Role model Deanna explores her experience of entering the profession later in life as a change of career.

At 45 I began dreaming about a change of career. I just couldn’t see myself continuing in the same line of work until retirement.

After some thought, I knew the change had to involve animals. I’d always been secretly jealous of people in professions helping animals. Research led me to the veterinary profession. I emailed local veterinary practices and asked if I could see practice to find out if it really was for me.

One practice agreed and I started to volunteer for a few hours weekly. I was instantly hooked. During those few hours I helped out where-ever I was able; cleaning kits, kennels and helping nurses to set up and clean down theatre.

I researched nurse training, but at this stage was not focused on becoming an RVN. I already had a degree, had many other job-related qualifications and was not looking to ‘go back to school’. However, I found the Level 2 Animal Care Assistant distant learning course and decided to enroll and fund the course myself. Having never previously been employed in animal care I thought it provided all the background theory I needed to be an ACA. It was daunting, but I enjoyed the course. As it was distance learning so, I didn’t have the stress of entering a classroom full of younger students, I could take my time and study around my current working hours. I passed the course!

The practice manager told me about a part time ACA vacancy coming available. I was thrilled to be asked, but it was a family decision due to the impact it would have on us financially as it meant me resigning from my then current job which was better paid. I also had other fears/considerations: I would be the eldest nursing staff, but least qualified and experienced. I would be working split shifts and until 8pm on 2 evenings – I had never worked past 5pm before.

I found the first few months very tiring. I don’t know whether it was all due to my age, but I also wasn’t used to this amount of physical work or the split shifts on a single day and the late finishes took their toll for sure. But I loved the work. Being so close to a range of animals for 20 hours per week was amazing. It was all that I had hoped it would be and more!

I soon developed a desire to do more than the work of an ACA and decided to seriously consider becoming an RVN. I knew this would involve many years of study and the fears I had were mainly around my age: being potentially the oldest in the class by a long way; being mentally able to fulfill the requirements of the course (it had been about 10 years since I had taken any qualifications and I never enjoyed exams); and being mentally and physically able to study whilst working full time.

These anxieties came to fruition when I was offered a role as an SVN. I was the oldest by a long way, but everyone was very welcoming and we all became good friends over the 2.5 years we studied together. It was tiring studying and working full time, managing shifts and weekends, but I ensured I got plenty of sleep and planned ahead to meet college deadlines. Brain fog at this age is a thing: I wasn’t shy asking ‘stupid questions’ in class or asking for things to be repeated. Luckily my tutors were patient and my fellow students had a sense of humour. The exams were hard to prepare for, but I soon found what worked best for me regarding revision and exam techniques; que cards, post it notes EVERYWHERE and past exam papers.

I passed and couldn’t have been prouder when 2 days before my 50th birthday I attended the RVN graduation ceremony at London Zoo.

Since qualifying and turning ‘over 50’ there have been other age-related challenges, most significantly the menopause, but that’s a whole other blog!

I have no regrets; I would highly recommend a career in veterinary practice.

I feel as an older nurse who qualified later in life, I have the benefit of both life experience and work experience in other industries to draw upon when needed. Do I wish I had made the move into this area of work at an earlier age? Maybe, but just so I could have cuddled more pets for more years. For me, it was the right move into the right practice at the right time in my life.