Do you know what vet nurses do? Have you wondered who the people in green uniforms are? Have you ever wondered if you could join them? Well, now’s your chance to find out, because May is Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month!
What is a Vet Nurse?
Modern veterinary care is more like human healthcare than James Herriot (although the waiting lists aren’t so long – Editor), and like in a human surgery, there are specialist roles. The job of the vet is to diagnose illness and disease, to prescribe treatment and to perform surgery. However, this is only part of what a sick dog or poorly cat needs.
The role of the vet nurse is to care for the patient’s needs and maintain their welfare while they are hospitalised with us, to help you care for them at home, and to support and assist the vets.
What do the different uniforms mean?
In general, our vets will wear a blue scrub top when consulting. Qualified nurses (Registered Veterinary Nurses, or RVNs) wear dark green tunics with an oval nursing badge, and students (SVNs) wear green and white stripes.
What do vet nurses do?
Well, a simpler question would be to ask what they DON’T do! The modern veterinary nurse is expected to be…
- Admissions clerk – when your pet comes in for an operation or a procedure, one of our nurses will check them over and go through all the paperwork with you. They need to understand the procedure your pet will be having, and have a good grasp of the legal requirements for informed consent.
- Phlebotomist – it’s usually the nurses who collect blood samples from in-patients, and who put in intravenous catheters (drip lines). It takes a steady hand and a calming manner!
- Lab technician – once the blood, or urine, or whatever is collected, it’s the vet nurse who will run the tests in our in-house laboratory. Not only must they know how to use and maintain the equipment, they have to be able to prepare the samples (which may mean using one of the dozens of different stains and dyes available), and quickly detect any major abnormalities to flag it up to the vets.
- Anaesthetist – when your pet is asleep, the vet is responsible for their anaesthetic, but under their overall charge it’s the nurses who are monitoring the patient’s condition and maintaining a nice deep sleep so the vet can concentrate on the surgery.
- Radiographer – nurses are also responsible for taking most X-rays in the practice, as they are fully trained in radiographic positioning, collimation and exposure.
- Surgeon – yes, nurses are qualified to carry out minor surgery, such as some stitch-ups or removing small masses – although there’s always a vet on hand just in case.
- Ward Sister – of course, while your pet is in with us, it’s the nurses who are looking after them on the ward! If they need medication, fluids, feeding, or just TLC, that’s what you’ll find our nurses doing.
- Pharmaceutical dispenser – when the vet decides that a patient requires medication, they prescribe it – but sometimes it’s our nurses (fully trained in pharmacology) who will put up the medication, check for any possible side effects or interactions, and then explain to you how to give it and what to watch out for.
- Follow-up nurse – if your pet comes back in for a post-op check, or to have stitches out, to change a dressing, or just for a check up, the chances are it’ll be one of the nursing team who sees them, welcomes them, and checks how they’re getting on.
- Health Advisor – our nurses run clinics for puppies and kittens, as well as adolescent health checks, to advise you on health care before it becomes a problem!
- Nutritionist – they also run ‘weight-watcher’ clinics for the more portly pet! All of our RVNs are fully trained in nutrition and are qualified to advise you on dietary matters, whatever the situation.
- Counsellor – sometimes, having a pet is difficult – especially when they are very ill, or unlikely to recover. At the end of the day, our nurses can offer support, a listening ear, or a shoulder to cry on.
How do I become a vet nurse?
There are two basic routes – through a vocational diploma, or a nursing degree. In either case, students will study a range of basic sciences in college (e.g. anatomy, physiology, pharmacy), and their application (e.g. surgical nursing, medical nursing, anaesthesia). At the same, time, they will be working in a registered Training Practice, learning the hands-on side of the job. There are a series of grueling examinations, culminating in the dreaded “OSCEs” or practical exams. No one becomes a nurse registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons without a very full and detailed training.