"My practices are nurse lead, and I’m fortunate to have a strong nursing team"
RVN Rachel Smith is Joint Venture Partner (JVP) at Vets4Pets Sunderland and Vets4Pets Sunderland South. She was one of Vets4Pets’ first Veterinary Nurse JVPs. Here she talks about her nursing career, becoming a practice owner and her strong advocacy for the Vet Nurse profession.
What was your route to becoming a RVN?
I suppose I was pretty fortunate to fall into it. I've always liked animals, and my family had dogs, cats and horses. People who knew me from when I was young knew I would work with animals. When I was 15, at the end of the school year, I did two weeks of work experience at a local vet practice and ended up staying for the whole summer. The following year, when I took my last GCSE exam on a Thursday, I went to work at that practice the following Monday and stayed for four years.
It was a very James Harriot style of practice, but it wasn’t a training practice. Back then, I had to read and learn everything myself as I wasn’t lucky enough to work with qualified nurses. It was in the green book days where you had to get a vet to sign off against each item. I qualified way back in 1998.
Do you think those who consider training to be a Vet Nurse, understand the opportunities that await them?
No, definitely not. When you work with nurses in varied roles, you are exposed to other opportunities and your eyes begin to open. But, if you’re in a set up where the nurses just clean and tidy and hold animals, you won’t see or learn anything else. There are a lot more opportunities than people think, but it often comes down to where you’re working and the mentors you have.
When did you start to think about becoming a practice owner?
Before I became a practice owner, I was doing a combined Head Nurse and Practice Manger type role, and because of that, I looked towards other opportunities and additional qualifications; and this probably pushed me towards doing something different.
In the summer of 2002, I attended a CPD session for nurses about the varied roles nurses can do. The speakers came from many areas, including those who were Practice Managers and those who worked in laboratories, and there was someone there from Vets4Pets who spoke about its practice ownership model. This caught my attention, and in less than a year, I opened the eighth Vets4Pets practice. It was a smooth process, and I was able to input into the set up and layout of the practice. Then, in June 2008, I became JVP for Vets4Pets Sunderland and in November 2017 Vets4Pets Sunderland South.
You’re a strong advocate for the vet nurse profession. Tell us a bit about that.
As a practice owner and a nurse, my aim has always been to create a work environment where nurses do what they are trained to do. When I first spoke with Vets4Pets about practice ownership, it became clear there was a way I could do what I enjoy, which is now more of a Practice Manager role although I do still do some nursing when needed, while also being able to structure my team the way I wanted to. That’s really what made me become a practice owner.
My practices are nurse lead, and I’m fortunate to have a strong nursing team. Some of my nurses have qualifications higher than mine, but that’s actually what I want. Within my practices, we made the decision to have one vet for every four colleagues. Vets don’t need to do all the work. I also take a number of student nurses – we have five at the moment and another four lined up to start before the summer.
What are your future goals?
It’s probably no surprise that I really enjoy helping others. Within my area, I setup a WhatsApp clinical group for all vets within our group and also a WhatsApp group for RVN JVPs. I like to share knowledge and to encourage others to share and to help others to learn. That’s what I truly enjoy so I think I would like to do something like a regional role within the larger Vets4Pets Group as I think that type of role would let me do more of this sharing.