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Veterinary Nursing: Making a difference with your ‘nursing eye’

I hadn’t heard of a veterinary nurse before until I brought my own cat, Tiger, to the vets after he got into a fight with the neighbourhood stray tomcat. Tiger is a typical grouchy ginger cat, so he’s never usually happy about a trip to the vet. However, this time, he acted completely different. That’s when I noticed someone in a green tunic had turned my little ball of claws into a purring machine. This was of course a Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) whose main job was to assist with Tiger’s treatment and show me how to give medication that the vet prescribed. Now, being an RVN myself, I can now see how an eagle-eyed nurse can change the outcome of a patient’s health.

Taming Leo the ‘Lion’

I am a self-proclaimed cat lover, but I’ve come to realise that not all cats know that when they meet you in a veterinary practice. Safety has to always come first for both yourself and the animal, as a scared animal with claws can often lead to injury. That is why you must treat every animal as an individual as each animal may require a different restraint technique when carrying out a procedure. I was once tasked to take blood from a very wriggly, 3 year old cat called Leo. It’s very common to take blood from the jugular vein in the neck, which is a lot easier than it sounds. By clipping the fur on the neck and gently raising the head, the procedure can be over quicker than you can say ‘RVN’. However, Leo didn’t get the memo and continued to squirm about, even with restraint! The other nurse and I decided to change tactics and opt for a smaller and quieter clipper so that Leo wasn’t spooked as much and went for a ‘less is more approach’. Rather than wrapping him in a towel and causing more stress, we got out some cat treats that Leo could lick whilst we took the blood. Voila - it worked a treat and Leo hardly noticed what we were doing. It goes to show that there’s more than one way to skin a cat (for lack of a better term) - something which you learn over time in practice and by sharing ideas with the veterinary team.

Eye spy with Mimi

As animals cannot speak, it is the role of the vet nurse to be the advocate for the animal. I was looking after Mimi, a young husky that had come into the vets for breathing problems. She was put in a large oxygen kennel to help improve her breathing. Mimi had been on oxygen for most of the day at this point, but I could tell that something was wrong with her as she was still panting and did not seem comfortable. Panting can often be a sign of pain and I noticed that she started to squint over the course of the day. I had a hunch that the change in herself may have been linked to irritation of the eyes. The vet was notified and we did an ophthalmology (eye) exam. As suspected, Mimi had an ulcer in her eyes. And just like that, the course of her treatment had changed. Regular eye drops were given, as well as pain relief and a buster collar to stop her from scratching her eyes. Mimi was moved out of an oxygen kennel as she seemed much happier and more comfortable and her panting had stopped. This just shows that it's the little things that need to be monitored when an animal is in hospital. Developing a ‘nursing eye’ for things has been helpful for identifying issues with patients before they progress into something worse.

These stories only scratch the surface of how a veterinary nurse can make a difference to the patients in their care. A nurse also has a key role in education when it comes to talking to owners about problems such as behaviour, weight management and flea and worming treatment. So whether you like consulting or providing nursing care, there’s always a chance for a nurse to leave a big impact on the lives that they help. When you go into practice for work experience, see if you can spot the nurse making a difference with their 'nursing eye'.

Written by: Remi Onabolu

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