The notion that a veterinary nurse is ‘just a vet’s assistant’ is an old one. Read on to learn more about the role of a veterinary nurse (VN), we think you might be surprised!
Veterinary nursing, as a profession, has perhaps seen some of the largest changes in recent decades when compared to many other industries. VNs out there are pushing the boundaries of the profession continually, such that the profession is unrecognisable from just a few decades ago in many ways. In order to be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and on the Veterinary Nurse Register, a VN must undertake an intensive two, three or four year course completing either a diploma or a degree programme. They must pass a range of scientific theory modules as well as a gruelling practical exam (the dreaded “OSCES”).
The consequence of this is that we have a UK-wide army of highly skilled individuals with a sound scientific knowledge base, who are able to provide a valuable, professional nursing and advisory service to pets and their owners. VNs are also expected to undertake continued professional development, an ongoing learning requirement which keeps their skills and knowledge current with contemporary veterinary science. There are additional options for further qualifications too so that individuals may follow their line of interest, and begin to focus their career with a specific bias. Examples include anaesthesia, emergency and critical care nursing, nutrition, physiotherapy and coaching among many others.
Veterinary nursing is now a profession that caters for career progression too as increasingly, senior VN and management roles are materialising. These changes mean that VNs more and more, invest their time, money and energy into their careers which only serves to support and promote the best standards of patient care.
What about the day-to-day nitty-gritty? What involvement do VNs actually have in caring for your pets? The role can be broken down into different areas of work, however we regularly expect and require our nurses to move from one area to another to meet the high demands of any given day, in what is an unpredictable line of work.
A good place to start is monitoring anaesthesia. Under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon, this task is one that takes up a reasonable proportion of a VNs day, most days. VNs are trained to monitor certain patient parameters under anaesthesia, meaning that they must know a great deal about the physiology of a patient and how anaesthesia interacts with it. Such things as blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, blood pressure, temperature and all the vital signs are familiar topics to our nurses who understand how each of them are inclined to change depending on treatment and drugs given. Under the direction of the veterinary surgeon, the aim of a VN in this instance is to maintain bodily systems as best as possible in the face of medications and processes that act upon them. They are instrumental in ensuring that our patients are suitably anaesthetised for their procedure.
Another major part of the VN role is the general nursing of patients. This includes recovering them post-operatively, back to full consciousness, having created a comfortable and warm environment, and whilst monitoring them for signs of complications. There is also the care of inpatients, for example a head trauma patient or a poisoning case, which can include things like giving medications by mouth, by injection and directly into the vein as well as caring for chest drains (drains that go directly into the chest cavity to draw off fluid or air), carrying out physio on post-op patients and a whole range of other tasks as well. Our nurses have an incredible instinct and are skilled at providing for each patient’s every need, which is sometimes a simple as fuss and attention and some mental stimulation. They understand that the hospital can be a scary place for a pet and have numerous tricks to make them feel more at ease. Chicken treats are a particularly popular option!
Client advice is something which most VNs pride themselves on. This ranges from talking owners through how to care for their puppy or kitten, to helping owners to improve quality of life for their geriatric pet. Our nurses can also run diabetic clinics, weight clinics, second vaccinations and many more. They relish the opportunity help our clients get the best in life for their pets and you can count on receiving correct, honest and empathetic help and advice form our team.
We have only just touched on what VNs do in veterinary practice and have neglected to tell you about their involvement in many other areas such as radiography, laboratory work and reception support. We hope to have given you a glimpse into the world of a VN and show you what a varied and highly skilled job they do. They are an integral part of the practice, without whom, we’d very much struggle.