The 13th of October is Vet Nurses Day, an initiative to raise awareness of the importance of veterinary nurses to both the public and to the veterinary industry. It is a day to celebrate and recognise the contributions of veterinary nurses to the Australian veterinary team.
Those of us who have pets will be familiar with the important role Vet Nurses play as vital members of the veterinary medical team. We entrust our beloved pets with them knowing that, not only will they receive specialised medical care from these highly trained professionals, but also receive the softer skills of empathy and compassion. Vet nurses take a variety of learning pathways, but have all attained qualifications in Animal Studies which are awarded after several years of experience and study.
Veterinary nurses perform a range of different tasks every day, depending on the practice and the types of animals it cares for. Daily tasks include providing assistance during consultations, administering medications, maintaining medical records, and managing and sterilising equipment. Of the most important requirements of their role is patience, the ability to remain calm in stressful situations, and being able to work in a high-pressure environment. Vet nurses also require excellent communication skills, and of course, a natural love of animals.
So, what’s a day in the life of a vet nurse really like? One of our senior vet nurses Carla McCluskey tells us...
How does a typical day start for you?
The day starts by walking two dogs at 5:30am, rain, hail or shine, and then feeding them afterwards. Most of us who work in the industry end up with our own menagerie of animals, of all shapes and sizes. Some are animals we’ve adopted when they were babies, and many are animals who didn’t have homes.
Next it’s the cat’s turn to be fed. A fresh change of litter and pulling him off the top of the screen door signals the start of our daily interaction. 6:30am comes around fast, and the routine of removing him off the bench ten times commences. Next on the list are the two rabbits and five birds, who need more food and water. It’s 7am before my attention returns to my human children, who I need to get sorted for school.
And how does your working day as a vet nurse kick off?
I arrive at Ridgehaven at 7:30am and set up for the day. By 7:45am this morning I’d already been peed on by an overly excited dog who was in for grooming. If a little mess every now and then freaks you out, then vet nursing probably isn’t your ideal job....
At 8am the admissions with clients start, and I’ll be busy answering phones and questions, and booking consults. There are no stupid questions when it comes to animal health care, and we’d rather pet owners ask than make assumptions about their pets’ wellbeing that mightn’t be quite right.
10am rolls around and it’s time to start patient checks on all our surgery patients. This involves placing IV catheters, taking bloods, running blood tests, and placing patients on fluids.
By 10:15am, it’s time to untangle our happy and hyperactive patient - 20 times - from fluids... and at 10:45 assist the vets with consult patients - taking bloods and anal glands, as well as dodging a cat swipe every now and then. Being able to duck and weave like a champion boxer is a skill most vet nurses find invaluable.
We appreciate that vet nursing isn’t all cooing and cuddles, but anal glands?!!
Yes, anal glands... a less pleasant yet important part of health care, but it doesn’t stop there. After cleaning them and changing the scrub tops, it was time to clean up the poo in the kennels five times!
How about the aspects of the role we usually associate with nursing?
By lunch time, surgery with the vets starts and the extra cuddles for the nervous and scared patient going under an anaesthetic, helps to soothe his nerves. I monitor him closely during the procedure, and I make sure that I’m by his side as he wakes. We often think of nurses of human patients offering an extra pillow and making sure their patients are comfortable, and it’s no different for us. We regularly check on them to make sure they have what they need and to reassure them that they’re not alone.
That’s a lot to have achieved already in one day. Isn’t vet nursing tiring?
The LARGE latte I got another vet nurse to fetch at 2:30 certainly helped, but the reality is that it can be tiring. We’re on our feet all day, there’s lifting and constant cleaning, and we can often work long hours, especially if there’s an emergency. It can also be stressful; We need to deal with aggressive patients, upset owners, and the prospect of animals sometimes needing to be euthanised.
By 3pm, I usually start cleaning the surgery and prep room, and at the end of the working day sit in peak-hour traffic sipping the remnants of my cold latte. Of course, the journey home doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t have to deal with any more naughty animals that day, and my first job when I arrive home is to take the cat off the screen door... again. It’s time for night duties, sorting animals, and cleaning cages. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I hadn’t left work.
What would you tell someone considering vet nursing as a career?
The role can be hard word and emotionally challenging at times. Getting attached to the patients can have its rewards, but can also be heartbreaking. Cleaning up after sick animals can also be messy therefore you need to be prepared to get dirty. There are plenty of upsides to the role as well however, and working hands-on with animals is fantastic. The nature of our roles virtually guarantees that no two days are alike, therefore it certainly ticks the box when it comes to variety.
What's the best thing about your job?
Being able to help care for animals makes vet nursing the most rewarding job. Seeing someone’s beloved pet go home well and happy and knowing that you’ve contributed to that, is a great feeling. Working as part of a team and resolving problems together is also a very satisfying part of the job. In spite of the dirty cages, little accidents, and the occasional bites, at the end of the day I wouldn't change a thing!
Please join us this Vet Nurses Day by acknowledging these important roles, and paying tribute to these dedicated people who laugh and cry with us, and look after some of the most special members of our families.