Veterinary nursing: a job that makes a difference

I started my veterinary nursing career at a relatively late when compared with most nurses. In 2006 at 31 years of age, I decided that I wanted a career that would make a difference. I thought being a human nurse would be the way to go. My partner said, “Don’t be a nurse, be a vet nurse.” This was a career that, until then, I had not even thought about. This was the turning point.

I engaged in a part-time course and while I didn’t quite mesh with my tutors, I excelled in my theoretical studies. Unbeknown to me, my tutors were, quite simply, worried about my practical success. Until I began workplace training. I arrived for my lesson for the evening and came out of my silent shell as I explained the joy of being a part of my first caesarean. My tutors later explained their concerns and that those concerns were put into the past when they saw my passion after this experience. I then launched into being the best nurse I could be.

Six years on, I cannot look back. Every single day is a learning experience and no day is the same. Needless to say my own pets were my guinea pigs during my training and they deserve a medal for the rigours I put them through. They were very tolerant and forgiving, with the help of numerous treats.

My passion for animal care is non-negotiable. This goes without saying, but along with the ups there are the downs and there certainly is a skill to managing the emotional roller coaster that comes with vet nursing. There’s the absolute joy of running puppy pre-school and seeing the uncoordinated fumbling chaos and incompliant cuteness of the first week become the semi-controlled pups showing off their new skills, even if a food lure is needed, in the last week. Then there’s the worry of seeing a pet struggle through illness and the relief when it comes out on the other side, ferociously happy and with an appetite for destruction. There’s also the unfortunate task of euthanasia. Although humane it does hurt to take away a life that has brought so many delightful memories and provided such companionship. My very first euthanasia was more than heart-wrenching, and although I did not know the owners personally, the desperate anguish in their tears drove me home to cry myself to sleep that night. Although now my emotions are contained at these times, my thoughts always draw back to the owners and their feelings of loss.

This is not to disregard the day-to-day procedures. Every animal deserves and should receive an equal amount of attention and care, whether it is in for castration, spey, exploratory surgery or orthopaedic surgery. From the moment the owners hand over their pets to the time of discharge, these animals are entrusted into our care. It is vitally important to convey to owners our confidence in our ability to care for their pets. When an owner walks out the door, there is the void of the unknown between drop-off and pick-up. A simple, general explanation of what the pet will experience may put troubled minds at rest. Following simple rules, so to speak, from pre-med to recovery and always thinking ahead to what we do in every step, is also vitally important. Why do we pre-med? Why do we surgically scrub? By understanding what we do, we give continuity to patient care.

The power of animals in life, in my view, is greatly underestimated. Nothing else compares to the unconditional love a pet delivers. All they ask for is food to give them strength, a warm place to sleep and love.

One of my great joys now is imparting my knowledge and experience to younger nurses and trainees. There is no question I do not answer and if the answer is not upon me immediately I endeavour to find it. My goal now is to become a nurse trainer in the very near future. If I can pass on one last thing to potential nurses, trainees and current nurses, always aim higher, to be a better nurse than you can dream of. Never stop reading, never stop researching and never stop learning. Always ask; veterinarians are an abundance of knowledge and they are more than happy to impart their hard-earned knowledge and experience to you. Never be afraid to ask for the sake of looking silly – there are no silly questions in vet nursing. Strive to be the best nurse you can be. This ultimately translates to the animal ­– they do sense your passion and care for them.

Veterinary nursing… a job that DOES make a difference.
Lisa Crawford

This essay was an entry in the In The Black Essay Competition for 2012.

Lisa Crawford is a veterinary nurse at the Animal Medical Centre in Launceston, Tasmania.

John Heath of Boehringer Ingelheim, Mark Amott of Southern Animal Referral Centre and the AVBA and Susan Halloran of In The Black judged the competition.
Visit for information about the In The Black Essay Competition for 2013.

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