at college and the rest of each week at the hospital. I completed my practical assignments – part of the core skills log – with the support of my clinical coach.
Who inspired you?
R: My nursing career started as a weekend job, and I was inspired by my colleagues to pursue it as a full-time career.
K: I have loved and owned horses from a young age and an equine career was always on the cards for me. After working for the RSPCA, I felt I would like to offer a more holistic approach to horse care, in a role that involved medical aspects as well as equine welfare.
What are the best bits of the job?
R: Diagnostic imaging – I enjoy improving my ability to interpret radiographs to understand what they show.
K: The variation, as well as working with a wide variety of horses and cases. We are lucky to have a broad caseload and work with a team of European specialists and the latest in diagnostic imaging – no two days are ever the same!
...and the bits you don’t like?
R: The job doesn’t always have the end result you would like and it can be disheartening if a case doesn’t end well.
K: At Liphook we are split into two nursing teams – ‘yard nurses’ and ‘clinic nurses’. This can make it hard to see a case through from start to finish, but it does provide the best care for the horses as each team is a specialist in its field.
What’s been the highlight of your career?
R: I volunteered at the 2012 London Olympics as part of the equine vet team. It was an incredible experience, working with top-class professionals from all over the world.
K: The highlight of my career was qualifying with a merit from Plumpton College. I didn’t find school easy and had to re-sit maths GCSE before starting my vet nursing diploma. I am proud to have achieved the grades I did.
Training and skills needed to be an equine vet nurse
An equine veterinary nursing career specialises in working with horses. All student vet nurses begin the same training course and complete the same core units. It is then possible to specialise, taking either small animal, equine or ‘mixed’ practice units.
Veterinary nurses with two years’ postqualification experience working in equine practice can also do an add-on exam to become an equine veterinary nurse (EVN).
Communication skills are vital, especially between nurses and vets. EVNs need to be self-motivated and able to work individually, as well as part of a team.
It’s also a high-pressure environment. In a busy referral hospital, emergencies may arrive at short notice and patients must be triaged calmly, quickly and effectively.
Alongside a calm demeanor, empathy and compassion are essential since an equine hospital can be an unusual and frightening environment for a horse.