A day in the life of a vet nurse
By our Head Nurse Helen
Back before our ways of working and life in general was changed dramatically, our head nurse Helen took some time to share what a typical day in the life of all of our veterinary nurses involves.
At a time before COVID-19 existed and social distancing and lock-down were phrases that were rarely used I was asked to write a piece about a typical day in the life of a veterinary nurse.
The world has changed so much over the last few months and what was a typical day at the beginning of the year now feels like a very distant memory. I hope that the following piece will serve as a reminder to all veterinary nurses out there that things will get back to some sort of normal and will remind us of a different time when the only people who knew what PPE was were health care professionals.
I thank everyone for their continued service, compassion and dedication during these difficult ad unprecedented times.
May is veterinary nurse awareness month and I have been asked to write about a typical day in the life of a veterinary nurse. Firstly, there is no typical day and that’s one of the things that I love most about my job. No two days are ever the same. The words ‘it’s quiet today’ are never muttered, much like mentioning a certain Scottish play written by Mr Shakespeare. I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve gone into work thinking that I can complete some paperwork that day only to have my day turned on its head and be lucky to have time to eat some food let alone have a proper lunch break.
“I thought today might be the day that I could get through the mountain of paperwork piling up on my desk. My day started much like any other.
Part of my role as Head Nurse involves assessing where the vets might need some additional assistance from the nursing team and I will usually start the day by taking a look at the appointment diary on the computer and the operations/procedures list. Experience has taught us all how to assess information provided by owners and predict what might be needed to help the vet and patient with their ailment. This isn’t taught at college or university, this is experience. I am lucky enough to work with a team of nurses, receptionists and admin staff who possess this sixth sense. At first glance the diary seemed tame enough and there was nothing that set alarm bells ringing in my head.
Most clinics will run a shift system with their nursing team meaning that they have staggered start and finish times. Depending on what shift we are on will depend on what jobs/roles we will do that day. I was on the middle shift which meant I was the consulting nurse. This is one of the parts of my job that I like the most. I love talking to owners about their pets and helping them to answer questions about their pet’s health. The nursing team at Hillside spend a considerable amount of time doing consulting or reception duties, something which I think is really important. This means that I know most of our clients and their pets very well and I consider them to be part of the extended Hillside family. This has the additional benefit of knowing when your pets aren’t quite themselves and I can then provide reassurance that as an owner you’ve done the right thing by bringing them in to us to be checked. This also means that I feel your pain when the health of your pet has taken a turn for the worse and when the time comes for you to say goodbye.
Being on the middle shift meant that I have time in between consults to assist other team members where they might need help.
I noticed that the first round of morning teas and coffees had not been drunk and were sitting getting cold. As I had a few minutes to spare before my first consult I decided to make a fresh batch. All of our nurses and receptionists possess ‘barista-type’ qualities and pride themselves in striving to make the perfect cup of tea or coffee for the team. We all have our own mugs which offer an insight into our personalities. I put the kettle on in the kitchen and while it was boiling, I popped my head into the main office to see if anyone needed a top-up and to check-in with Kirsty, our practice director and Steph, who manages our PR amongst other tasks.
I made the teas and coffees and delivered them to each member of our team. My first appointment had arrived and I made my way to the nurses consulting room. I happily administered flea and worming treatment to a very compliant cat. My morning consultations continued in much the same way with routine check-ups and flea and worming preparations. I was lucky enough to have a ‘puppy-chat’ booked in. I love these appointments it gives me an opportunity to cuddle a puppy while chatting to new owners about all aspects of puppyhood. There is a myth that veterinary nurses spend all day cuddling puppies, how I wish this was true! As I left the consulting room to escort the puppy and owner to reception, I noticed that an elderly dog had been caught short in the waiting room much to the embarrassment of its owner. I reassured them not to worry and hastily went about clearing up after the dog. Accidents happen and we have a very washable and forgiving floor throughout the clinic.
While disposing of the dirty water in my mop bucket I heard my name being mentioned in the ‘prep’ room. This is our multi-function room that many of you will have seen during one of our open days. It functions as our x-ray room and dental procedure room, amongst other things. In my best impression of Parker from Thunderbirds I poked my head into prep and said ‘you rang m’lady’ to Jade whose voice I had heard asking for my help. A good sense of humour along with a strong stomach are essential in veterinary nursing. ‘The dental polisher is doing that thing again’ she said. I negotiated my way through the wires and pipes of monitoring equipment and drips attached to a patient on the table in prep and found myself at the head end of a dog who was having a dental procedure and I took the polisher from her hands, ‘it’ll be going the wrong way again’ I said. Part of our jobs as nurses is being able to fix equipment and to know and understand each of the little foibles and idiosyncrasies that come with them. I fixed the polisher and after checking with Louisa that she was happy I left the prep room.
