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It's always been about the animals

A Clark FULL IMAGE

RVN Alison Clark has spent many years working with animals. She’s just as passionate today about her career choice as she was when she started.

By Alison Clark, RVN, Cert Ed, Tech IOSH, Hon Mem BVNA Health & Safety Manager, Vets4Pets

When I was 11, I started to volunteer with a local vet practice, and I spent quite a bit of time assisting vets by holding x-ray plates for vertical views of horses’ legs, without a dosimeter or lead apron…and my head very close to the horses hoof! Case of “do as I say, not as I did!”

Goodness…that absolutely wouldn’t happen today. Well, not on my watch anyway! When I left school at 16, I secured a role in a vet practice where I worked for four years before moving to another practice where I stayed for 20 years. It was at this practice I completed my veterinary nurse qualification.

I hated school. That’s probably why I didn’t complete my qualification until I turned 30. It took me two years to complete my qualification part time through the College of Animal Welfare in Leeds. The practice where I worked had promoted me to Head Vet Nurse; however, this title is an honour and really is only deserving to someone with the appropriate training and qualifications. It was when this practice started hiring qualified vet nurse colleagues who were properly qualified that I decided to complete my training. That was the appropriate thing to do. Now, nothing irritates me more than when someone says he or she is a vet nurse when that’s not the case because they have not done the appropriate training and qualified.

When the owner of that practice retired, I decided to try something new so I spent 12 months completing a 7307 teaching certificate. I started to teach animal care students at Bishop Burton College, which I found very rewarding. I was helping students not suitable (for whatever reason) for mainstream education to secure an animal care qualification. It makes me emotional just thinking about it. They were very naughty but nice! I then decided to study for a Certificate in Education (Cert Ed), which enabled me to teach post-14 students, and I then went on to teach veterinary nurses at the College of Animal Welfare, which was great. I loved that, but it really makes me feel very old when I go into a practice and someone recognises me from my teaching days. I then earned the D32/D33 assessor qualification so I could assess veterinary students and the D34 qualification so I could moderate colleges to make sure vet nurse students had access to the right equipment, books, lesson content, etc.

Eventually, I moved into health and safety, which is where I work now after taking my NEBOSH exam. I manage a team of three, and every day, we are in practices trying to ensure best practice and compliance and to reinforce that we’re there to help. We focus on radiography issues, controlled drugs, accident reporting, fire safety, manual handling, looking after new and expecting mothers, etc. There are probably 101 topics we focus on. It’s great to know that we’re making a difference…showing practice colleagues how I can help them, how I can help them to go home safely after their shift. I want everyone to go home safely, for no one to get harmed. I am also taking further qualifications in mental health subjects and well-being. I need a new string to my bow. “Never too old to learn new things” is my motto, and it is important for my own development.

This career started with a light bulb moment. I attended a health and safety lecture at a BVNA Congress and realised a lot of the best practices being discussed were not implemented in my practice. I sat in the front row of that lecture thinking, “OMG, I don’t do that!” and “OMG, we should be doing that!” I was ready for a new challenge so I approached the lecturer and pestered him for a job. He gave me a three-month trial, and within a month, he promoted me to Head of Health and Safety for a specialist veterinary H&S consultancy company.

I started to work with Vets4Pets, first as an external consultant, back when the first practice opened. In 2013 I joined the company as its Health & Safety Manager, and I’ve never looked back. As a consultant, I dealt with a number of different vet surgeries, but I chose to work for Vets4Pets because I like the model. I like the fact that practices have the autonomy to manage themselves and the clinical freedom to do things their way.

In my spare time, I’m an ambassador for Vetlife. Vetlife is a charity that offers a confidential, non-judgemental helpline, health support and financial support. It’s a privilege to be at the end of the phone to simply give someone in distress an ear and to hopefully make a positive difference. I attend events (BSAVA, LVS, etc.) on behalf of Vetlife and visit practices giving talks on how Vetlife can help.

I’m also an assessor for Pets as Therapy, identifying if a dog has the suitable temperament to go into a hospice or retirement home and bring enjoyment to residents. I love doing that.

I’ve also been a BVNA Congress committee member for 22 years, which means I help organise the Vet Nurse Conference every October. I’m also an honorary member of the BVNA in recognition of my dedication to the vet nurse profession. I cried the whole way up to receive my award, and that has been the highlight of my career. There are only about 50 of us. In 2001, I was awarded the Blue Cross Veterinary Nurse of the Year. That was pretty special.

I started in this industry when I was 11. That’s quite a few years dedicated to the veterinary nursing profession. I’m still as passionate today as I was when I started…probably more so. I want to continue to instil my enthusiasm and passion into every vet nurse I meet, and I want vet nurses to love being a vet nurse. Veterinary nursing is not simply a job. It’s a pleasure to work with animals. Getting paid for it is the icing on the cake. 

Lastly, I also qualified as a National Amateur Body Building Association (NABBA) Instructor many moons ago!