Love of learning, and helping pets and owners, drives winner Sarah

Written by: Sarah Barnett
Published On: 10 Feb 2020
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Sarah says she's still in the dark about who put her forward for the Petplan award she won last April.

Having always loved animals when she was growing up, choosing to do her work experience in a nearby veterinary practice when she was 15 was a no-brainer for Sarah Barnett.

She said: “I spent a week there and really enjoyed it, and even went on to take a Saturday job there.”

Set on turning this part-time job into her career, Sarah gained a degree in veterinary nursing in 2004, but then went back to study for an NVQ to complement it.

She said: “When I did the degree, it was the first year the university had run the course, so it was still deciding on the content. The NVQ gave me much more practical experience, which was what I enjoyed most.”

After working for a couple of practices around Bristol, one of Sarah’s friends persuaded her to go for an interview at Watkins and Tasker.

Although she was perfectly happy where she was working, she clicked with the owner of the practice straight away – and her fate was sealed.

Sarah said: “I could see it would be a good move. It was the next step in my career and I knew it would enable me to do more of the things I was passionate about.”

Fear-free medicine

One of Sarah’s passions is fear-free veterinary medicine, which helps reduce the stress of seeing a vet for both the animal and its owner. Sarah’s practice has a number of fear-free initiatives in place and she oversees the cat-friendly handling, including training staff to be cat friendly.

Sarah said: “We do a lot of work to help animals feel less anxious. We hold regular dog socials, so they get used to coming into the practice, and we always take our time with them to make sure they’re at ease. I’m lucky, as all the vets I work with understand the importance of fear free, and are happy to take things a little slower if we believe it will make the animal feel more comfortable.”

Also helping to create the right environment for stress-free pets, the group achieved the International Society of Feline Medicine Cat Friendly Clinic standards across all three of its practices – winning gold in two of them and silver in the other.

Being able to promote fear-free medicine has also fuelled another of Sarah’s passions – learning – with her taking on the role of the practice’s cat behaviourist. She explained: “Cats aren’t always that well understood by their owners, so it’s really good to be able to work with both parties in their homes, as well as in the practice. Finding out what’s making a cat stressed and how it can be resolved is very rewarding. I love it.”

Sarah’s passion for learning has also taken her down a less furry route – exotic animals. Inspired by her own experiences with her tortoise, Jigsaw, Sarah completed the Certificate in Nursing of Exotic Species, to enable her to better look after the growing number of snakes, lizards and other more unusual animals that were being brought to the practice.

Sarah added: “Exotic species husbandry has come on a long way, but people don’t always know what these animals need. It’s great when you can give owners some advice that will improve theirs, and their pet’s, life.”  

Her love of learning about new things also extends to outside the workplace, where she competes in flyball with her three springer spaniels Max, Millie and Wookie. The sport, which is the fastest-growing dog sport in the country, involves two teams of dogs running in relay across a course of jumps to retrieve a ball and return.

She said: “I love anything new, especially if it involves animals.

“I also think it’s really important to keep learning. A lot of people become bored or disillusioned and leave the profession, but I do think you’re more likely to stay if you’re constantly learning and challenging yourself.”

This attitude, coupled with her passion for animal welfare, will certainly have helped Sarah gain nominations for Petplan’s Vet Nurse of the Year Award in 2019. She admitted she’s still in the dark over who put her name forward. She said: “I was so surprised when I heard I’d been nominated, but it’s lovely to be recognised for what I do.”

Her advice for others working in veterinary nursing or thinking about joining the profession is simple. She said: “Keep learning, follow your passions and stick to your beliefs.

“Working with animals and seeing the difference you can make to them and their owners makes this such a rewarding career.”