Volunteering With Animals – Part Six: Veterinary Clinic Volunteers

When I started trying to break into veterinary nursing a lot of people told me volunteering in a clinic is a great way to get experience and improve your chances of landing a job. However, when I asked around and local clinics none of them were interested in taking on volunteers. So how do you land a volunteer role in a vet clinic?

It doesn’t hurt to ask anyway, and you never know if your local clinic is different to the ones I approached. If you know someone already in the industry then ask if the clinic they work at would be willing to let you volunteer a few hours a week. It’s not uncommon for the kids of vets to help out around the clinic, so having the right contact who can vouch for you might be a way in.

Otherwise some of the not-for-profit animal hospitals do take on volunteers in their clinics. Around Melbourne these include the RSPCA and Animal Aid. Volunteer roles in the clinic are very popular, so you may be added to a waiting list. It’s highly recommended that you take on shifts as an animal attendant or dog walker in the meantime.

I’ve only done a couple of volunteer shifts in veterinary clinic, so I can’t be sure that they’re all the same. You can expect to be cleaning and resetting enclosures, restocking supplies, helping with feeding routines and doing lots and lots of laundry. You might take dogs out for toilet walks or spend time with patients while they’re in recovery. Animals that are sick or recovering for surgery usually need to be kept quiet and inactive, so these kinds of positions may not involve all that much animal handling. What they do offer is the opportunity to see the inner workings of a veterinary clinic and what vets and nurses do day-to-day. It also offers great networking opportunities – introducing you to industry professionals and giving you priority consideration if they start looking for new employees at the clinic. This kind of role is great for people wishing to work in a vet clinic, but if you’re in it for the cuddles I would look at other ways of volunteering.

A lot of the patients you might deal with at a shelter clinic will be surrendered animals undergoing routine desexing surgeries. However, you may also be faced with animals that are recovering from severe neglect, cruelty or disease. Since you will only be there for a few hours a week, and most patients are not in the hospital for more than a day or two, you won’t find out the outcomes of every patient – but, not all of them will make it. These are things to keep in mind when considering a role in a vet clinic.

All-in-all volunteering in a vet clinic is a great way to give back, and to gain experience and contacts in this rewarding field!

Have you ever volunteered at a clinic? If you know of other clinics that take volunteers I’d love to hear about them!

Image

The Tawny Frogmouth

Yesterday a kind stranger noticed a small Tawny Frogmouth on the ground and brought it into the vet clinic I’m working at to be checked.

side view Tawny

In true confusing Australian wildlife style, the Tawny Frogmouth is often mistaken for an owl because of its boxy body, wide eyes and nocturnal nature. But just as Koalas are not bears, Frogmouths are not owls.

No obvious injuries were found, however, it was very skinny and being awake in the daytime is very odd for this nocturnal species.

Top view Tawny

While waiting for the wildlife carer we gave the little guy some water, and put in a cat carrier covered with a towel in a quiet area of the clinic.

The vets decided it was best to contact the local Wildlife Victoria volunteer foster carer, who came to collect the Frogmouth in less than an hour of being contacted. She will care for the Frogmouth until it puts on some weight and is well enough to return to the wild.

 

A Post About Poo!

I have exciting poo news!

You know you were meant to be a veterinary nurse when you can get this excited about cat poo. I won’t be offended if you decide this post stinks (see what I did there?) and don’t read any further…

20140617-183822-67102807.jpg
Studying pet nutrition and working with vets has taught me that there can be heaps of benefits to feeding pets premium foods. Lowered risk of health issues, a longer average lifespan, smaller meals required and smaller, less smelly droppings. The manufactures have done countless studies to support this, and most veterinarians will recommend a premium pet food over other options.

But still, I wanted to see for myself. When Aztec the Russian Blue arrived as a house guest she had been fed supermarket foods. What a perfect opportunity to do a food trial, and see whether I noticed any difference to her health.

For the first few weeks of her stay I fed her the rest of the food she came with. She would get dry food in the morning (which would last her through the day), and then half a sashe of wet food in the evening. A fussy kitty, she likes the fish flavoured foods.

When she poo’d, boy did we know it! The smell would wonder into the lounge room faster Aztec could! This was the only upside to being between jobs: I could clean it up quickly before the stink seeped through the appartment.

Once the food was running low I ducked down to the pet supply store to pick out a premium food to trail. Out of work, I still wanted to go with the cheapest option. Most of the premium foods have an approximation of how many days of food are in each bag, so you can calculate the cost. Generally pets will need to eat less of a premium food than a supermarket food, and it can work out to be only a little bit more expensive or even cheaper. I chose Advance food because it seemed to be the cheapest option.

Cats and Dogs aged 7 years or older should be on a senior food.

