The Nurse Break is about human nursing. However, we wanted to showcase some other professions that also carry the title of ‘nurse’, to help showcase thier profession, albeit very different. Welcome to the new category, of vet nursing!

Meet Registered (human) nurse and former Vet Nurse Amba Bentley!

How did you get into vet nursing and what’s your favourite animal?

I am currently a Registered (human) nurse. After working as a veterinary nurse for seven years, it was time for me to move on. Almost every veterinary nursing skill has translated to the human nursing world!

For as long as I can remember, I have always been an animal lover and wanted to work as a vet nurse, just like my grandma. I went into veterinary nursing straight after completing year 12. I completed a certificate Iv in veterinary nursing, whilst working ‘hands-on’ in a small animal clinic

Favourite animal? Domestic- dogs for sure. They just have a loyalty like no other human or animal. I have always loved elephants and have been passionate about their protection for a long time. They’re just such beautiful, gentle giants.

What did a typical day as a veterinary nurse look like for you?

Hopefully, it didn’t begin with someone banging on the door because their dog had been hit by a car and needed emergency care. This happened on a semi-regular basis as I worked in a beachside suburb where car accidents were not uncommon. My favourite shift was the ‘surgery shift’.

I was responsible for admitting surgical patients, preparing operating theatres including anaesthetic machines, pre-medicating animals and performing blood collection for pre-anaesthetic testing. As well as all of this, we had to communicate with owners and often deal with their anxiety about leaving their loved ones in your hands.

Hopefully, the day would go smoothly. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case. There were times where we’d have 8 surgeries booked in a day, we’d pack up and then someone would bring in their dog who failed to deliver their pups naturally. So there we were, at 3 PM, performing a c-section and delivering 12 puppies. That was always my favourite thing to do though.

What are the main types of patients you saw in your position and what was your role in their care?

We saw anything and everything; the good, the bad and the damn ugly. Most people did the right thing by their pets. However, there was a small handful of people who did not. We saw awful abuse and neglect cases. Often we would cop the brunt of the abuse from the owner too. They’d usually tell us in a nasty way how they can’t afford to treat their pet, which is understandable as veterinary care can be expensive.

What are some interesting things you have seen?

I vividly remember my first day as a trainee veterinary nurse. We had a dog who had impaled himself on a palm tree spine, a cesarean section on a dachshund and a splenic tumour (the size of a football) from a Labrador. What a first day!!

Exploratory laparotomy surgery was always fun- you never knew what you were going to find. Sticks, balls, socks and underwear are a few things that I remember finding. Being a beach-side vet, we saw a lot of beach-related injuries and illnesses. Pufferfish ingestion, ACL rupture, dog fights, hit by car, heat stress and gastro upsets were a few things we’d see on a semi-regular basis.

Parvovirus would be the word no veterinary employee would want to hear. I had to look after several cases of parvo- all due to the fact that owners didn’t vaccinate their pets. This was heartbreaking. We took it in turns of going back to the clinic at night time to check on the animals, who were severely depressed and seriously unwell. It makes me upset even thinking about it- it really is a horrendous disease, which is totally preventable.

Discuss some of the things you do and manage that many human nurses may not realise some vet nurses do!

As a human nurse, I am in a subspecialist hospital, with specialist training in the perioperative environment. I am lucky enough to have skills and training across the board including recovery, anaesthetics, theatre and day surgery- very few nurses (these days) have skills throughout the entire department. I truly believe that my drive to become skilled in all of these areas has stemmed from my veterinary nursing career, where we perform all of these roles (and more), every day.

The clinical skills of a human nurse really depend on the field of nursing they’re working in. As an example, some clinical skills that I bring to my position can include female catheter insertion (male catheter insertion requires specialist training), performing and interpreting ECG, administering DDA, performing pain, neurovascular, neurological and clinical assessments, performing and interpreting blood tests, preparing anaesthetic and surgical machines and surgical instruments for a theatre list. Advanced clinical skills such as intubation or minor surgery (such as wound closures) are skills that are performed by doctors, with the assistance of nurses.

Does a large part of the role involve pet owner education?

Yes, people were very uneducated when it comes to owning a pet. Particularly when it comes to the cost involved in maintaining a healthy pet/having pet insurance.

Do vet nurses experience aggression from pet owners like hospital nurses from patients?

It was almost a daily occurrence. Owners would come in demanding drugs for their animals without a consult because it’s a ‘rip off’ and we’re ‘only in it for the money’. We’re all bound by the same drug restricting laws- you can’t walk into the pharmacy and ask for some endone tablets over the counter. There’s no difference.

What are the rates of pay/conditions like for vet nurses?

When I compare them to human nursing, its atrocious. VN’s have a plethora of skills and knowledge, which is grossly underlooked. But I get it- there isn’t much money in the industry. The amount of money it takes to run a half-decent veterinary surgery is unbelievable. And that Veterinarian who spent 5-7 years studying, he started out on about $50k a year. Even after several years of experience, vets and nurses simply don’t get paid well because there’s no money in the industry. Vet’s don’t charge lots of money for your pet’s care so that they can get rich. There’s no medicare for pets and drugs and education is expensive….can you tell that we got told ‘you’re just money thieves’ on a regular basis!

What is one myth or common misconceptions that you want to debunk about your area?

The veterinarians and nurses aren’t rich like many people seem to think they are. We’d love to be and we deserve to be. After all, we have to learn about more than one species and deal with some horrendous things on the daily.

For more info, go to Australian College of Veterinary Nursing

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