Striving to empower via education

Written by: Ali Heywood
Published on: 23 Oct 2019

Ali Heywood

Ali Heywood.

Why did you choose to go into veterinary nursing and what was your route in?

I was a photographer before becoming a vet nurse, but was unhappy in the job and thought nursing would suit me better.

I looked at both human and veterinary nursing, but realised I would be happier as a vet nurse. I worked in a factory until my student role came up and I have never looked back.

How long did you work in practice and why did you decide to work in education?

I always thought I would enjoy teaching, but thought I would wait a while after qualifying. However, I was really lucky because my training college asked me to do some teaching straight away.

I jumped at the chance because vet nurse education is my passion – I want to make practice training a better experience for students.

I combined practice work with lecturing for a while before I went into education full-time. Now, I go back into practice when I can, as I am a veterinary nurse first and foremost, but being at the coalface also helps ensure the teaching we offer within the academy truly adds value and is relevant to everyday life for veterinary nurses.

What is it about the education sector/being an educator that you love?

Being able to support students on their journey to becoming qualified RVNs. When I sign off their record of education before they register, it always gives me goosebumps, as I am so proud to see another RVN in the profession.

Some students didn’t have a great time in education at school (I know I didn’t) and it is a complete privilege to have some part in assisting them to become qualified.

What was your career path to becoming principal of the Dick White Academy?

I worked for two large colleges for a number of years, starting off as a lecturer before moving over to quality assurance.

I was head of centre, lead internal quality assurer and programme manager for both further education and higher education veterinary nursing courses for 10 years before I moved over to the Dick White Academy. It was an amazing opportunity and one I have not regretted for a moment.

What does that role entail and what does a typical day look like?

I don’t think I have a typical day; they are all varied, but always begin and end with trying to ensure the students – and clinical coaches who support them – feel happy, supported and are being offered a quality experience.

 This could mean holding tutorials with students, visiting practices, quality assuring student work and, of course, looking after and supporting the amazing group of lecturers who work at the Dick White Academy.
If, at the end of the day, the students, practices, lecturers and clinical coaches are happy, I am happy, too.

What do you hope to achieve while you are principal of the Dick White Academy?

I want to have helped provide nurses with a supportive study environment, which gives them access to quality education – a place where we look after their mental health and well-being as much as we look after their studies.

I want to qualify nurses who are happy, competent and resilient to the ups and downs of practice life. I would also like to raise the profile of having level two qualification holders in practice. These colleagues can be overlooked and this shouldn’t be the case; education is very empowering and we need to look after everyone who works in practice.

What is the most challenging aspect of being an OSCE examiner? When a student fails by one mark, for example – that must be hard?

As an OSCE examiner, we do not know if the students have passed or failed – we are there to see if they have carried out the steps. We do get a feeling for their performance, but they sit at a number of stations and we do not discuss an individual’s performance with other examiners.

Examining the same task for three or four days can be tiring, but the examiners have a duty to their students to treat each new candidate in their station as if he or she is the only person they have examined that day. It is a big opportunity for the students, and the examiners should be cheering them on inside.

What advice or feedback do you have for students who may be struggling to pass their OSCEs?

I would encourage them to flip their thinking around: rather than feeling nervous and anxious about the process, approach it as if it is their right to show the examiners exactly how fabulous they are at the tasks.

By the time students are sitting their OSCEs, they have done all of the tasks many times in practice over the years. The examiners want them to pass. A student should talk this through with his or her centre; once the mindset is right, he or she will pass.

You were recently appointed the UK’s only technical external quality assurer for vet nursing for City and Guilds – what does it feel like to hold such a position?

Amazing. I was so proud to be asked and really enjoy this area of work. I enjoy working with other centres that want the same things as I do – well-qualified and happy RVNs.

How do you hope to help address the veterinary nurse recruitment and retention shortage via this role?

That is a big question. I think practices need to feel supported when they are training nurses, so it is important to maintain good relationships between them.

If we can make the entire experience a positive one for all participants then it will hopefully encourage more practices to train student nurses.

Do you have any advice for veterinary nurses thinking of working in the educational sector?

Give it a try first: lots of colleges would love you to be a guest lecturer for a couple of sessions.

Also, be aware of your motivation to leave practice life. As a lecturer, the role is no easier than being in practice – it is just different.