Teaching clinical skills as a veterinary nurse
Career change into vet nursing
My route into vet nursing was a little unconventional. It took me until I was nearly 30 to even start on my path to becoming a registered veterinary nurse (RVN).
I had a degree in history and English from Glasgow university, a successful career in the wine trade and as an estate agent, but I knew that none of these things was for me. I toyed with the idea of a career change into management accountancy, but it just didn’t feel right.
I’d initially expressed an interest in vet nursing at school, but had been persuaded that going to university would be better. On reflection, being in Glasgow in the early 90s, studying a subject I loved was the right thing for me, but the thought of vet nursing was always there.
Despite all the things I’d done, I still had an unshakeable need to find out if vet nursing was for me, and when an idea has been in your head for so long that you think about it every day, you need to find out more.
It was the start of the new millennium – a great time for a fresh start. I still had a copy of the British Veterinary Nursing Association’s purple leaflet about how to become a veterinary nurse and, most importantly, the address of the RCVS making it possible for me to find the contact details of training practices.
"I love being in really busy places and I adore theatre and anaesthesia"
I sat at my new computer (the internet was still in its infancy) and wrote a letter – an actual letter – offering to volunteer and also asking for a student vet nurse position. I sent it, with a stamped addressed envelope, to 50 training practices within a 45-mile radius of home. And then I waited.
Only 13 practices responded (I sometimes wonder what the others did with the free stamp). I got 12 polite ‘no thank you, but we’ll keep your CV on file’ responses and one that offered me some voluntary work.
I was in! Well, only just. Luckily the practice was quite close to home as I had quit my ‘proper’ job, rented out my flat and moved in with my boyfriend. I had started working in a department store on Oxford Street in the lead up to Christmas. I worked six days a week, earning double time on Sundays, and I spent my one day off volunteering at the practice.
I managed this for two months before leaving retail behind – I had secured a student vet nurse position in the practice where I had been volunteering.
I worked there for three months and it wasn’t that great, so I thought I’d try another practice. I wrote to the 12 other practices that had at least used my stamp wisely and I got an interview. It felt like the right place to be. I took the job and started my national vocational qualification in veterinary nursing, which I completed in 2004. And, as they say, the rest is history...
In reality, the rest has been a journey altered by health and fate, and making the most of opportunities.
In clinic, I have pretty much always worked in 24-hour hospitals across charity and private practice. I love being in really busy places and I adore theatre and anaesthesia. I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing people and owe many of them a debt of gratitude for the training and support they gave me.
It’s one reason why I’m so keen to help support the vet nurse community now, because I’m only here thanks to the kindness of others.
A move into teaching
What altered the course of my career? I have degenerative disc disease and so far have had two spinal surgeries and numerous interventions to stop the debilitating pain it causes. I managed to stay in clinical work for a while, but when I knew things weren’t going to get any better, I found my way into teaching.
As it happened, others had noticed my ability to teach before I did, and encouraged me to use my skills to support others in clinic. When full- time clinical work proved too much, it seemed a natural move to go into teaching.
I’ve learnt so much from all of my students and I adore teaching, but over time I found that teaching clinical skills was the role I wanted. I finally got the opportunity to do this not long after my first spinal surgery. I had been given the all-clear from my surgeon and had got the feeling back in my hands. I focused on my job and gaining further postregistration qualifications.
I had also begun tweeting quite regularly and created #PlanetRVN in 2011. I also have a vet nurse blog which I have been contributing to for the last 7 years.
It all sounds wonderful doesn’t it? I had one career, which morphed into another and now I’m writing this to show the variety of options that are available in vet nursing today – it must all have been so easy.
"I would recommend focusing on an achievable goal, while being aware that others who have achieved the same goal have taken their own path"
Those of you who have moved career or had health hurdles to overcome will be familiar with the sheen we wear to avoid prying questions and to protect ourselves as we heal.
It would be wrong to pretend that everything’s gone smoothly. I’ve had awful times – times when I thought that I’d never work as a vet nurse again. Times when I renewed my RCVS registration having no idea whether I’d use it in the coming year for anything other than writing. Times when getting my clothes on became a personal battle – and missed nights out or major life events that I can’t recall through the haze of heavy pain medication.
Whatever my role, my only goal has always been to be the best I could be. I don’t think we have to have big headline goals to aim for. Instead, I would recommend focusing on an achievable goal, while being aware that others who have achieved the same goal have taken their own path. Standards and opportunities are never the same and you can quickly lose the focus on your happiness if you get stuck constantly aiming for big goals.
My current roles are wonderful – I provide educational support to vet and vet nursing students. They allow me to make the most of my skills. I enjoy student interaction and I can sit down. My first book, Research and Study Skills for Vet Nurses, will be published in March and a second book may be on the cards.
Who knows what the future holds? I know I have worked out what I can achieve physically and what I enjoy doing, and I’ve learned to listen to my gut instinct about what feels right for me.
It certainly isn’t where I thought I’d be, but I’m very happy to be here and I’d urge anyone feeling like there isn’t a space for them in vet nursing to believe that there is – there definitely is – it just might not be where you thought it was.
- Degree in history and English, Glasgow university
- Qualified as a veterinary nurse
- Teaching qualification
- Certificate in coaching and mentoring
- Graduate diploma in veterinary nursing
- Postgraduate certificate in clinical education
- Fellow of the Higher Education Academy