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May is VN awareness month and what better way to mark it than to hear from Sam Morgan, president of the British Veterinary Nursing Association and inspirational teacher of veterinary nurses?
HAVING grown up around animals and enjoyed science at school, I wanted a career that would combine the two. The careers advice I was given was not very helpful; I was told that veterinary surgery was a hard course to be accepted on and that anything else to do with animals was poorly paid, ‘so maybe I should consider being a nursery nurse’.
Luckily, my uncle was a partner in a mixed practice nearby in Cardiff and I was able to do my school work experience alongside him. That led to a Saturday job and it was then that I got to know the two veterinary nurses who worked at the practice. They were both qualified, but were very different people, with different roles. One was especially good with the owners and staff and the other was clever clinically.
They inspired me to aim to be a mixture of both – all I had to do was convince my mum that veterinary nursing was a good career choice. I was directed to the BVNA for some career information. I started at my uncle's practice a month later, when I donned my green and white striped uniform and became a student member of the BVNA.
I attended a local college one day a week to complete my training, working the rest of the time to develop my practical skills. I qualified in 1999 and was proud to attend the RCVS ceremony to receive my badge and certificate.
Soon after qualifying, I joined an orthopaedic and ophthalmic referral centre near Birmingham. I wanted to continue studying and get the advanced surgical and medical diplomas in veterinary nursing and I knew that working in a referral centre was the best place to gain the experience and additional knowledge that I would need to achieve my goals.
Practice life was a mixture of emotions for me; I did not think I would miss home as much as I did. A 90-minute car journey may not sound far, but at times it might as well have been 1000 miles. It helped that the practice was an extremely busy environment; I had a lot to learn and I relished the opportunity to do so. I made some lifelong friends during this time. I started my advanced medical diploma and got hooked on doing CPD. In those three years, I learnt so much and gained skills that remain with me. Then circumstances changed at home when my grandmother became terminally ill and I returned to Wales.
I was lucky enough to get a job at my previous practice, but now as a qualified VN. I worked my way up to being head nurse, concentrating on clinical aspects of the practice. After completing my advanced surgical diploma, I found that I started to enjoy explaining what I had learned.
I completed the assessor training with private training provider, Abbeydale Vetlink Veterinary Training, which was run by Victoria Aspinall, and asked if I could teach a few animal science classes for her at Filton College. I was soon teaching two afternoons a week and later, teaching veterinary nursing three days a week at Abbeydale.
Eventually, I was appointed a director alongside fellow director Kirsty Gwynne, so, not only did I become I a full-time lecturer, but I was a small business owner, too. Even though it was all unplanned, which is really not like me at all, I never looked back. Yes, I miss practice, the patients and the clinical work, but there are other aspects that I don't miss at all.
I think what I am most associated with today is my work with BVNA. I joined the association as a student and attended BVNA congress with my head nurse in my first year of training. At the time, the BVNA president was passionate about the profession and her words inspired me. I told my colleague, ‘I'm going to be BVNA president one day and inspire others’ – I am not sure either of us believed it.
After qualifying as a VN, I became a regional coordinator (RCO) for South Wales, organising local CPD events and helping out at BVNA congress. I loved it – it gave me a chance to meet other VNs and RCOs and I valued being a part of the team.
It was at another congress that I was inspired again. Bonny Millar was BVNA president and she said that RCOs were in a perfect position to join BVNA council – so I did.
Serving on BVNA council involves learning a lot very quickly; for example, becoming familiar with aspects of politics and how committees work, as well as running a business. I certainly hadn't had a clue what I was getting into; I imagined that I would be helping out at a few events and speaking about veterinary nursing. BVNA is more than that – we (BVNA Council members) need to be the driving force for the profession. While we challenge other associations, we also work closely with them to take our profession forward.
I have been BVNA president since October 2015 and will never regret it, despite the hard work involved. I am the type of person who can embrace hard times and enjoy the good times too.
▪ 1997: Student veterinary nurse.
▪ 1999: Qualified as a veterinary nurse (VN).
▪ 1999: Joined a referral practice.
▪ 2003: Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing (Medical).
▪ 2004: VN assessor.
▪ 2004: Head VN in first-opinion practice.
▪ 2007: BVNA Regional Coordinator for South Wales region.
▪ 2008: Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing (Surgical).
▪ 2010: Certificate in education.
▪ 2011: Teaching veterinary nursing at Abbeydale Vetlink.
▪ 2012: Director at Abbeydale Vetlink.
▪ 2015: President BVNA
VN Futures is probably the most exciting project I have been involved with so far. It is a joint project between the RCVS and the BVNA. I am working with RVNs, vets and a registered medical nurse, as part of the VN Futures Action Group.
The VN profession is relatively young and it's our responsibility to drive it in the right direction. After a Vet Futures meeting at BVNA congress in October 2015, it became clear that VNs could not be fully considered within the Vet Futures project (for veterinary surgeons). As a result, it was decided that the BVNA and the RCVS should undertake a specific project for the veterinary nursing profession, in order to help us best consider where and how we wanted to drive the profession forward.⇓
‘We need VNs to have the confidence to make their voices heard. I would encourage them all – qualified or student – to get involved where they can, it really is worth it’
The VN Futures project started with an initial meeting in January 2016 at the RCVS, with over 40 representatives. From this, a number of key themes emerged, highlighting where we needed to focus our efforts. From there, we took the show on the road to Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Cardiff – and this was the best bit for me – to meet RVNs, vets and student VNs. The results of these conversations were included in our VN Futures report. Launched in July 2016, the report sets out the key issues our profession is facing and identifies ideas to drive solutions forward.
It's not easy or necessary for every VN to think politically or want to get involved in these aspects of our profession. Having said that, having taken part in the VN Futures roadshows, I have seen many who do. We are passionate about our profession and we know what we want.
We need VNs to have the confidence to make their voices heard. I would encourage them all – qualified or student – to get involved where they can, it really is worth it.