Advance Mature Cat food was the cheapest, most appropriate premium food for 15 year old Aztec.

I transitioned the dry food first, because I still has quite a bit of wet saches left. Over the course of a few days I increased the percentage of Advance food I was feeding, so as not to upset her tummy with a sudden change. By this stage I didn’t really notice any difference in Aztecs behaviour, stools or body condition.

Finally the supermarket wet food ran out, and she was only eating Advance food. Two days later I found a poo in her tray. Aztec hadn’t got up from her spot in the lounge room for some time. It must have been there an hour, and we hadn’t smelled it! What a difference after only two days without supermarket food!

Sadly I couldn't find an Advance wet food in a mature variety, or with a fish-only flavour. Since I'm only feeding Aztec about a table spoon (1 third of a can) each day, and the dry food is her primary diet I decided it was ok to go with a non-mature food.

Sadly I couldn’t find an Advance wet food in a mature variety, or with a fish-only flavour. Since I’m only feeding Aztec about a table spoon (1 third of a can) each day, and the dry food is her primary diet I decided it was ok to go with a non-mature food.

Over the last few weeks since then I’ve noticed further improvements. Her poos are smaller, firmer (not too firm) and a healthier brown than the somewhat yellowy colour they were before. I haven’t noticed any changes to her behaviour or body condition but those were good to begin with.

20140617-183448-66888803.jpg
I must say she doesn’t like the wet food as much as the super market brand. It might be because it isn’t enough of a fishy flavour for her, or perhaps she doesn’t like the loaf style texture, but she doesn’t get excited and wolf it down like the other stuff.

Even if it weren’t for the other health benefits, I recommend switching to a premium food for the sake of your pets poo cleaner-upper!

What I learned this week: Job Trial

This week my online courses have taken a back seat because I’ve spent 3 days completing a job trial at a vet clinic on Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Of course, this means I’ve been learning a LOT!

Every practice and workplace functions a little differently, so even if you’re starting in a role almost identical to one you’ve held previously you need to expect a steep learning curve to begin with. Everything will be kept in a different place, your boss will have a different preference for how things are done and you’ll have a whole new workplace culture to navigate.

This clinic uses the patient management software RxWorks, which I think is one of the most commonly used in Australian veterinary practices. I was excited to have the opportunity to have it explained and give it a crack, since I’m likely to use in my work even if I’m not offered this job. 

It’s hideous; a stark white spreadsheet with blocks of flurescent blue, green, navy and maroon to indicate different kinds of appointments. It might get hard on the eyes looking at this for too long every day.

20140615-083219-30739441.jpg

Would you believe the version they’re using at this clinic is even uglier than this image? I’m not sure if they got to choose their own colour palette, but who ever decided fluro and poo brown go together was seriously mistaken.

But I’ve found I’ve picked up the basics of the software pretty quickly. It’s not entirely different from AlisVet, which I used at the last practice I worked at (AlisVet is somewhat less ugly). Apparently there is a training version of RxWorks, so I’ll hopefully get a chance to have a play with that. 

Another new thing they’ve been teaching me is monitoring anaesthetic during surgery. Like many of the nursing things, I’m actually finding it less complex and daunting than I would have expected. 

I’ve never had surgery myself, and to be honest I’ve always been a little terrified of surgery in general, and of anaesthesia specifically. Learning about anaesthetic has made me a bit more comfortable with the safely of it all. If I can monitor it, then it’s probably pretty safe for humans who have a highly educated anaesthetist looking out for us. 

My Top 5 Tips for Job Hunting in the Animal Care Industry

Breaking into the animal care industry is proving to be a very tricky task! Even now that I have some background in the industry (5 months as a kennel hand and 5 months as a veterinary receptionist/trainee vet nurse) I am still only getting a handful of interviews, and no job offers. I continue to meet new stumbling blocks and find ways to improve my chances.

Equally true for nurses and animal attendants.
There is tonnes and tonnes of job hunting advice out there, and a lot of it is very relevant to the animal care field. In fact it could be argued that more of it is relevant than in other fields – so many clinics are kind of old fashioned that some of the out dated advice still applies. If you would like advice on general job hunting, I’m a big fan of Ask a Manager. I find Alison Green’s advice to be a more logical and thought through from the hiring managers point of view than other career advice out there. Also, having a single contributor means the website doesn’t contradict itself.

Instead of going into detail of all of my job hunting advice, I’ll just give my top tips for getting a job as a veterinary receptionist, veterinary nurse or an animal attendant that differ from other industries:

  1. Know where to look.
    This was a huge barrier when I started hunting for animal care jobs in Melbourne. Having come from an administration background, where Seek.com.au reigns supreme, I had no idea which industry-specific websites were worthwhile. Months later I can say from my own experience, and the feedback from others in the industry that for jobs in veterinary clinics, that in Australia  www.kookaburravets.com/ is where most jobs in clinics are posted. Shelters, doggy day cares and boarding facilities are more likely to post on their websites and regular job boards.

