Katherine Butler – RVN – Head Veterinary Nurse

May is Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month, a whole month dedicated to raising awareness of the veterinary nursing profession and the vital role they play in animal care and treatment.

Kath is our Head Veterinary Nurse and has kindly taken some time out to tell us about life as a vet nurse.

How long have you been a vet nurse and what route did you follow to qualify? 

I have been a Veterinary Nurse since I left school, so 31 years (!!!!). I started work at a local practice and after a couple of years of gaining hands-on in-practice experience, I went to Bristol Vet School to gain my Veterinary Nursing qualification. 

What attracted you to a career as a Veterinary Nurse? 

I can’t remember wanting to do anything else!  I think it is probably the same for pretty much all Veterinary Nurses…I always had a real interest in animals and the idea that I could nurse them really appealed to me.  I come from a family of human nurses, so I suppose the caring side is in my blood. 

What does your job entail? 

My job is so varied that it is actually quite difficult to sum it up in a few paragraphs.  My role is to support the Vet, the clients and of course the patients.  This involves preparing everything for the days’ work.  This can include setting up theatre, admitting the patients for surgery and preparing all the medication and anaesthetics and ensuring all the equipment is ready.  Assisting the vet during their consultations I.e. holding and reassuring the patients during examinations or blood sampling etc. Performing blood and urine analysis, monitoring anaesthetics and ensuring that the patient recovers from their procedures comfortably and helping to take x-rays.  We care for any inpatients, which involves feeding and watering them, cleaning/grooming them, checking their vital signs such as temperature and heart rate, observe them for any signs of pain, discomfort or fear, and treat them, or alert the Vet accordingly.  

As nurses we also have a vital role to play in communicating and reassuring our clients.  There is sometimes lots of information for an owner to take on board so we can spend the time checking that they understand what is happening, what is needed from them and that they feel supported.  We run Nurse Clinics (post op checks, parasite control and advise, senior and junior clinics, weight clinics, dressing changes, dental advise etc.) so we can help to create a trusting bond between the client and their pet and our practice.  

We also help to support our clients and patients when it is time to say goodbye.  Pet loss can be a devastating time and we are also trained in grief counselling. As Head Nurse I would also support other nurses in my team, make sure all the equipment is in full, serviced working order, stock up on all equipment, medications and consumables…and of course, there is the cleaning!  There can never be too much cleaning. 

What is the most rewarding thing about being a Vet Nurse? 

Well, this is a little easier to answer!  Job satisfaction.  You simply can’t beat seeing a very poorly patient get well and go home, whether it’s after surgery or from illness, knowing that you have made a difference.  That might be noticing a very discreet sign of pain that you’ve alerted the vet to and pain relief has been altered, or having an anorexic patient that you have gently coaxed and encouraged to start feeding again.   

What kind of attributes do you need to be a good Vet Nurse? 

I would say you need to be a team player.  You need to have compassion and empathy.  Although there are times when you can spend hugging puppies and kittens, that isn’t something that happens all the time.  Being able to multitask is also a bonus. 

What advice would you give to someone thinking about a career as a Vet Nurse? 

The first thing I would say is that it feels to me that the best Vet Nurses are people for whom it is a vocation.  You have to be able to work as part of a team and you need to be compassionate. 

Although there are some fantastic career options and different branches of jobs available (pharmaceutical reps, teaching, pet insurance, equine or exotic animal nursing etc.) it is never going to make you rich.  I think a week or even a few days of work experience in a practice is really helpful in deciding if it’s a career for you.  I think the general public don’t realise the variation of our role (hence VN Awareness!). 

If you want a job that is different every day, that gives you job satisfaction and where you are constantly learning then this could be the career for you. 

What are the best things about working at Cinque Ports Vets? 

The best thing about where I work are the people I work with.  It sounds cliched and I think I have mentioned it a few times already, but we really do work as a whole team.  From the reception staff who are often the primary contact with the clients, to the Vets I work with and my nursing colleagues, to the management.  

We all know where our roles start and stop and how to combine these roles to give the best service to our clients and the best care for our patients. I feel very supported in my role as Head Nurse by all. 

What would be your career highlight so far? 

This is so hard to answer as there have been so many.  Working with Gary Clayton Jones is definitely up there.  Although retired now, he was my boss for quite a few years and was an Orthopedic Referral Surgeon.  I found his knowledge and teaching inspirational and loved seeing the processes of orthopedic surgery. 

Have you completed any additional training to support your role? 

I have completed lots of additional training.  We have to keep up to date with a set amount of continued professional development to sustain our license, but on top of that, I have trained as a Pet Health Counsellor, an SQP and a Bereavement Counsellor. 

What’s the next step in your career pathway? 

My aim is to carry on where I am, and to continue to make improvements (you can never stop improving!) in the health and well-being of our patients, whether that is by educating the owners or in my nursing of our patients. 

Thank you, Kath, for sharing your story. 

To find out more about the role of RVNs in veterinary practice, or if you are interested in finding out more about a career in veterinary nursing, visit the BVNA website at www.bvna.org.uk/a-career-in-veterinary-nursing/a-career-in-veterinary-nursing.