A quick chat with Christine Harris, registered veterinary nurse at Woodward Veterinary Practice in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire.
What does your job involve?
I work as a registered veterinary nurse and my job is so varied. I love the supportive team atmosphere and how there is always something going on. My shifts are either early or late dependant on the rota. On early shifts I set up for the day’s operations; admit patients; monitor anaesthetics and patients during the recovery; discharge patients and clean. Evening shifts can involve monitoring anaesthetics and recoveries if the day is busy; cleaning; helping vets with consults. I also have at least one duty shift per week where I am on-call. If the vet receives an emergency call in the night, I am called out to assist. I thought I would struggle with this but it is amazing and slightly eerie being at work and helping the vet with no-one else around.
How did you begin your career?
I started getting work experience at a veterinary practice in my local area for my year ten work experience. I also spent time at a riding yard, boarding kennels and local farm where I was able to work with many different animals. This way I felt more comfortable in that area. I completed my GCSEs and went to college to study biology, chemistry and ancient history A levels before applying to Harper Adams. I made sure I spent more time in other veterinary practices; including a hospital and first opinion practice, so I could see first-hand what each practice provided.
What does a typical day involve?
There is no typical day! My work is less structured than in previous practices, which is something I thought I would struggle with. However, it actually gives me more freedom and time to spend with patients.
How big is the team you work in?
My practice consists of: six vets, nine veterinary nurses, six receptionists, a practice manager, and the two owners of the practice.
Can you describe a project you have worked on and some of the problems you faced and overcame?
Most recently, I faced my first GDV (Gastric Dilation Volvulus) patient out of hours at 10pm. This is an incredibly life-threatening condition where a deep chested breed dog, for example a German Shepherd, has a large meal then exercises. The stomach naturally expands to digest the food. In the case of the GDV, the stomach rotates and blocks natural gaseous products escaping from the stomach. This causes the stomach to expand and, if not treated surgically rapidly, the patient could die. I was called out, and with the help of an amazing veterinary nurse, was able to stabilise and maintain the anaesthetised patient while the vet was able to decompress the stomach. During this procedure I also placed my first stomach tube under direction of the vet, which helped to decompress the stomach. Again this was another first for me. The best feeling ever occurred ten days later when the dog came back in for her sutures to be removed. Tail wagging, bright and happy; it was such a joy to see her fully recovered and I am deeply humble and grateful that I was able to help with this.
What qualities or skills do you need for a career in this field?
The three most important qualities are: kindness, caring and dedication to all your patients. Patience is also important, both with yourself and those around you. Not every day will be perfect; it will be difficult and challenging and things may not always go as well as you expect. A supportive team will always help you and know, in time, that you will be able to achieve that task you struggle with. I struggled for a long time taking a blood sample but with patience and practice I can now do this well.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Seeing the impact I can make on a patient’s life. Whether it is seeing a patient up and recovering after a difficult anaesthetic or just seeing an ill dog starting to eat; every day is filled with happiness if you know where to look for it.
What do you enjoy least about your job?
The one part of the job you cannot escape from is that not everything can be fixed or improved. Seeing a patient struggling, and the owners in such pain, is still something I struggle with and I don’t think that will change.
What sort of hours do you work?
I work 40 hours a week with a mixture of early (7.45am – 3.45pm) and late (12pm-8pm) shifts with at least one duty each week. I also work one in six weekends.
What are the salary/benefits like?
The job is well paid. You will never be rich but there are some things greater than money.
How does the career progression work? What are your plans for the future?
There are so many ways you can improve/ grow your job role. A requirement of fully qualified veterinary nurses is CPD (continued professional development) where we are asked to complete further courses. The veterinary world is always changing and new techniques are always available. I hope to continue my dissertation topic looking into the discharge procedure and learn more about physiotherapy and hydrotherapy. I love seeing how correct massage techniques can help a dog with a very swollen leg be able to walk again.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t worry; with time and practice you will improve.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting a career in this field?
Get experience and love every second.
Why do you think Harper Adams graduates achieve such high employability rates?
The help and support from every member of the veterinary nursing team was exceptional. I certainly wouldn’t be here without them. It isn’t just the lectures they teach; each one has worked in practice for many years. They have so many stories and helpful advice if you just ask. They know what it’s like to have a bad day; to feel you can’t get there. They are always there and always happy to help. The student services team are also helpful and will do their best to help you solve any problem you face.