Who is your current employer and what do they do?
Royal Canin Feline Healthy Ageing Clinic at the University of Liverpool.
The Feline Healthy Ageing Clinic is a research project in to how cats age, and aims to improve the welfare of ageing cats through research and education. Myself and the vet Nathalie see cats every 6 months to assess many aspects of ageing.
The 6 month assessments include the following:
- Thorough physical examination including body condition score (BCS) and muscle condition score (MCS).
- Blood pressure measurement.
- Heart assessment including a recording of the heart rate.
- Mobility assessment which includes gait analysis as well as an orthopaedic examination.
- Retinal examination and photography.
- Muscle mass measurement.
- Full haematology, biochemistry, T4, electrolytes and urinalysis.
Gait analysis is also carried out using a pressure mat to identify changes in their gait that might be associated with arthritis.
What is your job title and what does the job entail?
My job title is Senior Clinic Veterinary Nurse.
One of my main job roles is the clinical work. After the initial enrolment visit, cats return on a regular basis with full reassessments (with both a veterinarian and veterinary nurse) occurring every 6 months if >10 years of age. This involves repeating all of the assessments conducted at the enrolment visit. If, however, the cat is <10 years of age, full reassessments occur every 12 months, with interim assessments occurring every 6 months in between. These interim visits involve a veterinary nurse check, and a more limited set of evaluations e.g. blood pressure measurement, heart examination, BCS, MCS, dental examination and a check of general health and coat condition.
After the appointment, I run the blood samples using the in-house machines to assess the cat’s current health status. Any surplus blood is separated and frozen in a biobank for use in future research projects. We also collect and store fur samples as well as faeces and urine.
In addition to working in the veterinary practice, I also carry out administration duties. This includes inputting all of the data collected from our clinical exam and blood results in to a database so it is safely stored for future analysis. All photos and other files for each cat are stored in a folder. We currently have 209 cats enrolled, so it’s a lot of folders and data!
Every client receives a medical summary after their visit to keep them informed of their cat’s progress, and a copy is sent to their registered vet.
I have a very colourful spreadsheet which keeps track of who is due an appointment and when, and I manage all of the routine check-ups, ensuring they are booked in when due.
Other administration duties also included managing the biobank which is where all of our biological samples are stored. This gets updated weekly.
In addition to the management of the database and clients, I also provide advice to owners and other veterinary professionals, design a quarterly newsletter, manage the social media pages and provide articles and presentations to educate the veterinary community.
As you can see, working within a research environment is very diverse and has many aspects to the role. It is very interesting, and it did feel very daunting to begin with, but I have a learnt a lot about how research is an integral part of the veterinary environment, and how veterinary nurses have so many transferable skills which can be used in this area.
How did you achieve your current position?
After qualifying as a Veterinary Nurse in 2015, I went on to become the feline advocate for the practice and spent a lot of time creating a cat friendly practice, informing clients and staff of what it means to be cat friendly, and I began to spend more time in nurse led clinics and communicating with the clients. I realised that this was the area of veterinary nursing I felt so passionate about, and when I saw the job advertisement back in 2017 I didn’t hesitate to apply. I was very lucky to be successful in the role!
What do you enjoy about your job?
I love spending my days working with feline patients, and communicating with the clients!
Working within research has taught me so much. I now have skills in data management, statistics, article and abstract writing, public speaking and even teaching. I’ve become more confident in myself, and have more job satisfaction than ever before.
What are the challenging aspects about your job?
The most challenging aspect was at the beginning of my role, adjusting to a completely different position. It felt very daunting to begin with, and getting used to the academic environment and understanding all the diverse aspects of the research environment felt quite overwhelming at first.
What are your plans for the future?
The Feline Healthy Ageing Clinic is funded by Royal Canin until 2025, so I plan to continue supporting the clinic, and look forward to what all our future data may teach us. I hope to continue educating owners and the veterinary community, and improving the welfare of our ageing cats!
What other qualifications do you hold?
I hold the ISFM Diploma in Feline Nursing, and I am currently nearing the end of the ISFM Advanced Certificate in Feline Behaviour.
What key piece of advice would you give to anyone wishing to follow a similar career path?
Veterinary Nurses have such a wide range of skills that are suited to this role. Research is a brilliant way of getting involved in the future of veterinary medicine, and having the opportunity to educate owners and veterinary colleagues through research is such a rewarding experience. Veterinary nurses have such a strong passion to make a difference, and this is one of the ways we can be involved in doing that.
Sometimes the thought of stepping out of your comfort zone is terrifying, to leave general practice and start a new challenge. We often doubt ourselves and our expertise, but if you’re considering a change, and you are interested in veterinary research, I would encourage nurses to find out more. Research isn’t all about wearing a lab coat!