A student at the Royal Veterinary College recently asked her professor "what do you think is the most important thing you should know as a new vet". His reply was immediate and to the point. "A good vet nurse," he said.
Our principal nurse manager in Farnham in Surrey, Kath Howie, is exactly the type of person the professor was referring to. A vastly experienced veterinary nurse with VTS status, she has worked for Vets Now for 12 years and is highly respected by her peers and colleagues.
To mark Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month, our content marketing manager Iain Harrison asked Kath to give us her take on her veterinary nursing career, what she enjoys most about her job and what makes Vets Now such a special place to work.
When did working as a vet nurse become an ambition?
When I was around 16. I started working in a local first-opinion practice with the hope of eventually becoming a vet. I passed my A levels around the same time but decided to pursue a career in veterinary nursing instead. I did day release to college once a week and had my green book — a log of all the training and experience I'd gained — signed off by the head nurse. I worked there for eight years, before moving to a referral practice where I worked for 18 months.
When did you join Vets Now and what does your job involve?
I joined Vets Now in Farnham in June 2005 as principal nurse, and I’ve been with the business ever since. I’m now principal nurse manager, so I look after the day-to-day running of the clinic. While every shift is different, it’s always busy. My main role is to ensure the clinic maintains the highest possible clinical standards and provides exceptional care for our patients. I'm also responsible for making sure our clients are happy and that our staff are well looked after.
Read more: Breaking through the glass ceiling: Vets Now leads the way for gender equality
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The satisfaction that comes with treating critically ill, emergency patients, and making a difference to their chances of survival. I also enjoy training new nurse recruits. I’m a tutor on the Cert VN ECC certificate, and I also do some of the online webinars that support the course. It’s rewarding seeing vet nurses learn additional skills, expand their clinical knowledge and develop in their careers.
What advice would you give to people considering a career in vet nursing?
It’s a very rewarding career, and there are more opportunities than ever for nurses to progress or take a special interest in a specific area such as geriatric care, behaviour or ECC. The Cert VN ECC qualification has helped a great deal as its the first of its kind in the UK and has provided veterinary nurses with a route to develop their skills in emergency medicine and provide enhanced patient care. It also provides a great stepping stone to the VTS certificate.
What makes Vets Now a unique employer within the veterinary industry?
We are very innovative. New ideas are welcome, and there's a real can-do culture. We also lead the pack when it comes to mental health. Perhaps the best thing about working here is the brilliant training programmes in place for vets and vet nurses — everyone who joins is supported and encouraged to keep learning and progressing. We also have a very thorough induction programme, and there's a fantastic support network in place, with lots of people to turn to if difficult questions arise. It means everyone we recruit is able to hit the ground running and do the job they’ve been employed to do from the beginning. I genuinely don’t think you’ll find that anywhere else in the profession.
Read more: Working out of hours: 19 top tips to help you make the most of it
Vets Now has had some positive publicity due to its high proportion of female leaders. How do you feel about this?
It’s one of the things that sets Vets Now apart. We have lots of strong female leaders who are very influential in the profession. There’s no limit to what you can achieve at Vets Now as far as career progression is concerned. A lot of our principal vets have gone into senior management or clinical leadership roles which is really valuable for the company. The same can be said for vet nurses.
What's been your proudest moment at Vets Now?
Passing the Veterinary Technician Specialists in Emergency and Critical Care VTS(ECC) certificate in 2009. It’s an American qualification that takes about two years and is very, very tough. But it's considered to be the gold standard for ECC nurses. Vets Now supported me through the training and paid for me to take the exam.
What can a vet or vet nurse expect in their first year of working for Vets Now in Farnham?
We set high standards so they can expect to be challenged. But we have a fantastic team, and there’s a lot of support in place to help new members. For example, there's a district vet who will be their first point of contact for clinical concerns and a district manager for operational issues. There's also a very strong nursing team with great reception and ACA staff who provide continual on-shift support. We also have 53 other clinics to call upon for advice so no one should ever feel cut off.
Read more: Distinguished vet reveals what sets Vets Now apart from the rest
Tell me about a typical night or weekend shift?
We see a fair mix of medical and surgical cases. As no two cases are ever the same, they all need different levels of care and intervention. A typical evening shift will initially involve receiving transfers from our partner practices and host practice, helping them settle in, and putting a plan in place for them. Over the next six to eight hours we will take phone calls from clients who have come through the triage system and check-in patients who have been transferred for overnight care.
Between 2 am and 5 am we tend to catch up on procedures that need to be done and ensure our patients are given plenty TLC and nursing care. Between 5 am and 8 am we’ll get them ready for discharge.
It’s a busy shift, but it's fairly structured. We know what needs to happen at certain times to ensure everything goes to plan. The one major positive is it’s never, ever boring in Farnham. If you’re looking for a challenging clinical role alongside people who have a real desire to do a great job and want to make a difference you’ll fit in well. The most important attribute is having a positive attitude. The rest can be taught.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
My husband's in the navy so he's away a fair bit. In my spare time, I like to do dog rescue work and visit and assess people who want to rehome dogs. I also do a lot of other personal CPD, and I’m currently doing a diploma in animal behaviour. From that point of view, working for Vets Now is brilliant as it allows you to balance work with your own interests.
We are currently recruiting for staff, including vets and vet nurses, in our Farnham clinic. To apply or find out more click here or contact our recruitment team on 01383 841181.