Globetrotting Claire found the job satisfaction she was looking for at Vets Now Gillingham

Claire Howell RVN CertVNECC Ncert (TMedNsg) is principal nurse manager at Vets Now’s Gillingham clinic. Claire will mark a milestone 25 years as a vet nurse in 2025, including early days doing work for charities in Thailand, Botswana and the Caribbean.

Throughout her career with Vets Now, Claire has always looked to further her nursing skills, enhance her knowledge and progress her career. Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month 2024, which runs throughout May, focuses on progression and Claire tells of her latest step, taking part in Vets Now’s Enhancing the Vet Nurse programme.

What led you into the veterinary world in the first place?

I did work experience at a cattery after school and when they put me in touch with their vet, training to be a vet nurse just opened up in front of me. That was back in the late 1990s and I actually lived above a practice for a year. I qualified at another practice where I stayed for a good few years before taking six months out to work in Thailand.

That must have been very different.

I was looking for some excitement, I think, and I ran a clinic for the charity Animals Asia. A lot of it was dealing strays, lots of neutering to try and keep the population down and seeing a load of poisoning cases. There wasn’t a vet on site, so I was seeing everything along with a couple of other girls. It was a massive learning curve and you really had to be resourceful. We had no X-ray facilities and I’d drive sick animals to the local tourist hospital and use their machine to try and see what was wrong! It was unorthodox, but in those cases if you didn’t try something, you knew the animal would die. It was quite an experience and I had short spells doing similar charity work in the Caribbean and Botswana.

And what led you to want to get into ECC?

I really liked when I was able to be hands-on and I found I was frustrated at the routine work back in the UK. In 2006 I started doing some locum work for Vets Now in Canterbury and I liked being able to multi-task, to get stuck in and really make a difference. I worked at various of the other clinics and it gave me the satisfaction and, I suppose, the excitement and challenge I’d been desperate to find.

How was the clinic environment?

I loved the responsibility and how much you could learn from the experience of the vets and the other nurses. It’s a small team and you can anticipate what’s needed and just do things without the vet having to ask. Being one step ahead keeps the shift moving.

Head nurse Claire in the clinic holding her Chihuahua

How have you been able to advance your skills?

The shift patterns give me the time to do CPD and I’ve done loads of courses as you get a bigger budget for it than anywhere else I’ve been. Because you can directly apply it to what you’re doing, you feel like there is a real point to it. For example, I went on an ultrasound course run by an ECC specialist and although I’ve been around the machines my whole career, it was so useful. We use ultrasound frequently as part of a rapid patient assessment and I now feel much more confident to step forward and give my opinion.

It sounds as if you like that responsibility?

At Vets Now nurses triage patients and make decisions about which animal should be seen first. So, using the ultrasound, for example, to spot a problem you need to alert the vet to more quickly is definitely something I want to do more of.

You’ve recently taken part in the Enhancing the Vet Nurse Role programme, what’s it about?

Vets Now always wants to ensure vet nurses can use their skills to the fullest and be involved to the maximum extent in the running of the clinics and care of the patients. They’ve invested a lot of time, money and thought in doing that. All our nurses have been invited to go on these courses to increase their practical skill set and work on their consultation skills, with the aim of improving the clients’ and patients’ experience.

How does it work?

There are a series of practical workshops around the country which our nursing development lead Rachael Bacon has worked on putting together. I attended two one-day courses which were held in an external venue. One was late last year, the other in February and they followed some online pre-learning.

What did they involve?

One took in the placement of central lines, arterial blood sampling and urinary catheters. The other included suturing, faecal catheters and wound management. Rachael demonstrated, with vets also on hand, and then you did the things yourself, so it was very practical and hands-on.

How useful did you find them?

Even though I’ve been nursing for a long time, you can still learn and still improve. It’s nice to be reminded of the correct way to do things as well as being reminded what you’re capable of doing, which boosts your confidence. The courses have been designed following the latest evidence, so you can see that while you’ve been doing something a certain way, it’s not necessarily now the best way.

And what has been the progression for yourself following the courses?

I’m very keen to be involved in the training of the next generation of veterinary nurses, so I have now been working towards teaching the courses. Having already taken part, I have had another day looking at how best to teach it, and then I will be taking my first course in Maidstone on May 21st.

Vets Now team treating a dog

Join us in ECC

As a vet nurse at Vets Now you’ll develop your skills and make a real difference. Simply put, you’ll be the vet nurse you trained to be. Search our current vacancies here.

Current vacancies

It sounds as if progression has always been important to you.

I’ve never wanted to tread water and just stay where I am both skill and career-wise, and with Vets Now there have always been opportunities to learn. I did the RECOVER – Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation – initiative, been given a lot of ultrasound training, have a certificate in transfusion medicine and been on a speaker training course. Challenging yourself is important for job satisfaction and for self-esteem. Progression for me has always been about continued personal growth and making sure I’m the best vet nurse I can be.

Do you still enjoy the buzz of a busy shift?

It’s so rewarding and we’re always talking among ourselves about patients and how they are getting on. You might not be with an animal through its whole treatment journey, but you absolutely will be with it through the most intense, traumatic bit. You know what you do can save that life.

How much do you enjoy seeing the prominent roles vet nurses play at Vets Now?

I have never experienced anywhere that respects its nurses so much and lets them be so involved and empowered. We really feel our voices are heard and our skills are appreciated and used to the fullest.

What would be your advice to someone coming into vet nursing?

I suppose it would be that you get out of it what you put in. So, there will be hard work, but if you give it your all and take your opportunities then it’s such a rewarding career.

How would you see your career in five years’ time?

I love what I do, and the clinic and the patients mean too much to totally step away. I also like the work/life balance that allows good family time and getting out with my three dogs. But I’d like to teach, too, as I think I can offer something more than what you get from a textbook. Hopefully I can show that you can evolve and have longevity in your career. We all have different skills and I’d like to think younger nurses see me as relatable and someone they can learn from.

Is there anything you wish you’d known when you started out all those years ago?

I don’t think I could have navigated my career any better. I have taken every opportunity that has come along and make the most of it. I certainly seem to have made a good impression on my daughter. She’s just 11 but she’s quite tall while I’m quite small and she recently borrowed my Vets Now uniform to go to school dressed as me!

Does an exciting career in ECC interest you? To find out more about life as a vet nurse at Vets Now click here.