Experienced vet nurse reflects on a decade of caring for people and pets
Vet nurse Amy Miller is marking 10 years in the veterinary world this year — half of which has been at Vets Now.
As a firm fixture at Vets Now Gillingham, Amy spends her nights and weekends saving pets’ lives in one of our busiest clinics.
Here she explains how she came to be in ECC, how the support of her incredible team in Gillingham helped her hit the ground running, and why working here has been a life-changing experience.
How did you start your vet nursing career?
I’ve always had horses and our pets needed regular treatment, so I got to know my local vet practice pretty well. I became friendly with the staff, and it seemed like a job I’d enjoy. So, I left school at 16 and went straight to Canterbury College where I did a level 3 diploma in veterinary nursing.
Where did you begin working after graduating?
It was quite a small first opinion practice which was great for gaining experience but after a couple of years I felt I wanted to progress and see how I could challenge myself. I moved to a larger practice that did orthopaedic referral and also covered its own out of hours, so you’d do a week of nights every six weeks. It was just looking after in-patients, not new admissions, but it gave me a bit of a taste for OOH and I went on to do six months of night shift patterns at a Surrey referral centre. That really sparked my interest in ECC medicine, and I jumped at the chance when a role came up at Vets Now.
So, what is it about ECC?
I love the fact that no shift is ever the same and it is so different from the routine neutering and vaccinating of first opinion. I absolutely know that has to be done but I love the variety and, frankly, the excitement of never knowing what is going to come through the door. You never get bored and just when you think you’ve seen it all, in will come a case that proves you wrong.
Why did you choose Gillingham?
I live near Folkestone and there are actually two Vets Now clinics closer to me, Ashford and Herne Bay, which would half my 50-minute journey time. But I picked Gillingham because I love the buzz. We’re also a PDSA clinic so we see their OOH cases and care for their in-patients, too. It’s really nice being able to help with that as well.
How did Vets Now ensure you were ready for the role?
Although I’d already been qualified for five years, the level of support was massive. For the first month, I shadowed a full-time nurse who gave me all the guidance I needed, while I also took an online induction course into ECC. It was a 27-hour CPD which went through all the basics of ECC. It was so helpful and the lecturer, Kath Howie, was always available to answer questions. You felt reassured that you were never going to be thrown in at the deep end and that there was always someone there you could ask.
What was it like when you got started properly?
I think I took to it like a duck to water. Everyone said I had settled in so well, but it was really down to the support from Vets Now and of all my colleagues.
What’s your team like at the Gillingham clinic?
We have three permanent full-time night nurses and the same with vets, plus a couple of back shift vets and half a dozen back shift nurses on rota. One of the great things about Vets Now is the flexibility they offer, so some of the nurses with children can manage their hours around their family commitments. And if you need to swap shifts, someone will always step in and help.
Although we allocate tasks, like triaging or looking after the in-patients, if someone has expertise on a certain case, they are more than happy to lend a hand. You’ll often do the procedure together, so the next time you’ll know better how to do it.
And what about the bonds you form?
We have WhatsApp groups to stay in touch or help out with queries and it’s just a friendly place to work. We’ve always got a full snack cupboard if you need a treat or little energy boost in the middle of the night. And when Covid restrictions meant we couldn’t have mugs to drink out of, the principal vet bought us all flasks with our names on. And let’s face it, sometimes a cup of tea or coffee is just what you need to make all the worries go away!
What’s the best bit about your job?
Knowing I’ve made a difference. I love the satisfaction, there’s nothing like it. I have never had a job where I’ve felt more valued and appreciated. Even though the clients are going through such tough times, they are so grateful for what we do. Some patients come in totally collapsed and unable to walk and, in the morning when we are able to walk them out, their owner’s faces are just so delighted. It’s truly amazing.
Is there one case that sticks in your mind more than most?
We had a lovely little chihuahua come in which had been bitten by another dog in the house, a large mastiff. It was a penetrating chest injury which had punctured a lung and one stage he had an episode where we had to anaesthetise and breathe for him. We had done all we could to get him through the night and, in the morning, we knew we had to get him to a referral centre for further care. At the end of our shift the vet and I went with him in a pet ambulance, and I actually cried when we handed him over, just because we had got him there when it looked so bad. Happily, he came through the surgery and survived.
What advice would you have for anyone considering a vet nurse role at Vets Now in Gillingham?
Just do it! The support and guidance are incredible, and the job will change your life. It’s not just the work and the professional and personal satisfaction, the work-life balance is everything. Because of the time off and fact it’s not a 9am to 5pm job every day, you can do so much. I’ve got two horses and I ride and compete with them much more than I ever could otherwise. I get so much pleasure from that.