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Career pathways in ECC

Written by: Vet Times Jobs
Published on: 28 May 2024

Vets Now ECC

Images © Vets Now

For more than 20 years, Vets Now has been at the forefront of emergency and critical care (ECC) medicine in Britain, with state-of-the-art flagship hospitals in Glasgow and Manchester.

Staff are at the heart of everything in both locations. In Glasgow, they include a hometown girl whose veterinary dream lies in her own backyard and another vet who has travelled around the world to be there.

A few hours’ drive away in Manchester, a vet did not have to ask to be given the perfect family balance to advance his stellar career.

In both locations, nurses who could barely believe such opportunities were possible are leading teams at the top of their game for the UK’s leading employer in ECC medicine.

Different disciplines

Diplomate Emma Donnelly, who qualified from the University of Glasgow in 2013, came to get a taste of the different disciplines at the Glasgow hospital and is still there more than a decade later.

In that time, she has seen a massive expansion of the hospital, which has now been a familiar part of the landscape for 15 years.

She said: “When I started, the ECC team was one clinician and one intern.

“We’re about to have three ECC specialists, four residents and an intern. And we have our own dedicated nursing team, which didn’t used to be the case.”

PathwaysInitially, everything was housed on the ground floor of the site on the edge of the city centre, but such was the demand on the services it took over an additional two floors, with the different disciplines allowed to spread their wings. While the Glasgow hospital was a virtual stone’s throw away for Emma, the reputation and scale of the operation is such that Kara Altman was happy to fly 10,000 miles to be there.

Having graduated from The University of Sydney in 2015, she already had a taste of ECC back home, doing shadow shifts in after-hours clinics.

Kara said: “We’d see anything and everything. There were obviously dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs, but we did a lot of birds, some orphan kangaroos and even a snake.”

Landed her dream

Kara went on to do an ECC internship, when she landed her dream of a three-year residency at the Glasgow hospital at the start of 2024.

She said: “I feel it was so easy to fit into the team, and the caseload is fantastic. I’ve already seen lots of things that would have been much rarer to come across in Australia.

“I’ve had very severe [road traffic accidents] which wouldn’t have been able to be treated in some other facilities, and we’ve had successful outcomes with many different services involved, with ECC collaborating with surgery, neurology and other teams.”

Kara added: “I can see how the residency will prepare me to become a specialist at the end as I keep on progressing. There is so much to learn, but I feel I’m a better veterinarian in just a few months.”

The Vets Now Manchester hospital opened its doors in late 2015. Having worked in another emergency hospital where he gained his advanced practitioner status in ECC, vet Tom Towey was looking for a step up in his career. He said: “I knew I’d gauge the success of the move if I could look back after maybe 12 months and feel I was a better clinician, which I definitely did.

“It took a little time for the cogs to start turning again after my sabbatical, but I soon settled in.”

Tom initially worked on the out-of-hours team, but after the birth of his daughters – now three and four years old – he made the move to daytime work.

He said: “It was Vets Now that suggested the move to days after my firstborn, and I was really grateful for that.

“They were incredibly proactive and came to talk about what might be best before I even got to the point of having to ask.

“I can’t commend their approach with regards to flexibility about my family life highly enough. I don’t feel it’s just me, I think there’s often a default setting of doing whatever they can to make your work-life balance better.”

Supportive teamwork

The supportive teamwork also came to the fore for Emma after having her baby daughter, Lucy. She said she slipped back into the routine after her seven months’ maternity leave as if she had never been away, initially coming back for two days a week before stepping it up to her normal three.

Nurses, too, appreciate the support, recognition and clear career pathways.

Kayleigh Copeland RVN
Kayleigh Copeland RVN

Kayleigh Copeland, who only found out vet nursing could even be a career option towards the end of her high school days, has now been at the Glasgow hospital for almost nine years. What Kayleigh has welcomed throughout it all is the inclusive, team-focused mentality and the all-important nurse-led approach.

Kayleigh, who is now an ECC team leader, said: “It was refreshing to come in and see that the nurses can have discussions with the clinicians and vets, and really be listened to.

“You can talk and plan things with them rather than everything being organised by them for you.

“It was quite surprising at first and took a little bit of getting used to, but it’s great to have that input into the running of the floor.”

Nurse Katherine Alty, whose veterinary career started with animal care assistant (ACA) experience, has been at the Manchester hospital since it opened. She is now the ECC team leader, looking after and training the nurses and ACAs, and running the area on a day-to-day basis.

Katherine, who is still regularly involved in hands-on clinical duties, said: “I’m managing a dozen people at the moment, which is so much more than we used to have on the ECC team.

“I’ve always loved ECC because of not knowing what you’re walking into. You can start a shift with a certain set of cases and by the end of it, you’ll have others with totally different conditions. I like using the whole range of skills you’ve learned.”

Passing on skills has always been a major part of progression at both hospitals.

Emma added: “We get to do a lot of teaching, and the residents generate so many questions.

“They are often things you might not have thought of, and it gets you talking about it and asking yourself why you do things.

“We now have such a good residency programme for developing ECC specialists, and we encourage our residents to pursue research, with funding support, and put back into the profession.”

Meanwhile, Tom spends an increasing amount of time doing CPD, for both nurses and vets.

He teaches surgical skills to more than 150 nurses a year, as well as delivering emergency and ECC courses, for both Vets Now staff and externally.

In-house training

Tom said: “Vets Now were supportive of the recent in-house training that I provided for our nursing team to familiarise them with point of care ultrasound.

“It’s an increasingly important part of the work we do as vets, and another skill for nurses to utilise in their roles and improve patient care.”

For all the staff, between advancements and support, learning and good work-life balance, the ECC pathways they found are ones they would heartily recommend.

Emma added: “I’d hope that when vets and vet nurses think of emergency medicine, Vets Now will be the first place that comes to mind.”