Celebrating Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month – An Interview with Georgia Woods-Lee BSc(Hons) RVN CertCFVHNut VTS (Nutrition)

1 May 2023

You might already be aware that this month is Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month (VNAM), an initiative originally started by the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) in 2012, after growing from a National VN awareness day which they started in 2005. The theme for #VNAM2023 is empowerment, giving us a chance to raise awareness of what vet nurses do day to day in practice.

To find out a little more about what it’s like to be a VN, we spoke to Georgia Woods-Lee BSc(Hons) RVN CertCFVHNut VTS (Nutrition), who is the author of the BSAVA Guide to Nutrition.

How long have you worked as a veterinary nurse?

A very long time! I took my first veterinary nurse training position is 2002, and qualified in 2004, so that would be 21 years in total working as a veterinary nurse. Over these years I have worked in mixed practice, emergency and critical care, first opinion and referral practice and now find myself in a specialist position working with pets that have obesity or complex nutritional needs.

What is one of the main aspects of your job as a veterinary nurse?

My role has changed many times over the course of my career, but at the heart of it all was always a desire to make a positive difference. Whether that was caring for the patient in front of me, or talking to a pet owner, my aim was to always help if I could.

What inspired to you to become a veterinary nurse?

I grew up surrounded by many animals, big and small. From cows, a pig (called Mrs Pig) and sheep, to dogs, cats, rabbits, canaries, and guinea pigs. As a result, TV programs such a James Herriot and Animal hospital became essential viewing! After my A levels I did an art foundation course, but at the end of it found myself at a crossroads, having never been sure what I wanted to do ‘when I grew up’, and although an art career was possible it did not feel like the right move so when I saw a trainee veterinary nurse position advertised I jumped at the chance to work with animals. I’m not sure at this point I had any clear idea of what being a veterinary nurse was like, but fortunately for me, it turned out that I loved it.

What’s your favourite aspect of being a veterinary nurse?

My patients, but closely follow by my clients. I have always loved talking to clients, getting to know them, allowing time to build trust and rapport. It’s hugely rewarding personally to be viewed as a trusted person to care for their precious pet and to always be a great source of information and advice. My patients mostly like me too, there is not much that brings me more joy than when a dog is sat waiting patiently, sees me, jumps up very excited, and can’t wait to come and greet me.

What’s the one thing you wish clients knew that vet nurses do in practice?

I wish clients understood how much hard work goes into gaining a Registered Veterinary Nurse qualification, how much continued learning we undertake, and how we play an integral role in caring for their pet. I feel awareness of our abilities, knowledge and skills is sadly lacking among the general public.

One of your main focuses is on obesity care and nutrition, how did you get into that?

This was a natural progression from my desire to help my patients and a love of talking to clients. At a time when few other nurses want to do nurse clinics, I was more than happy to. Because of this it became my niche, and I realised I could really offer meaningful help in this area.

Obesity clinics are usually where most veterinary nurses start with consulting, and as I grew in confidence, I gained other types of clinics too. I soon realised that many of the pet owners I saw in my clinics, or at the reception desk, or at a discharge appointment after an operation, wanted a discussion on nutrition.

It spiralled from there, from a need to know more to help my patients better and so needing to learn more to undertook specific nutrition CPD and training, this led me to completing my Certificate in Canine and Feline Veterinary health Nutrition in 2016 completing it with an outstanding distinction and the very challenging American Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS) in Nutrition qualification in 2019.

You helped us write the BSAVA Guide to Nutrition, could you tell us a little bit more about why you wanted to be involved in this?

There is so much bad, inaccurate, bias information available on pet nutrition. I wanted to create a credible, evidence-based resource to help others, vets and nurses in practice to have conversations about nutrition with their clients. It was secondarily very important to me to create the accompanying owner resource which goes with each guide.

I always like to give resources to the pet owner when I can, so they can explore the subject in their own time. Pet owners have a hard time when it comes to deciding what to feed their pet, and they will obtain information from many different sources e.g. online, or from breeders or friends. The Guide to Nutrition collates the current knowledge and explains some of the common myths surrounding pet foods so owners can make an informed, educated decision when choosing a food for their pet.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a veterinary nurse?

Do it! It is a career that will stretch you and work you hard at times, both mentally and physically, but the rewards will be enormous, and you will not regret it. You would have a career that you can take anywhere in the world, that can open many different career paths and that will give you all the job satisfaction you could ask for. You would be joining a profession that fiercely fights for animals to give them a voice, to ease their pain and suffering and whenever possible to see them returned to their owner happy and healthy once again.