    For more experienced nurses, there is also www.vetlink.com.au/, which have a service where you can register as a veterinary nurse looking for work and they will match you with positions, both temporary (know as a ‘locum’ job in the veterinary field), and permanent. Unfortunately when I applied they got back to me saying that they only list jobs that require qualified nurses, or those studying with at least 12 months experience in a clinic.

    That being said, even when looking for nursing jobs don’t neglect to look for other job boards. There are plenty of clinics and other organizations that are posting on general career websites like Seek, so be sure to do regular searches. You should also look on some of the bigger organisations websites for openings (such as RSPCA, who don’t always post outside of their website). Dog walking and house sitting companies such as the Lonely Pets Club are generally open to taking email applicants year-round, so search for those organisations in your area. Similarly, some boarding and doggy day care facilities that will take applications at any time, so check the websites of the ones in your area.
  2. Highlight Your Point-Of-Difference.
    HINT: This is NOT a love of Animals.
    It’s great that you love animals, and employers want to be sure of that. But in this case it doesn’t make you special. Every applicant to these jobs loves animals, otherwise they wouldn’t apply.

    We're all like this =)

    This is how every nurse and animal attendant ever sees themselves!

    You are indeed a unique snowflake and there is something that sets you apart from the other applicants. Try to think critically and figure out the point of difference, and then let it shine through in your application and in interviews. Maybe you’re a sales guru and could drive profits for the business. Maybe you’re a neat-freak and could help improve the organisation and cleanliness of clinic. Maybe you’re an IT wiz, and could attract new clients through a social media presence. What ever it is, make it work for you.

    For me, it’s my background in administration. I’ve worked for 3 and a half years as an administrator and manager, which allows me to hit the ground running when it comes to taking on reception and administration duties in a clinic.

  3. Volunteer in the Industry.
    Not only is volunteering a great way to develop  relevant ‘professional’ experience (which is likely to win out over having had a handful of pets growing up), it can also open up job opportunities.

    I got my first job in the industry purely through volunteering. I started out doing laundry and cleaning litter trays at the Cat Haven, but made sure to be clear I’d be willing to do more. I liaised with the volunteer coordinator, and was given a more hands-on role of kennel hand assistant in their boarding facility, and sometimes on the grounds. I got to meet all of the grounds staff, so when the manager needed a new casual I came to mind. Remember to always work hard, seek out more opportunities and be friendly to everyone.

    Additionally, becoming a volunteer may open you up to hidden job boards. The RSPCA for one will always post a new opening to existing employees and volunteers with access to their Intranet before posting it publicly. I’ve noticed more than a few postings that never appear publicly which must have been filled internally.
  4. Wear Pants.
    I used to follow a philosophy that you can never be over dressed/too professional for an interview, but since moving from the corporate world to the animal care industry I’ve changed my tune. You need to look like you would fit into the workplace, and skirts (or shorts) can blow the look.

    I would still go with dress/business pants rather than jeans, but skirts around animals can make you look like you don’t know what the job is about. Even if you’re going for a reception role and might wear skirts when you’re in the job the safe bet to look like you fit in is to wear pants. I can guarantee that the nurses and kennel hands will be wearing pants. Besides, you never know if you might be given a tour and meet the owners crazy Labrador puppy who likes to bite at ankles, or a clinic cat that climbs legs.

    And remember, as was the number 1 lesson of my Animal Studies teachers, LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS!

    And thongs (aka flip-flips) are not shoes. Which brings me to…

  5. Wear shoes that are flat, comfortable and quiet.
    Like skirts, heals might make you look foolish and like you don’t know what the job will entail. Also, what if instead of a Labrador the owner has a rambunctious Great Dane?

    I still wear relatively dressy/business-y shoes rather than the super-comfy shoes I expect to be wearing once I start working, but that is mostly just a preference – perhaps a throwback to my corporate days, or a symptom of having more shoes than I know what to do with.No matter the industry it’s a bad idea to wear new shoes to an interview, but I find it especially true for animal care. Most vet clinics will give you a tour, and you want to be able focus and think critically – not wondering if that burst blister is bleeding or wishing you could sit down.

    Then there is the quiet criteria. I learned this preference the hard way. It was very embarrassing to clomp my way into a hushed treatment area, and see a Rag Doll with a needle to its neck struggle in the nurses arms to find out who the giant making all the racket was.

Those are my top 5 lessons I’ve learned in my job hunt so far. What advice can you give to those starting out in the field? What is your point of difference? I’d love to hear your advice and stories in the comments below!