Front line vet nurses are your companions in compassion

UNSUNG HEROES: Veterinary nurses are passionate about animal welfare. Picture: Dr Anne Quain
UNSUNG HEROES: Veterinary nurses are passionate about animal welfare. Picture: Dr Anne Quain

If you've ever taken an animal to a veterinary clinic, you've probably encountered at least one veterinary nurse, but you may not be aware of the vital role they play in animal care.

Veterinary nurses are integral members of the veterinary team. In Australia, many veterinary nurses study Certificate IV in veterinary nursing through TAFE and increasingly, are registered through the Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (VNCA).

In addition, some vet nurses undertake additional training and continued professional development, for example in emergency and critical care, wildlife care and conservation.

I've worked with veterinary nurses who have master's degrees or even PhDs.

Veterinary nurses provide hands-on care to animals, assist with complicated procedures including anaesthesia and surgery and close monitoring of patients during treatment and recovery.

Veterinary nurses come from diverse backgrounds and have different skill sets, but every veterinary nurse I've ever worked with is passionate about animal welfare.

They give helpful advice to clients about everything from preventative care and diet right through to practical tips, including how to medicate an animal.

Veterinary nurses have been among the most eager to embrace initiatives to minimise fear associated with veterinary visits in companion animals.

They have the ability to calmly hold, reassure and administer treats to animals who may be wary of being examined or having an injection or blood test.

Within the veterinary team, nurses have always been strong advocates for pain relief in our patients. When a patient is reluctant to eat following surgery, it's often a dedicated nurse who will encourage them.

As a veterinarian, I cannot do my job without them.

When I stay back to perform first-aid or an emergency procedure, there's at least one veterinary nurse beside me, working just as hard to save that patient.

When they're not improving animal welfare and saving lives at work, many nurses undertake voluntary work.

This may involve in-home care of wildlife, foster care of animals prior to adoption, or volunteer work for animal charities and non-government organisations like Pets in the Park, WIRES or Vets Beyond Borders.

Veterinary nurses have a lot of contact with the public, as they admit animal patients to the hospital and triage those in the waiting room. Unfortunately, where animal owners are frustrated, upset or angry, veterinary nurses tend to bear the brunt of this.

When we undertook research on veterinary teams during the COVID-19 pandemic, we found that veterinary nurses and animal health technicians were more than twice as likely to experience an increase in ethical challenges than veterinarians (Quain et al., 2021).

During the pandemic, veterinary nurses often interacted directly with members of the public, explaining COVID-19 safety protocols, asking people to check in and wear a mask, and acting as intermediaries between veterinarians and clients, all while wearing awkward personal protective equipment.

Unfortunately, during this period, veterinary nurses copped a lot of undeserved abuse.

Our research findings highlight a need to support these often unsung members of the veterinary team.

One of the things we can do is acknowledge their expertise, and recognise the critical importance of their work.

So when you visit the vet, take the time to get to know the veterinary nurses looking after your companion animals.

Reference

QUAIN, A., MULLAN, S. & WARD, M. P. 2021. Risk Factors Associated With Increased Ethically Challenging Situations Encountered by Veterinary Team Members During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 10.3389/fvets.2021.752388.

Dr Anne Quain BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.