The further away from university I get, the more I realise that their job was not to teach me how to do my job, it was to teach me how to think so I could learn to do my job. They can’t possibly teach you every presentation of every disease, but they can teach you how to think so you can work it out as you go. I resented the fact that, when I graduated, university had not taught me everything but I now realise that that wasn’t their job.
I think a lot of people get into it because they love animals and they get to play with animals all day, day in, day out. I think there needs to be a higher emphasis on people coming into the industry that they’ve had some work experience prior to getting into vet schools or even becoming a vet nurse.
But I have a better grasp these days that there are things that I can do and I will do them if I can but sometimes even with all the best efforts in the world things are beyond my control. And I think I have both a better acceptance of that and a better understanding of where those lines are, compared to the first couple of years. [Then] I was on the phone to one or another of my friends and we would basically debrief every night for a good half an hour to two hours depending on the day, and we would go through everything with a fine-toothed comb. And the ups were great but equally the downs, they were there to talk you out of that self-recrimination when something didn’t go right. I had a struggle with that.
I think the problem with vet nursing, and probably what I find the hardest with it, is that there’s no money in it, and there’s no growth in it. So, there’s no ability to better yourself; there’s definitely a lot of courses out there for you to learn things but it’s not necessarily like you’re going up a chain [career path]. There’s just no growth within the industry itself, for a vet nurse anyway. After two years of doing it, I loved it and I wished I could do it for the rest of my life. But, it’s a very physically demanding job as well, and doing at 60 wasn’t going to be something I was able to do.
I think a lot of young kids don’t realise how your communication skills and dealing with clients is the largest part of the job. That the animals, that’s the smallest part. ... Having to deal with people, and deal with tough situations, talking money, talking death, that’s something that – being a nurse I was aware of pretty early – but a lot of young kids don’t understand that or they are in high school and they want to be a vet because they love animals and they don’t want to be a doctor because they don’t want to deal with humans. You’ve got to deal with humans a lot more than they realise.
People [receptionists] need to be prepared to cop some abuse. They need to be able to hold their own, they need to be able to separate their own feelings and to remain as composed as they can, professionally. Quite often you get the people who are unhappy about how much they are paying for their pet. One of the hardest things to deal with is when you’ve a pet that’s come in under some sort of emergency situation, or they’re ill and they’ve gone for all this testing and procedures and things like that and, in the end, they die. And then you still have to bill for all of those things.
I think the hardest part for me is when people bring in a case in which pure neglect is evident. For instance, I had a case where clients bought in a dog that had been attacked by another dog, several weeks after it happened. That concerns me, especially when there is no attempt to try anything! If this had happened to a human, they’d be in hospital straightaway.
If you do the job only because you love animals, that makes it more difficult to deal with the death side of things. I think there’s got to be some sort of acceptance that as much as we want to save them all, we can’t. And that if you dwell on those things then you are going to ruin yourself. You won’t survive in the industry.
You are a major carer for these animals and, even though we do have a lot of sick animals, a majority of them get better. Overall, a majority of them end up better, healthy, go home, and they die at an old age from old diseases, not from an acute problem.
Our job involves dealing with the continual ‘circle of life’.