A passion and career in veterinary nursing

Belinda Andrews-Jones in practice
I have my father to thank for my career. When I was 15 years old, he saw an advert for a student veterinary nurse position and, having grown up in Dorset surrounded by animals, I was curious to find out what being a veterinary nurse involved. I wrote to local practices offering my help after school and was soon working at one of them. I joined the practice full time once I left school at the age of 16. I later moved to another local practice to begin my training and then moved on to the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) to continue my studies.

Following qualification, I spent a few months as a locum in a large mixed practice in Yorkshire before moving back down south to become head nurse at a busy mixed practice in Surrey. A couple of years later I decided to travel and worked as a VN in Australia. It was fascinating to learn about different diseases and new nursing techniques.

Soon after I got back to the UK, I returned to the RVC as a surgical nurse working at the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals. I completed the Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing (Surgical) and then moved to the hospital's new emergency and critical care department (ECC). I loved the diversity of cases and seeing every type of small animal and every veterinary discipline, but with the common factor that each patient needed emergency or critical care. I worked with many wonderful people and learnt a lot.

"I have always been passionate about the veterinary nursing profession"

I have always been passionate about the veterinary nursing profession so, during my early career at the RVC, I became a council member of the British Veterinary Nursing Association and served as honorary treasurer for a year.

First VN in England to hold Veterinary Technician Specialist qualification

Later, I decided to pursue further critical care training to become the first VN in England to hold a Veterinary Technician Specialist qualification. I gained the Veterinary Technician Specialist qualification in Emergency and Critical Care in 2006. At this point, I became senior nurse within the ECC department at the hospital. I managed to combine this with having my daughter Amelia and, for almost all of the time I was working at the RVC, I was commuting home to Dorset several times a week. Fortunately, I have a patient husband.

Balancing work and Masters degree in veterinary education

I found myself becoming more and more interested in the process of veterinary education. I started a Masters degree in veterinary education while working full time and I hope to complete it this year. During my studies, I was appointed as the first clinical educator at the RVC. This combined my clinical (senior nurse) role with teaching postgraduate and undergraduate veterinary nurse students and I found it rewarding to be able to share my passion for nursing and to teach using clinical case examples.

Veterinary nurse champion

At the end of last year I joined CVS. As director of veterinary nursing, my role is to champion the role of VNs within the group. Nurses are the cornerstone of our business and they are fundamental to our continued success and expansion. I want to ensure they receive the opportunities and support they need to build a long-term career with us. Over the next few months, I will be reviewing every aspect of our nurses' work to ensure that we are providing an exceptional level of nursing to our patients. I also firmly believe that nurses' skills should be valued, nurtured and rewarded.

Tackling the veterinary nurse shortage

A couple of months in, I feel that I'm already having a positive impact. My priority is tackling our key challenge – a shortage of veterinary nurses.

The veterinary profession needs to ensure that VNs are given the opportunity to do the job that they are trained to do. For instance, it's more efficient for practices, and more rewarding for nurses, if cleaners and patient care assistants are employed to do general cleaning of the main practice areas and basic animal care. I'm not saying that VNs should never clean – they are, after all, at the forefront of infection control – but it's also important that they are given the opportunity to use their full range of skills.

"My message to VNs is to remember that ours is a unique career, which enables us to make a difference to countless animals and their owners"

With Brexit on the way and the threat of reduced numbers of veterinary surgeons applying for RCVS membership, many veterinary practices may face additional pressures. VNs can play an important role in helping to ensure that standards are maintained.

Variety of roles within nursing - a unique career

I've loved every step of my career so far. This may be because I have always pushed myself to consider, what next? Often, when I've completed a project, I find myself saying ‘never again’, to another exam, speaking opportunity, writing a book chapter or association membership, yet a few months later I do it anyway. I love being busy and I'm a great believer in the saying ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person.’

My message to VNs is to remember that ours is a unique career, which enables us to make a difference to countless animals and their owners. Depending on the day and the circumstances, we are anaesthetists, radiographers, dispensers, dental hygienists, lab technicians, phlebotomists, animal behaviourists, client educators, surgical assistants, midwives, physical therapists, nutritionists, groomers, infection control officers and patients' advocates. There are few careers that offer the range of possibilities, futures and job security that veterinary nursing does.

I believe that people can do anything they want in life, but they have to believe and keep working at it. I would not be in the position I am today without having pushed myself, ignoring those who told me that I was crazy for trying to cram so much into my days.

With my new role, I have big plans to develop excellent standards, career paths with CPD training and increased rewards to boost job satisfaction. It will be another exciting challenge and I am positive about the future for veterinary nurses.

Belinda's CV

▪ Veterinary nurse qualification

▪ Head nurse

▪ VN experience in Australia

▪ RCVS Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing (Surgical)

▪ BVNA Council

▪ Veterinary Technical Specialist in Emergency and Critical Care

▪ Senior VN at the Royal Veterinary College

▪ Studying for a Master's degree in Veterinary Education

▪ Clinical educator, RVC

▪ Director of Veterinary Nursing, CVS

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