Veterinary Nursing as a profession has grown in both recognition and status over the last few years. Year on year, the number of Student Vet Nurses enrolling on Veterinary Nursing courses increases, as well as the total number of Veterinary Nurses recorded on the RCVS register. This not only demonstrates the rising awareness of the existence of the profession, but also the viability as a career choice. This is excellent news for the field and is the first step in the right direction of what ‘Vet Nurse Awareness Month’ is trying to achieve. However, knowledge of the importance and complexity of a vet nurse’s role in practice is, understandably, still not as well understood by those not working in a veterinary practice.
So what do Vet Nurses actually DO?
Veterinary Nursing is a multifaceted career and it’s no surprise that a recent study showed that Vet Nurses cited ‘variety’ as one of their favourite aspects of the profession. But how far does this variety extend? Where is the line between Veterinary Surgeon and Vet Nurse? Or between Vet Nurse and Animal Nursing Assistant? Well, that’s why we have Vet Nurse Awareness Month!
Looking at a typical but hypothetical patient’s journey during a routine practice visit might help to draw the distinction and illustrate the extensive role of the vet nurse in practice. In this scenario, the nurse is portrayed as female, however, there has been a positive increase in males in this profession as well.
Mrs. Pitt has called the practice…
…as Harry, her 8-year-old Pug, has had terrible breath recently and the Vet recommended a descale and polish during his vaccination visit 2 weeks ago. A member of the reception team takes the call and consults with a nurse to decide when this procedure could be safely scheduled, keeping in mind the safety considerations and linking with the veterinary surgeons’ current surgical caseload. Once a suitable slot is found, Mrs. Pitt receives advice from the nurse on fasting prior to his dental and a pre-operative appointment is scheduled with a nurse.
The day arrives…
…for Harry’s dental; he arrives at the practice right on time at 8:30 am. The nurse takes Harry’s up to date weight and checks him over to ensure there are no obvious physical issues before the vet’s full examination. She makes sure to ask relevant questions about his recent health, but also dedicates some time to find out a little more about Harry. What kind of food does he love? (Chicken) Does he have a preference on going to the toilet? (On pavement) Is there anything that stresses Harry out? (He doesn’t like his feet being touched). Once the nurse feels she has gathered enough information and has discussed the procedure in full with Mrs. Pitt, she takes Harry to a prepared kennel where he can settle before his procedure starts.
Mrs. Pitt has opted to have preoperative blood testing performed on the advice of the nurse due to Harry’s more advanced age. The nurse takes the blood sample with the help of the nursing assistant and runs these in the in-house lab.
Once the results are in…
…the nurse takes these to the vet for review. Based on the results, the vet prescribes a slightly reduced dosage of premedicant drug and pain relief which the nurse records for future use.
The nurse places an intravenous catheter for safe venous access, with the help of the nursing assistant, ensuring to avoid touching Harry’s feet where possible. She calculates the premedicant drugs using his up to date weight and safely administers them to Harry. Of course, she knows this will take about 30 minutes to take effect and so uses this time to set up for the dental procedure. She ensures the instruments are all clean and sterile, that the descaler is refilled and pressurised, and then tests the anaesthetic machine for safety.
When Harry is ready…
…the Nurse takes him to the dental room. Since Harry is a pug with a short nose, the nurse knows that giving Harry oxygen for a few minutes before starting the anaesthetic will reduce the risk of breathing complications during the introduction of anaesthesia. The veterinary surgeon then anaesthetises Harry while the nurse monitors his heart rate, breathing rate, temperature, blood pressure and other parameters to ensure Harry remains at a safe anaesthetic rate, often adjusting the anaesthetic where necessary.
Once the vet has examined Harry’s teeth, he recommends a thorough cleaning and hands this responsibility to the nurse. Under the vet’s direction, the nurse proceeds to descale and polish the teeth with a second nurse continuing to monitor the anaesthetic.
Once the dental procedure is complete…
…and Harry’s teeth are gleaming, Harry is transported back to his kennel where his nurse stays with him and monitors him until he is fully awake. Once recovered, the nurse offers Harry some easily digestible food, safe in the knowledge that if he isn’t keen on this food, she can pop over to the shop and pick up some cooked chicken which she knows he loves. Once he has had something to eat, the nurse takes Harry out to go to the toilet, making sure that they include some pavement on their short walk.
The nurse then calls Mrs. Pitt and organises and time for her to come and collect Harry. During the post-operative appointment, the nurse discusses how the procedure went and takes the time to guide Mrs. Pitt through any post-operative care instructions. The nurse also gives Mrs. Pitt some guidance and preventative dental care such as tooth brushing and diet tips to keep Harry’s teeth in good condition. The nurse makes sure Mrs. Pitt knows to call if she is worried or if she has any questions.
This is just a small sample of the range of skills used by vet nurses on a daily basis.
Emergencies, specialist cases, medical nursing, infection control, diagnostic imaging and lab testing… All call upon a different set of skills and knowledge base. The good news is that vet nurses are highly trained in all of these topics and plenty more besides.
While these skills and knowledge are essential elements to a successful nursing career, understanding and empathy are also key. Vet nurses often act as the heart of a practice, feeling what their patients feel and seeking bonds with their owners to comfort and educate. The continued advancement of the role means that nurses will always be finding new ways to contribute to caring for their patients, which is why we dedicate the month of May to Vet Nurse Awareness Month, and to shouting from the rooftops just how amazing vet nurses are!