Becoming the first RVN on the Western Isles of Scotland

Hayley Ford with her dog at the shore
Veterinary nursing has always been the career for me and my commitment to it only increased while doing work experience at a veterinary practice in Gloucestershire during my secondary school years. I wanted to be able to understand the medical and surgical conditions of animals and provide nursing care for them.

In June 2013, my family relocated from Gloucestershire to the Outer Hebrides as we loved the beautiful scenery and friendly communities. Four months later, I approached Old Mill Veterinary Practice in Stornoway in the hope of gaining the further experience I needed that would enable me to apply for a place on a VN training course.

I was offered a two-week placement and I loved it; every day involved a variety of interesting cases and I asked if it would be possible to extend my work experience until Christmas. On Christmas Eve I was offered a full-time job as a receptionist but, although I enjoyed the work, I was still keen to train as a veterinary nurse. The practice had not trained a student veterinary nurse before and I was excited at the prospect of becoming its first registered nurse.

Becoming a veterinary nurse - training options 

Researching the training options, I found that there were three routes that were open to me. These included doing a university degree, the Level 3 Diploma or a Higher National Diploma (HND) in veterinary nursing. The two-year HND course at the Barony Campus of Scotland's Rural College in Dumfries suited my situation because it was block-release, requiring me to attend for three blocks of around six weeks each year. I applied and secured a place on the course.

HND course at Scotland's Rural College

Travelling to the campus meant a journey of 300 miles. I would usually fly to Glasgow and meet up with a friend who had travelled from Shetland.

"Veterinary nursing has always been the career for me" 

The course was intensive, with frequent written exams, the submission of written reports, project work and presentations, as well as the completion of the Nursing Progress Log (NPL) while in practice. I enjoyed the project work most of all and gave a presentation on ‘Preventative health care methods for beef cattle’ in my first year and one on ‘The treatment of Cushing's disease’ in my second year.

Daily lectures began at 9 am and finished at 4 pm Monday to Friday, which meant that we studied for long hours, but I enjoyed being resident at the college and participating in group study quizzes, and so on, in the evenings.

Placement in practice

The blocks of time spent in practice were, on average, two months long. During these, it was important to get involved in as many cases as possible, to ask questions and learn from the skilled veterinary professionals I was working with. The NPL was a major part of my placements as it gave me the opportunity to become competent in clinical tasks before graduation.

My own practice was very supportive during my training and I enjoyed putting the knowledge I gained at college into practice. The objective structured clinical examinations (OSCEs) were the final challenge on the course and I practised as much as I could in the months leading up to them. I even set up improvised stations at home; I practised radiography positioning on the coffee table using cardboard cut outs for the cassette and grid and a soft toy as a patient. I used a catheter as a nasogastric tube on a soft toy, and my dog, Lola, was bandaged a few times. I passed my final examinations in August 2016 and graduated with distinction at a ceremony held at Glasgow university three months later.

Life as a Registered Veterinary Nurse

I am enjoying my work as an RVN and the variety of cases that each day brings. I am most interested in theatre nursing and find orthopaedic surgery fascinating.

On most mornings I assist the veterinary surgeon during operations, which might include neutering surgeries, dentals, lump removal, orthopaedic surgery or emergencies. I set up the equipment required, monitor the animal's vital signs while under general anaesthetic and assist during the procedure. I monitor and care for the animals postoperatively and carry out laboratory work such as biochemistry and packed cell volume tests. I also enjoy nursing patients and meeting their specific surgical or medical needs as these are vitally important for recovery.

"I am looking forward to my future as an RVN and cannot imagine a more rewarding career"

In the afternoons, I am involved in nursing consultations under veterinary direction and this is an area that I would like to develop. I carry out microchipping, postoperative checks and suture removal, as well as providing advice on worming and flea treatments. I discharge the patients at the end of the day and explain the postoperative instructions to the owners, including how to administer medication. I enjoy speaking to clients and try my best to put them at ease.

The practice cares for large animals too and I have helped with blood testing cattle and sheep. Being on hand to do the paper work is definitely a help in windy weather.

Of course, a variety of wildlife is admitted to the practice and I have cared for guillemots, hedgehogs, a seal, a gannet, an otter and a puffin. Working as the sole RVN at a busy practice is rewarding, although it's not always possible to work set hours. I am looking forward to my future as an RVN and cannot imagine a more rewarding career. In future, I would like to take on more responsibility through nursing clinics and even become a clinical coach.

I can thoroughly recommend being an RVN, but would advise anyone considering joining the profession to get plenty of work experience and to find the training option that suits them best. The encouragement and support that I received from my clinical coach, the staff at the Old Mill Veterinary Practice and the lecturers at Barony College have enabled me to train as the first RVN to help the animals of the Isles of Lewis and Harris. I am grateful to all of them.

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