Life as an equine veterinary nurse

  • A love of horses is an obvious prerequisite for anyone interesting in becoming an equine veterinary nurse, but far more than just this is demanded when working at an equine hospital.

    Renee Williams, 28, works at Liphook Equine Hospital. She is not yet a qualified EVN, but is responsible for the observation and aftercare of referrals.

    “We start at 8am. The nurses fill us in on any changes in the horses overnight so that we can relay this information to the vets on ward rounds,” says Renee, whose daily tasks include changing dressings and preparing the animals for examinations or surgery.

    “The most rewarding aspect is looking after the horses after treatment and then seeing them go home,” she says, although there are other aspects of her job that can be hard to take.

    “Being a referral hospital, we get to know the patients and owners on a personal level. Owners, particularly those whose horses are not insured, have to make difficult decisions. This can be really upsetting,” explains Renee.

    “The horses can be difficult to handle, especially if they’re uncertain of their new surroundings, but it is worth every minute when things work out for the best,” she adds.

    Fiona Main, a veterinary nurse, fully agrees. She has worked at Rossdales Equine Hospital for three years and is about to qualify as an EVN.

    “A memorable patient, Freddie Star, was in a road traffic accident that resulted in tremendous skin loss and a gaping hole in his shoulder. He was a tricky customer until he got to know me, but his aftercare went well.

    “Four months later his owner sent me a picture of him jumping at an intermediate one-day event, you’d never have known,” says Fiona, who finds the responsibility of making horses more comfortable and playing a part in their recovery very rewarding. Her daily duties include bandaging, monitoring wounds, checking patient’s TPR and assessing pain levels.

    “Seeing a horse you’ve cared for go home, when you know it’s had 13ft of small intestine removed, is a pretty amazing experience when you’ve played your part,” says Fiona. But she is philosophical about the harder aspects of her job.

    “Euthanasia is distressing and coping with distraught owners is difficult. Unlike human medicine we have the option to remove a horse from prolonged suffering. It is harder to take with young horses, such as racehorses that could have some sort of life but can no longer fulfil their job,” she explains.

    “It’s a tough job mentally and physically, the more hands on you are so much the better. If you struggled at school academically, you’ll struggle with these qualifications too,” warns Fiona. “It’s tiring at work in a busy practice, and you have to be prepared to go home and study.”

    Getting qualified

    Applicants for equine veterinary nursing need five GCSEs at C grade or above, including English, two sciences or one each of science and maths.

    “The student must be employed at a Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons [RCVS] recognised practice where vacancies are scarce,” explains Natalie Fisher, careers officer at the RCVS.

    Once employed, trainees enrol at a college for one day a week’s study on day release. They also study in their own time, completing a portfolio and having to pass RCVS examinations. Individuals must then apply to the RCVS for recognition as qualified equine veterinary nurses.

    “DIRECT entry” into equine veterinary nursing means it is no longer necessary for students to become small animal veterinary nurses before specialising.

    “Most girls, and it is mostly girls, know from the outset whether they want to work primarily with horses or small animals,” says British Veterinary Nursing Association equine representative Bonny Millar. But Bonny says the limited number of recognised equine training practices poses a problem for the new system.

    “Currently the number of prospective students outweighs the number of establishments able to provide training. We need to address the demand without saturating the market,” she says.

    In 2002 changes were made to the Veterinary Surgeons Act that allow qualified EVNs to carry out further tasks. These include taking blood from horses, giving injections and putting in intravenous catheters.

    “There are many misconceptions and rumours about what qualified EVNs can and cannot do. Clarifiying these would improve public perception of the role of veterinary nurses,” says Bonny.

    “Practices who have properly trained nurses realise they are an asset as they can carry out more technical procedures. This frees surgeons to do diagnostic work, consultations and surgery”.

    Join Horse & Hound’s NAGS

    Membership of the National Association of Grooms and Students (NAGS) is free to all bona fide grooms and students. NAGS is sponsored by training provider KEITS, which offers Modern Apprenticeships, for those aged 16-25, as well as work-based training in equine, animal care and agricultural businesses.

    Benefits of being a NAGS member include: Horse & Hound subscription at £1 per copy, £3 discount voucher on a sack of Blue Chip Dynamic, 10% discount on Splash Equestrian equipment and clothing, no P&P charges from Equestrian Vision mail order and eligibility for NAGS-only competitions and offers.

    If you are interested in becoming a member, write to: NAGS, Room 2018, Kings Reach Tower, Stamford Street, London SE1 9LS (tel: 020 7261 6993), e-mail: nags@ipcmedia.com, or click here to download an application form in PDF format.

    And remember, the club is open to all students, not just those studying for an equine qualification.

  • This careers feature was first published in Horse & Hound (17 March, 05)

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