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Aiming to Improve Veterinary Nurse Training

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“I love being a vet nurse,” says Ali Heywood. “It’s one of the best jobs ever.”

For many years, Ali worked both in practice and in education before deciding to work full time in veterinary nurse education. She recently celebrated her first-year anniversary as Principal at the DWR Academy, which opened in 2016 in response to the shortage of qualified veterinary nurses and nursing assistants in the UK. Ali also serves as an OSCE examiner for RCVS and City and Guilds and every year spends time in practice to get back to her nursing roots. 

“Education was something that always interested me and something I always thought about doing as a career,” says Ali. “I’ve always aspired to become one of the brilliant vet nursing lecturers I had when I was training.”

Ali studied at a Cambridge-based college, qualifying as a veterinary nurse after becoming disheartened with her first career in photography, which focused primarily on advertising and commercial work. She did consider human nursing but chose to become a veterinary nurse because she felt her personality and strengths better align to working in the veterinary industry.  

Prior to joining the Dick White Academy (DWA), Ali worked for 11 years in a state-funded further education college. When she started, it had 15 vet nursing students attending from seven vet practices. When she left, there were 200 vet nursing students from 100 practices. She became increasingly interested in finding different ways for educators to teach vet nursing and for students to learn and prepare for their vet nursing exams. It was at this time the opportunity came up with DWA.   

“My line manager Rob Foale, who is a veterinary surgeon and Clinic Director at Dick White Referrals, is heavily involved with all aspects of the DWA,” says Ali. “He gets it. I don’t have to argue my case for how I think veterinary nursing should be taught. Our Academy is regulated by the RCVS and Ofsted, but I can determine how the training is developed and delivered. What I want is to deliver good-quality training that helps veterinary nurses become the best they can be.” 

At the recent BVNA Congress 2018, Ali spoke about transitioning from a vet nurse to vet nurse educator. Many nurses tell Ali they’d like to transition into education, but for Ali, understanding a person’s motives is key to determining if it’s a sound career move. “At the end of shift as a vet nurse, you can clock off,” says Ali. “As a lecturer, at the end of the day, you have emails to go through and planning and marking to do. It’s just as hard as being in practice, but in a different way.”  

With potential lecturers, Ali discusses the qualifications required to teach and the conditions to expect. She also discusses the “harder” aspects of the role such as the contact hours, prep time and other expected duties. Says Ali, “If you’re truly interested in becoming a lecturer, it’s important to have a clear idea of both the rewarding and challenging parts of the role.” And, if Ali is hiring new lecturer colleagues at the Dick White Academy, she prefers it if they keep one foot in each camp (lecturer and practicing vet nurse). “I’ve worked with many vet nurse lecturers who leave an in-practice role and then decide they don’t like teaching. That’s a shame and a situation I actively try to prevent.”

The Dick White Academy recently received an “excellent, very good or good” rating from its students. It offers Level 2 Diploma: Veterinary Care Assistant and Level 3 Diploma: Veterinary Nursing apprenticeship training with very small class sizes (14 per group) and a high staff-to-student ratio. This is exactly the way Ali wants it so lecturers remain accessible and students feel they are truly supported. 

“They are working 40 hours a week in a demanding job and come to college on day release,” says Ali. “They need to be respected and enjoy the education experience. I want them to be happy.”  

Ali also wants all DWA diploma students to complete resilience training and to be aware of mental health issues. “We need to get nurses happier in practice,” says Ali. “They need to be treated by their colleagues, and by each other, with respect, empathy and compassion. 

Ultimately, Ali aims to make the education process as good as possible for each and every student nurse and personally responds to students who email her. If need be, she will even go and speak with them and their employer in practice.  

Says Ali, “When our students graduate, get their badge and enter the register, it makes me emotional. I know how hard they’ve worked to achieve this career goal, and I hope they find their nursing careers as rewarding as I have and continue to do so.” 

To find our more about the Dick White Academy, please visit: http://www.dickwhiteacademy.co.uk/