District manager says Vets Now offer career progression opportunities to staff in all roles
It was a childhood dream that became a reality — and Gemma Nelson couldn’t be happier.
While others had no idea of what lay ahead or changed their minds regularly, Gemma had a laser-like focus on caring for animals.
“I always wanted to be a vet nurse from about the age of four or five,” said Gemma. “When anyone asked me what I wanted to do, it was always this. I never changed my mind right through school.
“My school encouraged me to apply to university to do various degrees, but I stuck to my guns and did my veterinary courses.”
Now, at just 30 and the mother of two young children, that determination has paid off and Northern Ireland girl Gemma is more than living her dream with Vets Now.
She landed a job as a senior veterinary nurse and excelled so much she was soon promoted to the role of district manager. Gemma reckons it shows just how far you can progress if you love your job and join the right company.
When she couldn’t get into vet nursing straight after school, Gemma did a degree in equine management that paved the way for a vet practice job.
Then, six months after she’d qualified as an RVN, the senior vet nurse role with Vets Now in Belfast came up.
“I didn’t think I would get it because I didn’t think I was experienced enough,” admitted Gemma, who lives near Downpatrick, County Down, and is currently on maternity leave after giving birth to her second daughter.
“But I did, and after two years, one of the district manager roles came up. This particular position involved overseeing the running of eight out-of-hours clinics in the London area. Jobs like this don’t come up that often for vet nurses so I went for it and was thrilled to get it.”
Career progression is often an issue for vet nurses, as Gemma alludes, but that’s not the case in Vets Now. Rising through the ranks is more than a possibility and it’s one of the few places where you can go from an animal care assistant to an RVN to a senior nurse and, as Gemma shows, a district manager.
“My advice would be just to go for it,” said Gemma. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Just because you may not be that long qualified, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the skills.
“Not everything is based on how long you’ve done something. It takes more than just experience. You need to have those good leadership and managerial skills — and you have to believe in yourself.
“By doing that I’ve gone right though from being a student vet nurse to managing an epic team across eight clinics.”
None of it would have been possible without a company that nurtures talent and offers constant backing.
“Vets Now have been with me the whole way and the team in Belfast were so supportive of me joining,” added Gemma. “Even though I was less experienced and much younger, they had my back. That really helped.
“To be honest, before starting that role, I thought it might be tough as a few of my colleagues had previously been senior nurses, but it wasn’t a struggle at all.
“Having said that, I very quickly learned that you can’t do everything by yourself. You mustn’t be afraid to ask for help and support whenever you need it. That’s always been on hand here.”
With such a big team to look after, and a growing family at home, Gemma knows the expectation that comes with her job, but it’s a responsibility that sits well on her shoulders.
And while she has to put in the hours to cover her duties and look after her team, she says that’s something that very much still allows for a healthy lifestyle.
“The number of hours can be flexible because you can manage your own time in the district role,” explained Gemma.
“I might work five days a week but may not start until lunchtime and then I’ll work into the evening. Or start early and finish early.”
Looking after staff is just as vital for Gemma as looking after herself.
“The RVNs have their own set rotas and I’m very strict with my senior nurses. On their two days off they need to switch off their work phone, put their out of office on and not have anything to do with work.”
Having achieved so much at such a young age, Gemma has so much to reflect back on with great satisfaction.
She cites achieving her ECC certificate while a senior nurse as her proudest moment along with being offered the district manager’s job.
“All the teams and clinics in our district are doing really well, so we’re always proud of them,” said Gemma. “They’re succeeding and they’re happy and that’s what’s important.”
With her experience and achievements, Gemma is in the perfect position to offer a bit of guidance to those wanting to follow in her footsteps.
“I’d advise anyone who wants to be a veterinary nurse to start off as an ACA or get a student nursing position and do at least 18 months in the clinic before you start your course,” she said.
“If you come from knowing nothing it’s too much, so get into practice first and get that experience.”