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

Claire Howell’s experience working as a veterinary nurse in different parts of the world has given her the skills to take on all manner of challenges.

However, having expanded her horizons, she feared that routine clinic work in the UK might not live up to the experiences of further afield.

Thankfully these concerns were put to rest when she joined Vets Now, where her role as head nurse at our Gillingham clinic has given her all the excitement and responsibility she craved.

Here, Claire RVN cert VNECC, explains what led her to a career in emergency and critical care.

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. Just recently, 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.

And what about other courses?

I’ve just done the RECOVER – Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation – initiative which teaches a standardised way of resuscitating animals. Having gone through the basic course, I want to go on and become certified in that. It was absolutely fascinating and obviously so relevant to what I do. Although I’ve been qualified for over 20 now, you never know it all and there is always new evidence and new ways to do things. Vets Now is all about evidence-based medicine and that best practice is there in everything we do as vet nurses.

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.

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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.

And what about the work-life balance?

The thing I’ve learned is not to just laze about on your days off, but always have plans. So, on a busy shift there is something to look forward to. I have an eight-year-old daughter and I’m thrilled that I can pick her up from school every day. Other parents frantically juggle commitments, but I’m always there to chat if there’s a problem or see teachers. I couldn’t do that if I was in day practice. And when she’s at school I love being in the countryside walking my four dogs. One of them, Dougie, comes to work with me and I actually got Coco through the clinic. She’s a chihuahua who was facing euthanasia after coming in with a broken jaw and I brought her home, nursed her better – and she’s still here!

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