Supporting vet nurses to develop a fulfilling career

Graduate support programmes for newly qualified vets are becoming more common, but provision for vet nurses is less well developed. With this in mind, vet group Linnaeus, which is part of Mars Veterinary Health, has recently introduced a strategy to ensure that all its vet nurses and patient care assistants (PCAs) are supported in developing their skill sets and careers from the moment they join one of the group’s practices.

The strategy is being coordinated by a central support veterinary nursing team (CSVNT) and comprises three key pillars: 

  • Experience for student vet nurses (SVNs) and PCAs;
  • Professional development of registered veterinary nurses (RVNs);
  • A postregistration programme (PRP) to support RVNs to transition from primary care to referral nursing.

Andrea Jeffery

Andrea Jeffery, Linnaeus' chief nursing officer, has spearheaded the new support

programme for vet nurses and patient care assistants

Andrea Jeffery, Linnaeus’ chief nursing officer, has spearheaded the creation of the strategy having recently completed a PhD investigating the factors that influence retention within the vet nursing profession. She says, ‘Anecdotally, you hear of a number of nurses who leave the profession every year, yet the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (2018) figures show it is less than 1 per cent. While that is quite a small proportion, overall, it is still a significant number of nurses and there are more still who indicate an “intention to leave the profession”.  

‘The work I did looked at what other factors correlated with “intention to leave”. The findings are not surprising. Having a clear career pathway, having a salary progression structure, being valued and respected, being used to the best of their skill set – these are all key indicators which people who have an “intention to leave” don’t perceive they have. 

‘We want to ensure Linnaeus has a veterinary nursing population which is supported and developed in order to reach its full potential in its ability to deliver best patient care. To help achieve this, we aspire to enable the patient care and nursing team to achieve success through supportive, well-managed training programmes. 

“This will ensure the structure of our nursing teams can help each individual meet their personal goals, with clear progression opportunities.’

Within the CSVNT, dedicated team members focus on each of the three key priorities. Trish Scorer and Lucy Middlecote are the student experience managers, responsible for developing a strong veterinary nursing population within Linnaeus. They have created an in-house training programme for PCAs, which helps them feel invested in and supported as well as achieve the skills they need. ‘Where appropriate, PCAs are encouraged to become SVN apprentices,’ says Trish. ‘Ongoing support is provided by us, with access to CPD resources and fantastic group collaboration via our virtual community.’

This support is welcomed by those who supervise, mentor and support SVNs and PCAs in practice.

‘Student experience support gives guidance to our senior team enabling us to provide support and progression to our PCA/SVN team,’ says Yas Fox, PCA lead at Cave Veterinary Specialists. ‘The long-term benefit to Cave is that it provides a structured, visible route of progression, therefore improving staff retention levels.’

Yas Fox

Yas Fox is patient care assistant lead at Cave Veterinary Specialists

RVNs who join the Linnaeus group, together with those who are already part of the team, and PCAs are supported by the professional development team. Claire Roberts, professional development manager, explains that, alongside ensuring that new recruits receive a structured induction, the team is responsible for the coordination, development and implementation of professional development provision for RVNs and PCAs who want to progress their skills and knowledge in specific areas of patient care.

‘The support we offer ranges from the development of CPD content to targeted workshops and one-to-one sessions that help our nurses create an effective and long-lasting career,’ she says. ‘We believe with structured inductions and ongoing developmental support we create a robust nursing population which supports staff retention, career progression and nurse utilisation.’

The PRP is aimed at early-career nurses who want to develop referral nursing skills and transition into referral practice. Although still in its first year, the programme is already proving successful, according to Sophie Venables, its manager. ‘We have already successfully supported a third of our PRP nurses to find permanent employment in a referral setting,’ she says.

So how is the new strategy going down in practice? Jessica Hill is an RVN at Paragon Veterinary Referrals and is part of the PRP. She qualified in June 2020 with a degree in veterinary nursing and bioveterinary science from the University of Bristol.

‘As part of my degree, I completed rotations at Langford Referral Hospital and developed an interest in referral nursing after seeing the variety of specialist roles that nurses have in referral centres,’ she says. ‘The referral nurses had vast knowledge of their specialist areas and many had completed further qualifications, which enhanced the amount of information I learned and the skills I developed.’

During the PRP, Jessica will rotate twice through three areas: wards, surgery/anaesthesia and diagnostic imaging. She will also complete two optional rotational blocks, spending six weeks in each. Skills supervisors are assigned from each of the three rotations and, by the end of the PRP, Jessica aims to have completed a list of comprehensive referral-level skills relevant to each clinical area.

Evidence-based practice is strongly encouraged, and four hours a week are put aside for writing knowledge summaries and completing clinical audits. Professional development days are also part of the PRP, with a focus on key areas such as communication and resilience.

All the nurses taking part in the PRP are allocated a mentor within their practice, who meets with the nurse each week for a catch-up session, while additional support comes from line managers within the referral hospital and the CSVNT managers responsible for the PRP.

‘Since starting the programme, I have learned something new and developed my nursing skills every day,’ says Jessica. ‘I have been able to utilise my clinical skills as part of the team and also work independently. It has provided a fantastic opportunity to develop skills and knowledge within a referral centre, which is strengthened by the supportive environment and dedicated team members.

‘My experience has taught me so much already and each day provides a new challenge and opportunity to learn. I have developed more confidence in referral-level nursing skills and this programme has definitely confirmed my passion for referral nursing.’ 

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