High Wycombe PNM was drawn to Vets Now in 2019 with an urge to push himself and learn new things.
Having spent a quarter of a century looking after animals, vet nursing courses through RVN Brian Smyth’s veins.
He’s the cool and collected head helping poorly patients and stressed owners as Principal Nurse Manager at Vets Now’s busy High Wycombe clinic.
It’s a job he loves and a career choice he’s so glad he made. But while he’s never known another working life, it could all have been so different for Brian.
He didn’t come from a traditional pet-owning family – and he thought he was going to be a lawyer.
“I never planned to work with animals,” said Brian. “My parents weren’t animal people, so my twin Robert and I didn’t grow up with cats and dogs.
“We were allowed things we could keep in a tank or cage in our room, like tropical fish or snakes.
“I did love watching animal documentaries, but I wasn’t someone with a bond for a cat or a dog. And career-wise I wanted to be a lawyer and that’s the route I was going down with my exams.”
By the end of the first week, I was totally hooked. When they offered me a job I quit school, took it and have never looked back.
It all changed for Brian, though, when he was looking for some extra cash as he was studying for his A-levels. He saw a student veterinary nurse vacancy at a practice near his London home and was invited in for a taste of vet life over the Christmas holidays in 1994.
“I was just 16, had never set foot in a vet surgery, and had no idea what to expect,” admitted Brian.
“My first day was amazing and I can remember it like it was yesterday. The first op I witnessed was on a German Shephard with what I now know was a ruptured splenic tumour.
“And I remember being bitten by a parrot when I moved its cage without any protection.
“By the end of the first week I was totally hooked and when they offered me a job I quit school, took it and have never looked back.”
Brian went on to do his training, qualifying in early 1998.
Over the past two decades and more, Brian has worked in big and small clinics, referrals and hospitals, gaining vast experience and taking on a number of head nurse roles.
But he has always been keen to learn more and seek fresh challenges.
That drive, and never having really experienced ECC life, was what brought him to Vets Now in 2019.
“I am always looking for new things that keep my brain working,” said Brian. “I felt I had done everything except ECC medicine and when I saw an advert for Vets Now, I thought it was just the kind of stimulation I needed.”
Brian initially joined at Caterham, near to his south London home.
Despite his long vet nurse experience, he admits there was a bit of trepidation, a feeling of stepping into the unknown.
Any anxieties soon melted away as he was wrapped in the blanket of support all new staff find at Vets Now.
“Obviously you see far fewer emergencies coming into a day clinic,” said Brian.
“I obviously wasn’t going in completely green and I’d like to think I’d seen enough, but there was a bit of concern over the non-clinical aspects of a PNM role.
“However, the on-boarding at Vets Now was excellent and my District Managers both really supportive.
“And I was also given another PNM as a ‘buddy’, who was always there to check in for anything I needed. That was very helpful.”
Brian had previously shied away from night work and was used to being a part of larger daytime teams. So, just like his initial vet practice experience as a teenager, the first solo shift is one he clearly remembers.
“I was a bit apprehensive as it all felt very strange,” admitted Brian. “You were dealing with clients who were maybe a bit more stressed and there were some procedures and blood tests I hadn’t done in general clinic.
“In day practice a GDV would be the number one emergency you’d be concerned about coming in. Now, two-and-a-half years in, that’s no longer such a big drama as you’ve learned to deal with so much.
“I’m very glad I made the choice to come here and I feel settled, although never in a boring way.”
I felt I had done everything except ECC medicine and when I saw an advert for Vets Now, I thought it was just the kind of stimulation I needed.
Brian, who subsequently moved to High Wycombe which is just a 30-minute commute, is enjoying seeing his working life reinvigorated.
And, as ever, the animals come first.
“I’ve always loved seeing an animal get better and here it can be a matter of life and death,” said Brian. “We had a cat come in with probably the worst airway obstruction I’ve seen.
“It could barely breathe and the vet and I sedated it and got the bone out.
“He was so close to being dead – and then he wasn’t. That was so good to see and when you are making an immediate difference, it’s such a satisfaction.
“It reaffirms why I’m still doing this job and still on the frontline.”
What the move to Vets Now has also given Brian is a whole new daytime life.
And he – literally – hasn’t been standing still.
“I took up running during lockdown and have done two half marathons, so that has been fun,” added Brian.
“I’m also a year into learning Italian and it’s nice being off during the week when everyone else is at work.”