Emma discusses the steps she is taking to continue progressing and developing

Emma Black RVN is principal nurse manager at Vets Now’s busy Belfast clinic. Emma worked initially as a locum, then on maternity cover, and has been thriving in the new role she took on last year. Having always looked to progress, it’s another step up in the career she loves. Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month 2024, which runs throughout May, focuses on progression and Emma tells us how taking part in Vets Now’s Enhancing the Vet Nurse programme has helped her.

What’s your vet nursing background?

Our family had cats, dogs, rabbits and sheep, so I grew up around animals and I loved caring for them. Through school I knew I wanted to be in the veterinary world, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a vet or a nurse. I set my GCSEs up so I could have done either, but when I did work experience at my local vets in Portadown, I realised my heart was set on nursing. It was seeing how the nurses were more involved with the care of the patient and followed their treatment through.

So, what did you do from there?

That practice offered me a place and I worked there while doing my three-years training at Greenmount Agricultural College, qualifying in 2012. I stayed there for over a decade, including my training, but for the last few years I knew I wanted to change up my career and do something else. We didn’t get lots of emergency cases, but when they did come in it always gave me an adrenaline rush. Following that case through and seeing the animal walk out the door was a massive achievement. With ECC you had to be adaptable, judge the patient and change care plans as required. I loved having to really use my brain and my nursing skills.

When did you start with Vets Now?

When I was looking to do ECC I got in touch with the Belfast clinic and was lucky enough to begin locum work in 2015. I did that alongside my general practice for a few years, always hoping to make it more permanent, and jumped at the chance of a year-long maternity cover role in 2020. I was delighted to be offered a full-time post after that and then took on the PNM role in August 2023.

How did you find the move into ECC?

It was a massive change. It took me a while to adapt to not having the routine of general practice and having ECC case after case rather than just on occasion. But I thrived on being busy and not knowing what was coming through the door.

What does your PNM role involve?

A bit of everything! But I absolutely love it and it’s opened my eyes to the whole wonderful world of Vets Now with all the cogs and functions coming together in this massive machine. Along with the principal vet Sasha Burns Fraser, I’m involved in doing rotas, managing the team and being in the clinic alongside our nine nurses. It’s still a learning curve but working with the team for several years previously helped.

How have you been supported and developed yourself since you started with Vets Now?

I’ve had massive support from Sasha, and we share the same ideas on how we want things to run and how to drive patient and clinical care. Kate Pickering, our area director, took me through my onboarding and is always there to lend an ear and help. With their support and that of clinical manager Sara Jackson I’ve done lots of CPD into enhancing the nurse’s role and making the clinic nurse-led. Being able to do many more procedures and knowing that your voice is heard really gives you huge job satisfaction. I’m also working on my Emergency and Critical Care Certificate, which I’m hoping to complete in the next 18 months.

Tell us about the Enhancing the Vet Nurse programme.

I did it over two one-day CPD courses, one at Penguin House in Dunfermline and one here in Belfast. You basically get shown and then get a chance to practice a whole range of procedures, including placement of central lines, arterial blood sampling, suturing and wound management. I found it massively useful, and it has definitely made me a better vet nurse. I know my nurses here are just as dedicated and want to improve their skills through this. Being offered that chance has improved morale within the clinic. And ultimately that improves patient care. I think it’s amazing that Vets Now are really pushing this initiative and letting nurses learn and put these things into practice. After taking part in the Enhancing the Vet Nurse programme, I’m going to be teaching it to my team here in June.

How important is it for you to keep progressing?

It’s really important to do that, and more generally to see vet nurses get the recognition they deserve. In human medicine, nurses automatically get respect and anyone that walks through the door appreciates what they can do. It’s different in veterinary medicine, with clients not necessarily understanding the vet nurses’ role. I think we are making steps in the right direction, and I want to keep progressing to play my part in that.

Interested in a veterinary nursing role at Vets Now?

View our vacancies here.

What advice would you have for someone coming into vet nursing?

Don’t get stuck, you can always go further and be better. I’d advise not staying where you’re comfortable and to keep looking to progress yourself. With comfort comes boredom, and you’ll always be searching for something better.

What do you wish you’d known when you started out?

I wish I’d done my studying earlier. Looking back, I’d have tackled my career very differently. I think I’d have gone down the degree route and done many more certificates.

How would see yourself in, say, five years?

I’d still like to be a PNM and making a difference in the clinic. There is no better feeling than saving an animal’s life. But I’d also like to progress within the business, maybe looking at something like the Clinical Standards team.

So, no regrets about moving to Vets Now?

None at all. I love what I’m doing in clinic and how much better my work-life balance is now. I like working nights, and being off during the day lets me do so much, including being with two girls and walking my dogs.