Developing a veterinary nursing career in nutrition
For as long as I can remember, I have been an animal lover. Surrounded by animals large and small, wild or pet, I knew they would always be an important part of my life.
After achieving an unusual selection of A levels and completing an art foundation course, I found myself at a crossroads, so when I was offered a training placement at my local veterinary practice, I jumped at the chance, although at the time, I had very little understanding of what the veterinary world was like.
My first training position was at a mixed practice, which enabled me to gain experience with pets, farm animals and wildlife. Training started immediately and, within a short time, I was taking emergency calls from owners or farmers, helping to anaesthetise patients and caring for in-patients (which I loved).
At the same time, I undertook veterinary nurse training on a block-release basis at Myerscough College in Preston. As well as enjoying the opportunity to study, it was great getting to know my fellow students. I also had to complete a case portfolio, similar to the current nursing progress log and was pleased to pass my first-year exams. However, at this point I realised that in order to qualify as a competent nurse, I needed to develop my practical skills.
I completed my training at a large veterinary hospital and referral centre. I took every opportunity to challenge myself, including setting up weight management clinics. I didn’t know it at the time, but my interest in nutrition was to become fundamental to my career.
Working as a qualified RVN
A house move prompted a job search and, in an effort to expand my skill set further, I took a position as an emergency and critical care nurse.
I liked the variety and the difference in pace that night work entailed, and especially enjoyed quieter times that offered the chance to spend time with the in-patients. I realised that giving an excellent standard of care included the delivery of good nutrition and this became an important aspect of my work.
Five years on, I had my first child and found it was impossible to work unsociable hours. While on maternity leave, I was offered the opportunity to become head nurse at a new local branch practice and I accepted the challenge.
Running a branch practice
Setting up and running a branch practice stretched me in many different ways. Communicating with staff and clients was of paramount importance to the smooth running of the practice.
"I realised that giving an excellent standard of care included the delivery of good nutrition and this became an important aspect of my work"
I enjoyed being a clinical coach for our trainee nurses and took enormous satisfaction from watching them learn and develop.
One of my main goals for our group of practices was to introduce nursing clinics, starting with – you’ve guessed it – weight management. To prepare for this challenge, I completed the Royal Canin pet health counsellor course. It was inspirational.
Having done so, I instigated puppy socialisation parties and a number of clinics – for diabetic, dental and senior pets – all of which involved discussions around nutrition.
I found myself spending much of my time talking to clients and realised it was an aspect of my job that I truly loved and felt it was valued by our clients because it benefited their pets.
Specialising in pet obesity
After my second child was born, I returned to my role as full-time head nurse but, once again, found myself wondering, what next?
A unique position working at the University of Liverpool’s Weight Management Clinic became available. It was the challenge I’d been looking for and I couldn’t believe I’d found a role that would allow me to specialise. This was exactly the opportunity I’d always dreamed of as it offered the chance to make a real difference to pets and their owners.
Now, the bulk of my time is spent dealing with owners whose pets have been referred to the clinic, seeing clients and patients for initial case work-ups and follow-up appointments, and organising the logistics of the clinic’s activities.
Georgia at the 2019 BSAVA Congress
The rest of my time is spent collecting data from our work, as well as teaching the wider veterinary community – nationally and internationally – and educating the public about obesity in pets.
I have been extremely lucky to have met many wonderful owners and their pets, but I have been involved in many other activities too. I have written for a number of publications, spoken at numerous events and delivered training in person or via webinars to vets and nurses all over the world.
My most recent travels have taken me to Serbia, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, as well as closer to home, including an opportunity to speak at an event in the House of Commons in London.
Other events have included training days with various dog charities, such as Guide Dogs, Support Dogs and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, as well as attending public facing events such as Crufts.
Good communication continues to underpin all aspects of my work, not least when training vet students, such as during a roadshow at all the vet schools in the UK and Ireland. My role continues to provide other opportunities for communication, including filming instructional YouTube videos and appearing in the BBC programme, ‘Trust Me I’m A Vet’.
I encourage vet nurses to develop their careers and seek to specialise as doing so can open up a range of career opportunities.
It won’t be long before I’ll be looking for opportunities to further expand my knowledge and expertise in obesity care and nutrition.