Five decades as a veterinary nurse

Written by: Vet Times Jobs
Published on: 1 Nov 2023

After starting her training in 1973, Debbie Culley passed her final exam in 1975, which established her as a registered animal nursing auxiliary. She even has her original certificate from 1975 (pictured).

She went on to occupy many other nursing positions during her successful career including pet health advisor.

Currently an RVN and pet health advisor at Ark House Vets in Leighton Buzzard, Debbie is also approaching a 30-year milestone at the same practice, which she joined in 1995. Earlier this year, she was also nominated by her colleagues in IVC Evidensia’s Brilliant People Awards.

Debbie Cully RVN

We sat down with her to talk about her start in veterinary nursing, her career highlights and how she feels nursing as a profession has evolved across her five decades of experience.

Q. What was your first role as a vet nurse?
Unfortunately, my first experience in practice wasn’t a very good one and only lasted three months – it just wasn’t a good fit for me, and I was straight out of school. However, I knew at the time that I wanted to work with animals, so I wasn’t put off.

Q. So, did you go straight into another practice?
I started at Cross Roads in High Wycombe shortly afterwards, where I worked for a vet called Mellis Archard (sadly no longer with us) and alongside Malcolm Waters, who now runs the practice all these years later.

I proceeded to qualify under him as he gave me the time to study and learn on the job, as well as from Jones’ veterinary nursing textbook, which was like the bible for vet nurses at the time. After that I moved to a small practice in Chalfont, Saint Peter, to work for a vet called John Hughes. It was actually set up in his house and it was me, John and another nurse working in his front room. It was very family orientated and a lovely practice to be a part of.

A few famous people were living in the area at the time, so we had people like Cilla Black and Sir John Mills coming in. I remember quite clearly Sir John bringing in a little white poodle.

Q. What led you to Ark House Vets?
I had a break from nursing to have children as my husband was in the fire service. We moved to Newport Pagnell and I started in a practice there as head nurse before finding a great opportunity at Ark House Vets.

Q. And you joined in 1995?
Yes, along with two other colleagues who started in the same year. We’ve all been there since then so we’re not far off celebrating our 30-year anniversary.

Q. How have you progressed as a VN since joining Ark House?
I have been lucky enough to work in practices where a manager has supported me in my interests, and Ark House especially has always encouraged me to pursue my passion of educating people regarding the health of their pets and studying animal behaviour, for which I gained an additional qualification.

This has led to me becoming a pet health advisor, running several canine clinics including puppy playgroup; junior and senior; arthritis; and dental. Clients really appreciate having a friendly face for advice in all of these areas and I’m glad I can get the right information across, so they feel confident in looking after their animals.

Q. What do you think has kept you with the same practice?
We’ve always had a close-knit practice and a warm community of clients who I’ve got to know over the past few decades. It’s meant that I’ve seen animals from cradle to grave in some instances, and new generations of pets come through, which is lovely to see.

Another big reason I’ve stayed is the flexibility of Ark House and the ways they have supported me personally and professionally. I suffered with a bad back for a while and Ark House supported me in evolving my career into more of a consulting nurse, which involved a lot less bending and standing during my working day.

Q. What has been the biggest achievement during your career?
I suppose because there’s never been anything like the Brilliant People awards – being nominated for that was very special. It was a good celebration given it was almost 50 years since I started so to get recognition like that was just remarkable.

Day to day, the biggest satisfaction I get is from my clients. I think they really value having continuity and being able to speak to the same person and I’m more than happy to do that. Being part of the clinics mean that I get to help people look after their animals, and that is what I really love.

Q. What is the biggest challenge facing VNs today?
Providing correct information is so important to get advice across so clients feel confident in looking after their animals – there is a lot of misinformation out there that can lead to problems down the line.

My best advice is to develop a good relationship with clients and once you have that trust then they will always come to you first.

Q. What advice would you give to a newly qualified VN just starting out?
I would say if you’re passionate about your job then vet nursing is an amazing career. There are so many avenues now – when I started there wasn’t much, but now there are so many opportunities.

While referrals does get a lot of attention, I can’t understate how rewarding and important first opinion can be, and personally I’ve found it very enjoyable – especially if you’re a people person.

No matter the area, if you have an interest then pursue that interest – whatever it is, follow your passion as it is an amazing job at the end of the day. Make sure you’re in a practice that supports you and you’ll be in a good position.

  • If you would like to find out more about becoming a vet nurse at IVC Evidensia, head over to the website and discover your next step as an RVN.