After 15 years with Vets Now, principal nurse manager and mum-of-two Sarah Courtney is still impressed by her team’s ability to pull together and look after one another.
If laughter is the best medicine, owners taking their animals into Vets Now’s Liverpool clinic can rest easy.
A lot of laughs – and some supportive hugs through tears – provide a unique bond among staff, according to Principal Nurse Manager Sarah Courtney.
It makes shifts at the busy clinic fly by, while the constant support and on-hand advice ensures clients’ pets always get the highest possible standard of care.
And after 15 years with Vets Now, Sarah insists there’s nowhere else she’d rather nurse.
Sarah, who is originally from the north-west of England, was living in Reading when she qualified back in 2004.
“I was forever bringing waifs and strays home as a kid and I always knew I wanted to work with animals,” said Sarah.
“When I was at high school I did work experience with a local vet and I was hooked on nursing from that point. I went to college while working at a practice in Reading which was really progressive, and I thought small animal practice was where I’d stay.
“We covered out-of-hours and I loved seeing the more interesting types of cases you didn’t have routinely during the day. I liked the adrenaline rush and it being just you and the vet.
“But you’d be living on-call in a flat above the practice at night, getting just a couple of hours’ break in the morning and then being back in all day. It was pretty tough.”
After moving back north, Sarah worked in a couple of practices but was left with no job satisfaction when she went part-time after having her first child.
It was then she saw an advert for Vets Now that would allow her to do the hours she was able to, while getting the challenge of ECC medicine she’d had a taste for with her OOH cover.
“I could feel the buzz and the passion right from the interview,” said Sarah.
“On my first shift the head nurse was mentoring me, and I just felt so supported. I remember hearing her and the chief vet discussing cases that night and it just seemed so exciting. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
Sarah says she’s had that support and backing all the way through and, as PNM herself now, she makes sure everyone who joins the team feels that, too.
“Vets Now really make sure the CPD is second to none,” said Sarah. “There is always support and learning opportunities.
“Right through my time here it’s always been about making you feel a part of the family.
“When I get nurses coming in who are anxious about ECC, I always tell them that as long as they have their nursing basics, we are there to teach them everything else they need to know.
“There are always experienced, enthusiastic staff around and the nurturing environment is everywhere. I love when staff come in from different backgrounds and you just see the confidence grow as they gain experience.
“It’s a place people want to be. We have one nurse who used to be an ACA and has come back after her training and another ACA who is currently doing her nurse training.”
The bond between the whole team – vets, vet nurses, ACAs and reception staff – at Liverpool is incredibly close.
And Sarah reckons the Scouse spirit for which Liverpudlians are famous, is part of the reason.
“You really do have a laugh on shift and that’s a big part of what gets you through,” says Sarah. “Obviously this job can be incredibly serious, but people here have a great sense of humour.
“Honestly, some of them should be on the stage.
“Everyone looks out for each other and makes sure they are okay. We’ve laughed, hugged and cried together.
“It’s not always appropriate, but when it is, then having a laugh eases the tension.
“We’re also in a PDSA host practice, so you see a real mix of clients and it all keeps you on your toes.”
Many of the staff have gone on to gain further qualifications and Sarah has kept on learning and progressing. She has done the ECC Certificate and is always looking for future opportunities.
She still loves her night shifts and, as a mum-of-two, she finds the flexibility and freedom they allow invaluable.
They ensure she has the all-important work-life balance, too.
“I’ve got a teenager and a ‘tweenager’, so obviously they don’t need me around just as much now,” said Sarah.
“But when they were babies, they’d be going to bed when I was going to work, and I never felt like I was missing out on time with them.
“And even now the shifts make such a difference when it comes to school holidays. I’ll do two or three nights a week maximum and I’m here the rest of the time.
“I don’t know how I’d manage if I was in day practice.”
With a decade now as PNM behind her, Sarah’s passion for Vets Now Liverpool burns as brightly as ever.
“Everyone here knows I love the clinic and the team,” adds Sarah.
“I have everyone’s back and they have mine. During COVID I was in awe of how brilliant they were and how they all pulled together to get the job done.
“And I love that you still feel that you are making a difference. Watching an animal that’s poorly when you come on shift start to get better through the night has you on top of the world.
“You’ve given it a good night and you leave in the morning knowing it’s on the road to recovery and that you’ve helped by what you’ve done.
“That’s absolutely priceless.”