Katie Butterfield RVN is a valuable part of the nursing team at Vets Now’s busy Bradford clinic. It’s 13 years since Katie started on her vet nursing career, and progression has been central to her journey. Progression is the focus of Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month 2024, which continues throughout May. Katie tells us how taking part in Vets Now’s Enhancing the Vet Nurse programme has been another welcome step in her pathway. 

How did you get into vet nursing?

Although I didn’t have pets growing up, a lot of my friends did so I had a real love of animals and knew I wanted to help care for them. I started back in 2011, when I was just 18, in Harrogate. Initially I did day release, but for a few reasons I went on to block release, which I found better for me. Harrogate was a first opinion/dental referral and after a couple of years, I moved to a first opinion practice in Yeadon. I qualified after five years, not three, and decided I wanted to do my advanced diploma to push myself and keep progressing. I went to work at a first opinion and referral practice in Morley, to see a higher caseload and more surgical and medical in-patients. It had out-of-hours and that’s where I got my first taste of working nights and doing ECC. As well as seeing the cases I needed for my diploma, I really fell in love with emergency medicine. In fact, I was only there for eight months before I applied to Vets Now and started at the Bradford clinic more than four years ago. 


How did you find the switch?

I quite quickly got used to the nights and everyone was so helpful. Having a good team makes working nightshifts. Even if you have a night where you just don’t stop, you can all go delirious at the same time! And I found the vets were so good in allowing the nurses to use our skills, having our input on cases and feeling really valued. 


Have you looked to do anything subsequent to your diploma?

I’ve done the Vets Now ECC course (Cert VN ECC), which took a couple of years and was a case of wanting to keep progressing and not stand still. It gave me so much more in-depth knowledge, things like blood gases which I hadn’t done before. It was very much assignment-based, which works better than an exam-based course for me. Having greater knowledge and understanding has definitely made me a better nurse. I’d recommend it to anyone. 


How much do you still enjoy feeling you’re making a difference?

I still love when you are the one there overnight, making the intervention that helps save a life or get a patient on the way to recovery. Those are the cases that make you feel good. You get patients coming in looking like they are at death’s door, and a few hours later they are walking out the building and going home. There is a real pride in knowing you’ve helped and then speaking to the owners and seeing how happy they are. There is such a sense of achievement. 

RVN Katie Butterfield with a large dog

Tell us about your involvement in the Enhancing the Vet Nurse programme.

As soon as I saw the email, I knew I wanted to be involved. I think it’s great that Vets Now are rolling this out to help nurses improve their skills and be able to improve the outcome for the patients. It’s both learning things you can take back to the clinic, and refreshing skills you already knew but maybe haven’t put into practice for a while. The sessions were fun as well as useful, with models to practice on. And if you hadn’t done something before, knowledgeable people were on hand to help and answer questions. Going back to clinic armed with that knowledge gives you great satisfaction. It can help vets move on with other things and let you continue the treatment where appropriate. That’s a real boost in confidence. 


So, where did you go and what did you learn?

We had two days in Huddersfield after some online pre-learning. The practical skills were faecal catheter placement, suturing, arterial blood samples, nasal oxygen catheters, abscess management, urinary catheter placement in male cats, naso-oesophageal/nasogastric feeding tubes and central lines. 


What did you take from it?

There was a real sense of feeling valued and that Vets Now want you to learn these skills and advance yourself. Being able to help the patients more than you felt you could before is lovely. 


What about the nurse protocols?

The protocols are trauma, toxic ingestion, vomiting and diarrhoea, wound and seizure patient. Our Head of Nursing Standards Racheal Marshall and Head of Veterinary Standards have been really proactive introducing these to ensure our nurses can take an even more positive role in the clinic and help the vets. We can go and speak to the clients, start the  consultation and progress the patients journey through the clinic a little bit quicker. So, some of the consultation can take place beforehand and the vet can then go back to the clients already having, for example, the blood results to hand. And if it’s something like an animal having eaten chocolate, then that can be very much nurse-led, where we will make owners aware of the risks, do all the checks and then give the injection to make the animal sick. It really helps increase nurses’ recognition, just as you might go to a hospital and be more aware of what nurses are able to do. 


What advice might you give to new nurses starting out?

The nursing course isn’t easy, so getting the right support and finding the way to learn what works for you is important. It took me five years and I definitely had to find what suited me. 


What do you think you would have done differently?

I started when I was 18 and I was a bit naïve. At that age I was going out partying and not taking what I was doing as seriously as I should. This is an important job, and you can’t take it lightly, which I think I did at the start. But I kept pursuing it and that’s the best decision I’ve ever made. Now, I can’t see myself doing anything else. 


You’ve obviously had great progression so far, what would you like to do in the years ahead?

Eventually I’d like to move more into managerial roles and would love the opportunity to be a principal nurse manager at some stage. And I’d like to mentor new nurses coming into the ECC world. 


Finally, how do you find the work-life balance.

If you’re on a weekend, you have Monday to Thursday off and you can get so much done and even have a midweek night away if you want. That’s one of the things that drew me to Vets Now – working Monday to Friday just sounds really boring! I’d never want to go back to that now. 


If you’re interested in a role at Vets Now, check out our current vacancies here.