Director Jess Roose celebrates a decade of being a qualified vet this summer and shares her thoughts on this milestone:
In summer 2023 I will have been a fully qualified vet for 10years! In a world where vets are leaving the profession at a rate of knots for various reasons – burnout, salary, poor work-life balance, profiteering nature of some (often corporate) practices – reaching 10years in clinical practice is a milestone that I am very proud to reach. One thing I was never expecting when I took my first job, was that I would still be working at the same practice a decade later. This got me thinking about how I ended up staying with Priory and all the changes I have seen in this time….
1. The good old days…
When I started at Priory, we still treated horses and farm animals…yes, I just about snuck into that generation of vets! Whilst I enjoyed roaming around the forest, treating horses and the occasional cow or sheep, for me, the realities of mixed practice were far from the James Herriot stories I had read growing up. I never really felt comfortable with the “jack of all trades” outlook of a mixed vet and the limitations of the treatments available for these large animals so I can’t say I was disappointed when Priory decided to concentrate on the small animal part of the business. It meant I got to spend my time doing more of the part of veterinary medicine I love most of all- small animal cardiology.
As we’ve seen with the wider world, another massive influence on the way we work now is the availability of technology and high-quality equipment. At my interview, I remember asking if Priory had an ultrasound machine, as if the answer might be no! I can’t imagine any vet practice now not having even a basic machine as it has become such a critical part of many medical investigations but at that time it certainly was not a given. Fortunately for me, Priory did have a machine but less fortunately, no one really knew how to use it! I remember the old mechanical probe required an encouraging bop and shake before it would suddenly click, and a fuzzy image would appear on the screen. Whilst its diagnostic quality was nowhere near what we have now, the more I practiced, the more I could see and the more widely it became used throughout the practice. Roll on 10 years and we not only have two fantastic ultrasound machines (one specifically for heart scans 😊), we also have a whole range of fantastic equipment including digital x-ray, rigid and flexible endoscopes and the latest addition: the laparoscopic kit which we use to perform keyhole surgery. How far we have progressed in 10 years! And it’s not just the technical toys we have out the back. You may have noticed that the days where you can only contact the practice by phone are gone. We now have Whatsapp, online booking and a multi-functional website where you can register, order food and prescription medication and become a member of our Priory Pet Club all at an easy click of a button.
3. The evolution of the GP Vet role.
When I qualified there was a heavy emphasis in the vet schools on specialist training with general practice seen more as a stepping stone into referral. However, I quickly decided that referral practice was not for me. I enjoy the good relationships I have with my clients, seeing and supporting them and their pets through all their veterinary care from routine vaccinations to treating acute illnesses or improving quality of life generally by managing chronic conditions like arthritis. For me, general practice takes a unique skill set and I still relish the challenge of never knowing what might come through the door (except spiders- please don’t bring me a spider!).
Having said that, the role of the GP vet has certainly expanded since I qualified. Our knowledge, as a profession, of the conditions seen in companion animals and the treatment options available, has improved considerably. This has given vets in general practice an opportunity to gain more expertise in specialist areas. I undertook further training and gained a certificate in small animal cardiology in 2017 and went on to gain the advanced practitioner qualification in 2018. Previous to this our patients would have required referral to a specialist to investigate heart murmurs and arrhythmias. Being able to offer this “in-house” has improved the availability of treatment for these cases, improving welfare for these pets who otherwise may not have had access to this care.
And it’s not just me…. In the time I have been with Priory, I have seen a culture of continual learning and improvement develop where all of the team are invested in growing our collective knowledge and supporting each other. There are frequently group discussions on complex cases to share knowledge and ensure we do the very best we can for every patient. We are fortunate within our clinical team to have several members who have also gained further qualifications in specialist areas including ophthalmology, dermatology, surgical, emergency and critical care certificate holders with another currently undertaking further studies in dentistry.
4. Veterinary Nursing as a career
When I started, veterinary nurses at Priory were mainly involved with performing anaesthetics and looking after inpatients but were rarely seen outside of the prep room. Over the years, our nursing team has grown considerably, as has their role within the Practice. We now have more RCVS-registered veterinary nurses than ever before and, like the vets, they have developed their collective knowledge and improved standards of care significantly over the years, with some of them now also able to carry-out minor procedures themselves in-line with RCVS guidelines. These days, you may also meet more of our nurses in consults, offering dedicated clinics on weight, nutrition, behaviour, diabetes, cardiology, dentistry and geriatric conditions as well as helping with some vaccinations and post-op checks.
As with the vets, some of our nurses have taken further qualifications in specialist clinical subjects as well as some taking on more management responsibilities within the practice. It’s been great to see career opportunities develop within the practice for these highly trained members of our team but I feel more still needs to be done within the profession to promote veterinary nursing as a career, starting with proper recognition and protection of their professional status.
5. The impact of Covid
You’ll all remember that fateful day when Boris stood up and told us all to stay at home, protect lives and save the NHS. Well, for us it wasn’t just human lives we had to consider. In one day, we had to find a whole new way of working to keep our staff and clients safe while enabling us to treat our patients. Screens went up, hand-gel was positioned at every door, face-masks became a daily accessory and clients were asked to wait outside. Going down to one vet and one nurse each day, seeing emergencies only and working through a full inbox of medication requests after a 12hour shift seems like a distant nightmare now which I cannot quite believe we got through. However, get through it we did, largely thanks to the dedication of our team and flexibility and understanding of our clients.
It was certainly a relief to open the doors and welcome our clients back into the consult rooms in an attempt to return to some level of normality. Having said that, there were some really interesting and useful things to come out of the pandemic which still influence the way we work today including the channels we use to communicate with our clients, adopting more fear-free and cat-friendly ways of working as well as improved work-life balance for our team and mentoring of newly-qualified staff.
The pandemic also left us with the consequences of the pet-ownership boom with 3.2 million pets reportedly acquired during lockdown alone. In a time when there was a shortage of veterinary professionals this posed some challenges but fortunately, we have managed to expand our team to cater for this extra demand, as well as adding another consult room at our Highcliffe branch and upcoming developments at our Christchurch hospital! We’ve also been able to offer better support to those clients new to pet-ownership or wanting a refresher on puppy/ kitten care by providing special puppy life-skills and confidence clinics run by one of our registered veterinary nurses who has undertaken further training in animal behaviour.
6. The grass is always greener where you water it
A lot of my friends who entered into the profession with me all those years ago have moved jobs several times since we qualified, a few having left the profession altogether, and so some of them are perplexed by my choice to stay in my first job. I’ve written about some of the factors that have allowed Priory Vet Group to adapt to the changes within the profession and stay at the forefront of first opinion veterinary care. However, on reflection, the things that makes me proudest to work at Priory are probably the things that haven’t changed so much…. the supportive ethos within our team, our clients and the trust they show when putting their pet’s care in our hands, and our independent-status which enables us to practice with the traditional values that made me want to be a vet in the first place!