Belinda Andrews-Jones is a well-known national and international speaker on veterinary nursing and an author of two BSAVA nursing book chapters; she is also in her final stages of completing a masters in veterinary education.
CVS Group has appointed Belinda to its newly created role of director of nursing. Here, Dan Curtis of Pet Medic Recruitment speaks with her...
In the great recruitment interview tradition, could you briefly summarise your career to date?
I qualified from the RVC in 1996, after spending four years working in veterinary practices in Dorset. After qualifying I spent two years as a head nurse in a large mixed practice, then as a locum working around England and Australia.
I joined the RVC’s Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (QMHA) in 2001 and, in 2004, achieved the RCVS diploma in advanced surgical nursing. Then, in 2006, I achieved the American veterinary technician specialist qualification in emergency and critical care, and am a member of the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians.
I was the senior nurse of the emergency and critical care department, and clinical educator at the QMHA until taking the post of director of nursing for CVS.
What will your new role involve?
I am responsible for all of the CVS veterinary nursing team and how it works within the company.
I will be contributing and representing the group nurses at internal and external committees, developing and maintaining all nursing protocols, liaising with governing and professional bodies, working closely with other clinical departments to create a governance framework, developing career paths and contributing to the learning and development strategy for nurses.
One of my first roles is to develop areas within recruitment, retention and rewards for nurses. This is not a small job, but I will be working on many fronts to aid the UK-wide shortage of VNs.
So, although I am based in Poole with my husband, daughter, cats Doug and Dave, and Hetty the tortoise, I will be travelling the length and breadth of the country.
What are you most looking forward to, and what will be your immediate priorities?
I am most looking forward to leading and inspiring each and every CVS nurse to develop to his or her full potential, and feel fully valued and passionate about his or her position and the company as a whole.
One of my first priorities is to work towards reducing the shortage of RVNs. This is going to be a large-scale project and will require work from many angles, including increased recognition, to ensure a strong future in this growing profession.
I am sure everyone in the sector has noticed the shortage of RVNs. You mention increased recognition; what other factors do you feel are having an impact on the sector losing nurses?
Many factors exist, but a perceived lack of career progression is often noted. It’s not just that the sector is losing nurses; we are not making enough new ones.
The growth of the sector is far outgrowing the numbers being produced and I feel the large corporates have a duty to endeavour to provide more VN training placements and positions, to bridge the gap and plan for the future in veterinary nursing.
What do you see as the future of veterinary nursing and how can RVNs help to drive this?
I feel the veterinary nursing profession is on the brink of big changes. With the RCVS stating 50% of registering veterinary surgeons are from overseas, Brexit potentially bringing changes to immigration and the sector growing, even more need will exist for experienced RVNs across the profession.
I believe nurses can aid this gap and, in doing so, will make the profession more appealing for RVNs to continue their career by using their skills to their full potential.
Schedule 3 procedures and medical treatments are a very much underused aspect of veterinary nursing and an area that can be really interesting and fulfilling to do, but this takes training as, at the moment, VN training allows for very little theory or hands-on learning for this. I am, therefore, keen to see more practical training courses for RVNs.
Nurse consultations are another aspect I feel will grow. Not just puppy parties or weight clinics, but more nurse-led clinics and even consulting alongside vets, as well as referring patients to each other, as appropriate, to use both the RVN’s and vet’s skills in the best way possible.
This will also give a really good service to patients and clients, as the nurse can go through aspects of preventive or patient care in more detail, allowing the vet more time with other patients.
I have been pleasantly surprised since starting at CVS to see numerous RVNs working in roles that, many years before, would naturally have been a veterinary surgeon role.
Many clinical directors and regional directors in CVS are RVNs; a nurse even sits on the executive board, which makes me feel no ceiling exists to how far you can go as a VN.
Why do you think it is important a large group, such as CVS, has a director of nursing?
It is so important a dedicated person is representing all nursing staff, promoting the veterinary nursing profession and working on their behalf with other organisations to advance future developments within the profession.
The nursing team must keep abreast of developments in nursing options, and needs a strong leader to inspire and develop its members to ensure exceptional nursing is provided. I believe my immense passion for veterinary nursing and the veterinary nursing profession will strengthen and support the whole structure of nursing within the group.
What message does your appointment send to veterinary nurses and the wider profession?
It really shows that CVS is listening and understanding veterinary nurses, and is taking the veterinary nursing profession and representation seriously. With future changes within the veterinary nursing professional status, it is really important that nurses of large companies are represented at every level.
You mentioned in your intro you spent some time as a locum, both in the UK and Australia. Do you feel this has benefited your career?
I loved my time locuming. I got to meet so many wonderful people and work in a variety of practices. I learned a huge amount about what works well within practices, different approaches to client and patient care, and how differently nurses can be used within the profession.
I feel locuming has given me a broad-based knowledge of the profession, because I have worked in tiny one-vet, one-nurse practices right up to huge, multidiscipline hospitals; this has given me the understanding to empathise with the daily challenges of working as an RVN.
What advice would you offer any RVN who is considering whether to become a locum?
Locuming can provide many rewards, and not just financial – you will also gain many skills and grow in confidence as an RVN.
You have to be organised and quickly relearn the things you take for granted in your regular job, such as staff names, vaccine protocols or even just the simple points like where things are, but once you have experienced this within one practice, you can get into a routine of taking notes in a little book.
Dan Curtis is recruitment manager at Pet Medic Recruitment – a leading recruitment agency specialising in placing veterinary professionals across the UK, both as locums and in permanent positions. For more information provided by Pet Medic Recruitment visit www.petmedicrecruitment.com or give the team a call on 0845 057 5555.