Clawed by animals, scolded by masters: it’s time for recognition for veterinary nurses

SINGAPORE — When a dog escaped from its owner outside the Island Veterinary Clinic in Jurong last year, senior veterinary nurse Apple Neo and two of her colleagues embarked on a two-hour chase .

As the tired owner gave up halfway, Ms. Neo ran down the road to save the dog from being run over by cars.

Clinic staff expected the owner to show them relief and some appreciation when they successfully trapped and returned the dog to him. Instead, they were blamed for the dog’s escape.

“It often happens (in this job) that no matter how much we contribute, we are not appreciated,” said Ms Neo, 33, who has been a veterinary nurse for about 13 years.

Aside from demanding humans, she was also scratched by aggressive and temperamental animals, a scratch requiring medical attention.

Last month, Ms Neo received the top prize for Veterinary Nurse and Technician of the Year, alongside fellow veterinary nurse Mr Arvind Anandamohan, 29.

The award was presented by the Singapore Veterinary Nurses and Technicians Chapter (SVNTC) of the Singapore Veterinary Association (SVA) and pet food company Royal Canin Singapore.

In Singapore, the terms ‘veterinarian nurse’ and ‘veterinarian technician’ are used interchangeably. Their duties, which are similar to those of a hospital nurse, include measuring the vital signs of animals, inserting intravenous catheters and taking blood samples, operating x-ray machines and checking that animals stay clean and calm.

But this somewhat invisible profession has seen high turnover over the years due to long working hours, lack of career progression, lower wages and mental health issues due to compassion fatigue and sometimes abuse from pet owners.

Moreover, the profession is not well regulated. Many local veterinary nurses, like Mrs. Neo and Mr. Arvind, learned on the job and took certification courses a few years later. Others arrive with a degree in veterinary science from polytechnic schools.

Mr Arvind, operations manager and veterinary nurse at Pets Avenue Veterinary Clinic in Farrer Road, joined the clinic about seven years ago, aspiring to become a veterinarian.

Amid an ongoing national review to raise the standards of the veterinary sector here, the SVNTC, formed last year, will lead the way in defining the competencies expected of veterinary nurses and technicians from day one on the job, said said its co-chair, Dr. Teo Boon Han.

It will also help develop career progression frameworks for veterinary nurses in clinics, as well as in research, wildlife and livestock, he added.

There are between 800 and 1,200 veterinary nurses in Singapore.

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