We have five nurses at Hillside and usually there are three nurses ‘out the back’ helping with operations and procedures; monitoring and nursing the in-patients. I took the opportunity to check that all was well with the other team members and found Jess wrestling with a little dog that had chewed its drip line out of its leg and was now refusing to have a ‘cone of shame’ placed on it to prevent further patient interference. I smiled and said to Jess ‘would you like some help?’. The little dog was quite determined not to have a buster collar fitted but given its age and health issues it was essential that it had the benefit of intravenous fluid whilst in the clinic for a procedure. With a little bit of grit and determination but mostly skill, we managed to re-connect the drip which amazingly was still running and placed a buster collar on the patient. I left Jess with the little dog.
Gemma was in our laboratory sorting out the samples from the morning consultations and procedures. Having checked that she was ok and didn’t require any assistance I made my way back to reception. On the way I was met by Keith who was coming out of his consulting room and I could tell that he was looking for a nurse to help him. A large part of our job is helping vets with patients, whether that’s in the consult room or assisting with operations and procedures. I helped Keith with his consultation and then headed back to reception.
Another part of our job as nurses is to keep the stocks of drugs, food and consumables up to date. These items are ordered on a daily basis and then are un-packed by one of us. Tyler was skilfully making her way through the invoice from the order company and checking off the order. Part of this job is labelling up medications that clients have requested. These medications are then checked by a qualified nurse and placed in the drawer ready to be collected by the client. I helped Tyler finish off the last bits of the order and signed off on all of the medications. Morning surgery was over and it was time to clean and re-stock the waiting room and consulting rooms.
With the waiting room freshly vacuumed and mopped and the consulting rooms stocked and cleaned it was time for lunch. I left Sue and Amber on reception recovering from a busy morning surgery.
After lunch I checked the diary to see what appointments I had for the afternoon. We usually have appointments available in the morning and afternoon for a variety of things, routine worming and flea treatments, post-op checks after surgery, dental and weight checks, behaviour and nutrition enquiries to name but a few.
The vets had already started consulting and reception and the waiting room had the background hum of a busy clinic. I love the sound of the clinic when it’s busy.
I started my afternoon consults and did my best to keep to time. One of my consults was a post-op check on a lump removal on a little dog that found coming to the clinic a challenge. The dog was lucky enough to have a very understanding owner and I had treated her numerous times before so had built some trust with the owner and dog. I checked her wound and was slightly worried about how it looked. I asked Dawn to have a look. After she had dispensed some medications, I fitted the dog with a buster collar. This was done very carefully as I did not want to un-do any trust that she had built with me.
One of the things that I find most rewarding as a nurse, but especially with working at Hillside, is our dedication to making sure that you and your pets have the best experience that you can within the clinic. This sometimes means taking extra time with our patients and can also mean being treated by the vets and nurses that you and your pet know and trust.
After I had finished my consults for the afternoon, I headed back out to reception to see if anyone needed any help. I was informed by Beccie at reception that an emergency was due to arrive shortly. A client had arrived home to find that someone had posted a box of chocolates as a thank you through their letter box. Their dog had decided to help themselves to the chocolate. The size and weight of your dog and the type of chocolate it has eaten will determine the treatment that is needed. For a lot of dogs this will mean giving them an injection to make them sick.
Un-fortunately for us and the dog this was the case for this patient. I checked that the vets had been informed of the arrival of the emergency and then went out into prep to see if I could help the nurses get ready for it.
I found a hive of activity in prep and dog ward with all the equipment needed being gathered for our patient. As everything was under control, I took the opportunity to put the kettle on for a well-earned cup of tea for everyone. I made my way into the kitchen and was delighted to discover ‘the gift of cake’. Sitting in the kitchen was a homemade cake kindly brought in by a client.
I made the tea and cut up the cake ready for people to help themselves. I went back downstairs to see how everyone was getting on with the emergency. The dog had been given an injection to make it sick and was being expertly attended to by two nurses.
I let them all know that there was tea and cake available. This was gratefully received.
Once the dog had been made sick and was recovering from its over-indulgence, I helped the nurses clear up the mess left behind. There were still some patients that were waiting to go home after their procedures that day and prep and theatre still needed to be cleaned, tidied and re-stock after a busy morning operating.
I started on theatre and busied myself with wiping down the walls and equipment. It never ceases to amaze me how vets can get blood on everything in theatre!
Once theatre had been cleaned and the patients had been discharged it was nearly the end of my shift.
I checked in with reception and was reassured that everything was under control and there were no more emergencies due so I made my way upstairs to collect my bag and coat. Dressed to go home with my bag over my shoulder I headed towards the door. I looked at reception to say ‘goodbye’ and was greeted by Becky surrounded by labels from our printer. Things didn’t look good.
I put my bag down and turned to help her. After much head scratching and fiddling we managed to get a semi functioning label printer. It wasn’t perfect but it would do.
I picked up my bag and headed for the door.
As for my paperwork......well...that was still gathering dust on the desk upstairs”.
When I started my career as a veterinary nurse nearly 30 years ago, I can remember being told that a nurse needs to be able to turn their hand to any and all tasks. Today I put all of my skills to good use; nurse, cleaner, counsellor, IT engineer and of course barista.
Each day is different and presents its own challenges. That’s what I love about my job, along with sharing the joys and the heartbreak of pet ownership with all our clients.
We hope you enjoyed this insight into life for our nurses here at Hillside. You can find out more about Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month here