Kavita Shah: Veterinary Nursing

Thursday 08th August 2019 05:23 EDT

Nominated for Pet Plan's national Nurse of the Year Award by a public vote, twice in a row, Head Veterinary nurse, Kavita, gave us some insights into the nuances of her valuable yet underrepresented work. “It might seem obvious, but the truth is animals can’t speak. They don’t have a voice, and so need us to be sensitive towards them. A lot of the time owners are relaying the issue. I will work with them to understand how best to help.” Kavita elaborated on the unique feeling language of animals: “different pets have different ways of signalling pain. For example, dogs and cats might lick their lips or turn their heads when they’re checked in a certain way. Rabbits are more subtle; they don’t show pain unless it has become unbearable. A key sign is when they stop eating altogether. Each animal will also have definitive facial features to which you must be attentive to determine their medical state. There's a whole variety of ears, whiskers and noses.”

Kavita heads her team at Medivet: a first-opinion practice that provides essential care for animals. “My role is to manage the day to day operation of the practice with the team. This involves running the client side of the practice i.e. making sure owners are happy. I also deal with back-of-house: the patients getting the right medication, providing general care that’s up to standard.” The consummate carer also does weekend shifts at a 24hr hospital in Hendon.


Kavita went on to emphasise the human dimension of veterinary care: “While it is crucial to have empathy for animals to work in this medical field, one must have good people skills too. You are always dealing with invested clients, who need as much comfort and communication. Some clients are anxious about leaving a pet with you for even one day. A lot of people do go into this career assuming they don’t have to deal with social interaction, but you must be able to talk and explain a lot, ultimately gaining the confidence of pet owners too. They are more likely to continue the treatments you recommend that way. For example, I am currently a clinical coach, which means I train someone under me. An important part of this is teaching the right answers to questions around animal care for both simple and specialist enquiries.”

Here, the young nurse also highlighted a poignant parallel with people in animal care. When asked about an outstanding observation she’s had during her time as a rising veterinary nurse, Kavita replied: “Unfortunately, people do tend to neglect older cats. Cats are obviously one of the UK’s favourite types of pet, and people really love them, but there is a blasé attitude towards them as they age. Owners stop being so surprised about the fact that their pets have a condition. I think there’s a relationship with how we view the older part of the population in general in society.”

And so, with her pure love of animal care, Kavita at once demonstrates that our quiet companions are not, in fact, secondary: rather an equally significant part of our natural lives. Indeed, it has been said that the famous scientist, Isaac Newton, invented the cat flap while deducing the laws of gravity! He could not ignore his pet which would scratch at the door whenever he became too deeply lost in concentration: a small price for some ongoing warm support. “The scope of a career in veterinary science is also often dismissed,” Kavita concluded. “However, as well as being satisfying in itself, the training can open doors to a multitude of future adventures. For example, I’m looking forward to travelling abroad to become involved in diverse projects, providing medical attention to animals.” This includes helping conserve the health of species in the wild, such as orangutans in the jungle.

Tell us a bit more on your innate love animals?

I’ve alwaysloved the idea of being there for animals, holding them through the time that they are sick to when they are well again. Actually, we had a dog that came in recently who was really frightened, requiring spinal surgery. But the operation was so successful, he is now visibly happy to come back to us for checkups! It’s incredible to see.

Animals are vulnerable because they can’t speak.

Although I never had pets of my own growing up, I’d watch documentaries and did a lot of work experience at various catteries and kennels over time to learn what I could.

You do now have two lovely pets: a cat, Pickles, and a dog, Peanut. What a pairing!

Yes! Actually, Peanut was brought into the practice in September of last year. She had clearly been neglected, used for breeding and discarded, and it’s taken a while to build the trust with her. However, as I say, animals do have their own way of showing you how they feel, and he’s now one of my best friends!

I got my cat, Pickles, while she was very young at just 3 weeks old, actually a baby! I cared for her through it all: arranging the milk, being with her through the night. I remember thinking veterinary science was definitely what I wanted to do then. I was willing to put in the hard work to help.

What have been some of the most memorable patients you’ve had?

I think you always remember the cases that go into intensive care: you try everything, and you know if it doesn’t work you will have to put the animal to sleep.

We’ve had two male cats in with severe urinary problems, which is unfortunately very common, who’ve needed round-the-clock care. Luckily, they both pulled through.

What’s one aspect of your profession that people tend to mystify?

That vets are just in it for the money. Obviously, because there is no NHS for animals, we do have to charge. A lot of the surgeries done on human patients cost thousands but people don’t see that.

We are just doing our best without government funding. As a kind of business, we have to find a way to operate efficiently. Vets do have to undergo training for typically 5-6 years and study extensively. If you are at the head of a practice, you also have to find a way to pay the bills and keep the establishment running.

What does it take to be a good carer for animals?

You most definitely have to have passion – you are heavily involved in animal welfare and cannot fake it! You need to be able to communicate with others well. You also have to be able to keep a certain emotional distance at times as you will not be able to save every patient, should the cases be extreme. You need to understand that it can be kinder to let go.

Why do you think people consider veterinary science to be an unusual trade?

Perhaps there are prescribed ‘usual’ jobs. For example, in the Asian community, there’s the triple choice of lawyer, engineer or doctor. But working with animals is equally great and rewarding. Since I’ve been working, there have actually been more candidates of an Asian background applying for work opportunities and placements. This is lovely to see!

How did you feel being nominated for a nationwide award for the second time in a row?

Great very much because it means people do realise the important work of nurses. We are the hands and feet of the vet as well as providing professional support. It pushes me to go further as well.

Finally, do you have any advice for people considering veterinary science as a career?

If you really passionate make sure that you pursue it. Don’t let people talk you out of getting a valuable qualification. My own family has been supportive and that’s meant a lot.

Also, make sure you get the appropriate work experience. Get as much hands-on experience as you can.

“While it is crucial to have empathy for animals to work in this field, one must have good people skills too.”

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