Honing skills and helping the homeless
Vets in the Community gives vet students and vet nursing students the chance to carry out consultations for the pets of the homeless. Since it began eight years ago, vet students from the University of Nottingham and vet nursing students studying at Nottingham Trent University have carried out more than 2000 consultations.
The charity is unique in that students lead every aspect of the service it provides, including fundraising. The student committee, of which I am a member, maintains a high standard of care for patients, supported by university staff.
Outreach visits and walk-rounds in the city help ensure everyone who needs the service knows how to access it. Students in any year are given the opportunity to apply their knowledge and build confidence in real-life situations, under the supervision of our university-based clinicians.
We carry out routine healthcare procedures, such as health checks, vaccinations, flea and worming treatments, emptying anal glands, inserting microchips and nail clipping.
We also have the opportunity to experience first-opinion diagnostic veterinary care, including ultrasound imaging, first aid treatments, microscopic assessment of skin scrapes and the use of commonly encountered medicines.
Practising our communication skills helps reinforce day 1 competences as well as building confidence and competence in delivering advice and information.
'These experiences give aspiring vets and vet nurses a taste of what to expect in practice'
We also gain other skills that will be essential when we are working in practice, such as proficiency in ensuring regulatory compliance through monitoring stock, ensuring drugs are dispensed and reordered appropriately, and knowledge of how to maintain and upgrade clinical record-keeping software.
These experiences give us aspiring vets a taste of what to expect in practice, as well as contextualising our studies. Involvement also encourages peer-to-peer teaching by students who are at more advanced stages of their course, which enhances team working and develops problem-solving skills.
Clinics are held fortnightly and our clients get a warm welcome, with hot drinks and homebaked goods. Alongside the clinical examinations, we distribute donations of pet food, blankets, toys, treats and bedding for anyone in need, and give out pet neutering vouchers provided by Dogs Trust and Cats Protection.
We accept referrals from numerous homelessness services, including The Big Issue, drop-in centres, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, charities such as Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid, the police and police community support officers.
Running the service requires a massive fundraising effort. Our science-based cake competition, quizzes, fashion shows and raffles are well supported, and we benefit from sponsorship raised by team events such as the Robin Hood half marathon, which is enthusiastically supported by the whole campus and the wider community.
The money raised through these activities has allowed us to expand and broaden what we can provide. For example, we’ve invested in some diagnostic equipment, including a microscope and an ultrasound machine.
Since the service began, one of our major concerns has been accessibility for those people who would benefit from our services, but who can’t physically get to the clinic. However, after three years of intense fundraising and thoughtful planning, we recently took possession of a purpose-built mobile clinic. This has been our most ambitious venture to date. The mobile clinic is fully equipped and will allow us to offer high-quality care from various locations across Nottingham. Not only will it improve the accessibility of the service we provide but it presents new opportunities for us to expand further geographically. And we will be able to increase the number of slots available for student volunteers – which are always over-subscribed – to carry out more clinics and treat more patients in need.
As a committee member, I have been fortunate to witness the benefits of the clinics for both attending students and clients receiving the service.
Being able to build relationships with our regular clients is an enriching experience and has given us a true insight into a career working with the community, not just in the community. I am awestruck by what we have achieved and look forward to the positive impact our mobile clinic will have within the community. It is truly heartwarming to see first-hand how much good the initiative does.
I am bursting with pride at being part of this process and seeing the impact it has on those we help. Being part of Vets in the Community is something I will always hold close to my heart and I am especially grateful to our leadership team – Jenny Stavisky, Chris Hawke and Aga Zoltowska.