It’s Veterinary Nurse Awareness Month, a time to promote and raise the profile of veterinary nurses in veterinary practice… in particular, the 91 excellent nurses and 30 student vet nurses under our employment. You might be surprised to learn about all that they do! Veterinary nursing is a profession which has grown and developed beyond recognition over recent decades. Once upon a time, vet nurses (VNs) were very much vets’ assistants; while they do still assist and act under the direction of their veterinary surgeon counterparts, a whole new side to veterinary nursing has emerged.
The role of a VN touches just about every area of modern veterinary practice; first and foremost of course, VNs are the cornerstone of patient care. A qualified VN has undertaken a great deal of theoretical and practical training, covering a vast span of topics and information. They are expected to retain a lot of information and skills in a range of areas, from anaesthesia and medical nursing to laboratory and radiography. Increasingly VNs are taking an interest in specific areas of veterinary science and undertaking extra learning; they have become an invaluable resource for developing clinical standards, for pushing client education and taking on management duties, and all this on top of the varied role they already play day to day! To give you an insight here is some information on just some of the responsibilities of a VN.
From admitting patients for procedures and educating clients on the health and husbandry of their pet, to teaching the owner of a diabetic pet how to inject insulin, and of course knowing how to gently but firmly hold a wriggly terrier for a nail clip (!), our VNs enjoy advising and assisting clients in nurse consults. A sympathetic ear when an owner is concerned and a reassuring voice when something needs to be explained, our nurses can advise on young animal care, older animal care, parasite control, weight gain and a whole host of other topics, and all for a range of species!
Anaesthesia and theatre nursing
Nurses have the intricate task of keeping patients unconscious for vets to operate. Under the direction of a vet, they monitor anaesthetic depth and adjust levels of anaesthesia so that a patient (all of whom are individual) remains at a surgical plane of anaesthesia without “going too deep”. Negotiating and interpreting a range of statistics and vital signs, including natural reflexes, heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen and carbon dioxide saturation, takes much skill for which our nurses are prepared during their education. They calculate medication doses and drip rates, and use a whole host of equipment with protruding wires and gadgets that would intimidate the best of us.
Our VNs ‘scrub in’ to assist with complicated surgical procedures, holding and passing instruments, proving suction, gently manipulating organs under the direction of the vet. They know what every surgical instrument is used for and how to care for and maintain these expensive items.
Patient care and medical nursing
Be it recovering a patient from anaesthesia, caring for a critically ill inpatient or responding to an emergency admission, our nurses act swiftly, collectedly and calmly to meet the individual needs of every patient. Our nurses give medications a variety of ways, they take bloods and place intravenous catheters, they keep drip lines patent and hygienic, they monitor urine output and maintain urinary catheters. They bandage broken limbs, they help mobilise the recumbent patient, they provide physiotherapy to rehabilitate patients and they notice changes in a patient’s condition, reporting it to a vet and making valued suggestions for a change in patient care. They are hot on pain relief and use recognised methods to assess whether a patient is in pain, they are fastidious in hygiene and everything that they do. The overriding driving force for our nurses is the care they feel for their patients and their desire to maximise comfort and welfare.
Our VNs can position patients for the perfect X-ray to help diagnose conditions; they know how to adjust the settings of the X-ray machine to get just the right image and how a slightly ill-positioned X-ray can completely ruin its diagnostic quality. Our VNs run laboratory samples using a range of equipment to test blood, urine and tissue samples; some are quite adept with a microscope and can identify a range of cells and urine crystals.
Management and training
Many of our VNs are driven by helping their colleagues to develop. Some manifest this passion in the coaching of student VNs, becoming a clinical coach. They help students learn all the skills they need to qualify, being a practical and emotional support to those who are training. Others strive to become head nurse in one of our surgeries. Monitoring and driving clinical standards among the nursing team, developing the skills of their team, creating rotas and reacting to unforeseen challenges are just some of the responsibilities these nurses take on.
Many love the veterinary nursing profession for its variety, no two days are the same and VNs soon learn to cope with and thrive in situations that can change from one hour to the next. We value our VNs for the work they do and the dedication and empathy that they bring to the role.