17 August 2021
Veterinary nursing training with a chronic illness: can it be done? – Lauren Hargrave, RVN
I was once told I would never be a Veterinary Nurse because of my Crohn’s Disease. I now know that the person told me this because of a lack of knowledge and understanding about my condition; at the time however, I felt deflated. Nevertheless, I persevered with my training, completed an access course and started university. As I neared the end of my 3-year foundation degree, I reflected on the challenges faced by chronically ill SVNs, and the positives chronic illness brings to training.
My condition flared a lot during my training. For me, stress is a massive contributor to a flare up. It is safe to say that it does not matter what route you take; training to be a veterinary nurse is stressful. With stress comes a flare, with a flare comes overwhelming fatigue (among other symptoms) and with fatigue comes the need to rest. I had to take some sick days, miss some lectures, and during a particularly bad flare up applied for and was granted, extenuating circumstances (EC) on an assignment. Rest and self-care are important, yet I found myself feeling guilty for it. I was embarrassed to have to use EC; I felt guilty for calling in sick; but throughout my training I found there are times when you can work through and power through a flare, and there are times when you cannot, and that is ok.
On placement I found new challenges. ‘Brain fog’ (struggling to focus and forgetfulness) is a common symptom of chronic illness and fatigue, and when I was flaring, I struggled with this. Sometimes I would forget where I had put things and could not find them when they were in clear view. I would lose my train of thought in discussion with colleagues. I also had to manage my pain. Never having been in remission, I have at least a low level of pain daily, and this was sometimes difficult for me to cope with.
I was very lucky to have an exceptionally supportive placement practice and university throughout my training. Others have not been as lucky. When speaking to other SVNs about challenges faced during training, a lack of knowledge, understanding and acceptance about their condition was frequently mentioned. This was particularly prevalent amongst students who had illnesses that were not obviously visible.
Crohn’s Disease did not just create challenges. My past experiences with chronic illness were beneficial throughout my training. People with chronic illness tend to be very resilient. This underpinning resilience means they continue, even during the most stressful aspects of training and practice life. I knew how to make time for self-care and learnt when to rest. I acknowledged and accepted that even though my illness was not something I was going to let stand in my way, it was another hill I had to climb on my path to being an RVN. The online support network for nurses with chronic illnesses is outstanding and I found this helpful, even deciding during lockdown to share support and my own story via my own Instagram account (@theibdvetnurse).
My top tips for SVNs with chronic illness; communicate with your college/university/workplace about your condition and keep them informed. Be prepared to work hard but know your limits; many conditions are exasperated by stress. Do not feel guilty about resting and do not compare yourself to others. You can do it; it just might not go the way you planned it and that is ok!
For those supporting SVNs with chronic illness; read up on their condition so that you have a better understanding, make reasonable adjustments, and above all listen to what they need- they know their condition better than anyone!
Training as a veterinary nurse with a chronic illness CAN be done. Look after yourself, enjoy your vocation and believe. If I can do it then so can you!
Notes on contributors
Lauren Hargrave RVN – Lauren has just completed her foundation degree in veterinary nursing science and is now a Registered Veterinary Nurse. She works in a small animal practice on the south coast. Lauren enjoys working as a general practice nurse as the role is so varied, and is particularly interested in wound care and management. In her spare time, she is dedicated to raising awareness and providing support to veterinary professionals with chronic illness through her Instagram page @theibdvetnurse. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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