It’s 11:30 pm.
I’m cold, exhausted and I think something has peed on me. I’m trudging across the ice covered car park and I’ve not long woken up 2 owners to give them updates about their pets.
My shift was supposed to end at 7 pm but I didn’t leave till near 8, knowing I would have to be back for last checks at 11 so a nap was pretty out of the question.
This is a small snapshot of life as a veterinary nurse.
Veterinary nursing is tough. It’s several years worth of training, constant exams (depending on the route you take), a progress log that you complete in your own time to show that you’re ‘competent’ at certain skills and finally, you have your OSCEs or practical exams which consist of completing 12 different stations that you have to complete in 6 minutes. I’m still a SVN (student vet nurse) because my OSCEs are my downfall.
Update: I have now actually passed my OSCE exams and am finally a qualified VN.
It’s a career you go in to for the love of animals, not for the money.
On average, a vet nurse earns 18 grand a year, not taking into account that you have to pay to be held on a register so you’re able to call yourself an RVN or registered veterinary nurse, you also have to complete 30 hours of CPD. It is not a career you get into on a whim that’s for sure.
Veterinary nurses are ‘jokingly’ referred to as glorified cleaners. We spend an exceptional amount of time cleaning. However, we also do a hell of a lot more.
We monitor anaesthetics, XRay nose to tail, carry out blood tests and microscopy, run nursing consults for a variety of things (where do you think all the fat labradors go to lose their podge?), we’re the first port of call for advice, the blur of colour in the background as we run from one end of the practice to the other, we’re the one’s holding your pets paw for the scary bit, the list is endless really. We do the nitty, gritty, shitty jobs that people don’t take into account.
General day to day life depends on the environment you work in. I work in a small animal, first opinion practice. Anything specialised will get referred but that doesn’t stop our days being busy.
Christmas in the veterinary world is manic and, to be brutally honest, depressing. November and the start of December mark the ‘Christmas clear out’ where the amount of euthanasia appointments increase ten fold. It’s a harsh and sad truth about how some people view their animals, possessions and not family.
I remember discussing this with a vet during one such appointment. The owner had opted not to stay, a very common outcome as only 1 in 3 will stay for the entire thing. The dog was old, 14 if I remember rightly, she was scared and wriggly. The fear in her eyes was heartbreaking and I asked the vet ‘Can you imagine how scary this must be? You’ve been left by a family you’ve been with since you were 8 weeks to be wrestled by strangers as they stab you with needles’.
Many want to remember the good and just don’t want their last memory to be of their friend in such a poor condition but some, the minority, won’t care.
We cry with you. The job is sad, beyond sad sometimes. Don’t think we just forget about your pets! We carry them with us. We seek out their lab results, their referral histories. We check their records and the appointment lists to see how they’re getting on. It’s not something that is left at the door and forgotten about.
We’re bitten, scratched, scarred by your pets. We go home covered in vomit, urine, faeces, food, blood because of your pets.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are many highs after lows. You build friendships with owners and pets alike. If I see on the appointment list that one of my favourite patients and/or clients is coming in then I’ll wait around for a cuddle and a catch up. You get to see the knocking on death’s door cases come bouncing back in like nothing has ever happened. Now THAT makes the hours of stress, tears and intensive nursing worth your while.
You develop a somewhat dark, inappropriate humour. You will laugh at the stupidest things and swap stories about what the strangest foreign body you’ve seen is or weirdest thing a clients ever said to you. Or, in my case, your most awkward/embarrassing nursing consult moment was.
My crowning moment is during a first vaccination check when I was attempting to see if the pup in question had both testicles descended and I casually twirled him round, saying ‘Okay sweets, let’s have a check of your bits’ only for his owner to reply with ‘I wish all women were that keen the first time they met me’. Hello me turning a beautiful shade of lobster red.
Or a time an owner told me to be careful of her male dog because he pees when he’s excited and, without thinking *surprise surprise* responded with ‘not a good quality in a man’.
It’s rewarding, not financially but intellectually as well as socially. You meet some amazing people, you learn new things every day (I’m constantly being taught about orthopaedic implants and new surgical techniques, I don’t need to know about them but it’s interesting). Your regular clients end up seeing you as one of their own.
Not every reward should be of monetary value. Veterinary staff are often told we’re ‘only in it for the money’ if you saw how hard we all work then you would understand that that is a load of BS! I am 23 with scarred arms and hands from bites and scratches, a bad back from the constant heavy lifting as well as being stood in the same position for hours during anaesthetics and a body clock which has no idea when it’s supposed to be alert or asleep.
The best things in life as worked for. The harder the work, the more rewarding the outcome and I like to think that I work pretty damn hard!
So, next time you take your pet in for something; an operation, a blood test, something that requires your pet to be ‘taken out the back’ *normally a prep room to find a multitasking nurse to hold your pet*, thank all staff. Nurses work as hard as vets but are often overlooked and forgotten about because we’re in the background and our job is ‘easy’.
Here’s some lovely pictures of the one little life that we saved after he crashed on the table 3 times having a snooze on my bed/me because he needed all night observations so home he came.
And here is one of my favourite ladies looking rather scared and deciding my knee was the perfect place to go for comfort. Cuddles are the perfect thing to make any little or big one feel better.
Hope you all enjoyed a brief run through of what life as a VN is like.