Working with animals: Employee case study

Sarah Spinks describes her job as a community and education veterinary nurse for the PDSA.

What is your role?

My role within PDSA involves going out and working with people in the community and in education. I work on the PetCheck programme, which involves travelling around the country in a mobile clinic offering health checks for dogs, and advice on pet care generally. We usually stay in one area for a week.

The health check involves checking the dog’s eyes, ears, mouth, teeth, body condition and weight. We might also clip nails and microchip dogs. The PetCheck tour runs from March until October.

The other main part of my job is visiting schools and other community groups. We cover a wide range of topics. For example, we might run a careers event, advise on choosing a pet to suit your lifestyle or discuss the lifetime costs of keeping a pet. I have visited young offenders’ institutions and talked to them about status dogs. I might also give presentations on the work we do at legacy events to encourage people to include PDSA in their will.

As part of my professional development, I work a minimum of two weeks in a veterinary hospital every year to keep up to date.

What do you like about your job?

I love the variety because I enjoy meeting and interacting with the public. I particularly enjoy the work in schools and with groups such as the Beavers and Cubs, where you feel you are really making a difference by educating children about pet care. I also enjoy speaking to groups of people.

What’s not so great about it?

There is nothing I don’t like, although I can see that some people might not like the part of the job that involves travelling or being away from home.

How did you get to where you are?

I always knew that I wanted to work with animals, so I made sure that I got some work experience early on. You need at least five good GCSEs to become a veterinary nurse and I got nine, including sciences and maths. I did start A levels thinking that I might do a degree in veterinary nursing, but I had to drop out due to glandular fever.

I then took the apprenticeship route as a student veterinary nurse. I worked four days a week at a veterinary practice in Hereford and then spent one day studying at Holme Lacy College. The veterinary practice was a mixed practice, dealing with both small and farm animals, but I worked mainly with companion animals. The course took three years, as I did a one year pre-veterinary nursing course to make sure I really wanted this career. After the first year it took me two years to complete the NVQ Level 3 in Vet Nursing.

I worked my way up in the practice, going from senior nurse to head nurse and then decided I wanted a change. I went travelling for seven months to New Zealand. I was able to use my UK qualifications in New Zealand and did some locum work, which was very interesting.

When I returned to the UK, I got my present job. I wanted a change from veterinary nursing and this job offered a new challenge.

What do you want to do next?

I am in a small but growing team, so there may be opportunities to specialise. I’d be interested in working more on the education side of things, and pet health campaigns, in order to try and improve the lives of pets in the UK.

What advice would you give young people thinking of doing your job in the future?

I would advise anyone interested in veterinary nursing to get some work experience. Getting your school to arrange some work experience will allow you to do more and to get yourself known in local vet practices.

You could also volunteer at a local surgery after school. Remember that every contact and bit of extra knowledge and experience helps. It is a popular profession with limited jobs, so you need to do as much as possible to give yourself experience and to network.

This experience will also help you get a good idea of the job, as it can be hard. Remember, it’s not all cute puppies and kittens!

Sarah Spinks

Sarah Spinks, community veterinary nurse, PDSA

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