ABSTRACT: If you are expecting a scholarly article, you can turn the page right now – I have been told that I have had an interesting career and that you might like to hear about it. Hence this article.

As far as I am concerned, I was just an ordinary veterinary nurse, who tried to give back to the profession in some way. The fact that I have had a change of profession is mainly the consequence of a back injury which made it very difficult to work as I became older.

My veterinary nursing career began with a holiday job in Northolt, Middlesex, and I soon decided that this was the work for me. In 1963, I went to Chiswick Polytechnic for a year, which at that time offered a full-time pre-vocational course with one day a week set aside for work experience. I spent the whole year longing for Tuesdays when I could travel to Putney for that day’s work!

I started full-time work in Twickenham in July 1965, but this did not last long. The 1/-hour bus journey each way was too much, so when a job was offered back at the Northolt clinic, I quickly accepted it.

The rest of my RANA (Registered Animal Nursing Auxiliary) training was done at Northolt, and on qualifying, I continued to work there through to 1969. I joined the BANAA (British Animal Nursing Auxiliary Association) and when it had difficulties finding somewhere to hold its committee meetings, a simple request to my employer, Trevor Turner, MRCVS, was to impact enormously on the rest of my career.

Beginnings in BANAA

BANAA was invited to meet at the clinic and in no time, I was co-opted onto the committee. I probably had the same reservations as many ‘ordinary’ veterinary nurses might have in that situation – what would I have to offer such an important body as the BANAA? However, I soon found out that there were many ways in which we can help and that that ‘important body’ is, in fact, just made up of ordinary people who are willing to help in some way. Anyone can do it – even you!

My time on the BANAA committee gave me confidence and I learnt a lot about running meetings, working on business plans and organising events. In return, I ran an employment service for veterinary nurses – including many enquiries from overseas – and helped start the regional meetings, running them in Surrey and Cornwall.

In 1969, I moved to Guildford, Surrey, where I wanted to try mixed practice. A good move for me, as this was where I met my future husband, Derek, and we married in May 1970. The job did not last long. Son No1 arrived in July 1971, but I still remained on the BANAA committee, who by this time were meeting in the British Veterinary Association boardroom in central London. I wonder if any other meetings held in this very imposing room were like ours – I used to bring Son No1 with me and he would happily play with his toys under the enormous meeting room table!

Pastures new

In 1973, the family moved to Cornwall, and my son and I still attended the BANAA meetings. Once Son No2 arrived, in 1974, regretfully I decided that I would have to give up BANAA work – two kids under the table was impossible!

Life was quieter then, a few local veterinary nurse meetings at our house was the extent of my involvement, but all of that changed when we again decided to move – this time to Australia in 1979. On arrival in South Australia, we found a house and once the family was settled, I started to look for veterinary nursing employment. Unfortunately I found that my RANA qualification was too good – employers said that they could not afford to employ someone as highly qualified as me!

I still needed a job, so I went to work for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, all the time trying to get back into veterinary nursing. Finally, I decided that I would go back to college and do the Australian veterinary nursing course. Bingo! I was a trainee and the vets could afford me. In 1983, I found part-time work at a veterinary hospital in Salisbury Park – boy, was that vet surprised with his trainee!

The first time I did evening clinic, I just carried on as normal RANAs did, administering treatments and setting up drips and the vet found that he set off for home at least an hour earlier, with nothing left to do after clinic ended.

Working as the senior nurse, having obtained my Australian certificate, I was contacted in 1988 about an exam to be held nationally for the Australian Veterinary Nurse of the Year. Why not? This was a two-part exam, first a written paper and the best entries from around Australia would then be invited for an interview.

Yes! I had a phone call. All the staff crowded around the office to find out if I had achieved an interview. No, I hadn’t. Their faces fell. And then I revealed that apparently my paper had been good enough to be the outright winner! The poor clients in the waiting room must have wondered what on earth had happened.

Making things happen ‘down under’

Events snowballed from there. I was asked to start the South Australian Veterinary Nurses’ Association, and I was its president from 1988 until 1996. Although some states had an association, there was no national body, but this changed in 1991. Sue Crampton – another former RANA – and I both received invitations to represent Australia at the inaugural meeting of the International Veterinary Nurses and Technicians Association in Austria. We decided that there really should be a national association and we set about realising that dream.

In September 1991, the Veterinary Nurses’ Council of Australia (VNCA) was born, and I became the first president, heading off to Austria later that year and then on to England to study the veterinary nurse training schemes in the UK. I remained president until 1995, and those early beginnings have now resulted in a stable body representing the veterinary nursing profession in Australia. Subsequently, we were invited to be part of a national committee to review veterinary nurse training – Sue Crampton and I being the representatives – and this led to a better understanding of the role of the veterinary nurse within the practice.

Those early years were hard for the committee of the VNCA. We had no funding and had to travel great distances to meet, at our own expense, using up all of our holiday allowances as well. I was fortunate to represent Australian veterinary nurses at the IVNTA meeting in England in 1995 and then also New Zealand in 1996.

In 1994, I became a veterinary sales representative for a veterinary wholesale company. My territory spanned Adelaide through to Alice Springs, a great way to see Australia!

Because of my involvement in veterinary nursing organisations, I was nominated for the ‘South Australian Enterprising Woman of the Year Award’ in both 1999 and 2000, but although I made it to the final six each time, there was always someone better than me.

And the rest is history…

I did miss the nursing, and in 1999 started my own business as a locum veterinary nurse, which lasted until we moved to Hervey Bay, Queensland in 2001. After much soul-searching, I decided to retire, so I needed a hobby, my love of family history research, which owing to work commitments, I had been unable to do, now took over.

I wanted to find out about the English records which might help my research, so I signed up for a few online courses through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies (NIGS), University of Toronto. Those few courses grew, until I discovered that I had completed the 40 courses necessary for the Professional Learning Certificate in Genealogical Studies; graduating in English Records and General Methodology in 2008, then Irish Records in 2009.

I now run my own Professional Genealogy business, res
earching Australian, English, Irish and Dutch records, and am a Consultant for the English Records course at the NIGS, having responsibility for the monthly chat sessions with the students. I am also involved in other aspects of the NIGS courses, teach genealogy in Hervey Bay and lecture in both Queensland and interstate.

Throughout my life, I have just taken – or made – the opportunities to further my careers. Really, all I have done is to exchange animal pedigrees for human ones! And it all started through the BANAA.

Recent photo of Derek, my husband and me


Brenda Zant PLCGS (and ex RANA/VN)


Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 25 • No9 • September 2010 •