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Sophie Barnes

"By being given real life experience on placement you have a more informed idea of what to expect in your future career. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet people and establish professional relationships to help with future career prospects and planning."
Sophie Barnes Sophie at work at Twycross Zoo Sophie at work at Twycross Zoo

I am a… zoo veterinary nurse


You could be a zoo-based veterinary nurse if you would enjoy:

  • Looking after animal patients and supporting the veterinary team.
  • Assisting veterinary surgeons (vets) with clinical procedures including taking blood and anaesthesia
  • Distributing and give medications/treatments as directed by a vet
  • Developing a basic working knowledge about all of the animals in the collection
  • Capturing and handling animals
  • Helping to keep medical records
  • Assisting with post-mortem examinations
  • Keeping the veterinary facilities hygienic and well stocked

Lions, elephants, snakes … it’s all in a day’s work for a zoo’s veterinary nurse. Nurses working at zoos assist veterinary surgeons in the diagnosis, treatment and care of sick or injured animals in the collection. They could be working with any species from parrots to spider monkeys to gorillas, meaning every day brings a new challenge.

Sophie Barnes, who graduated in 2011 with a BSc (Hons) Veterinary Nursing and Practice Management degree is the only nurse working at Twycross Zoo, the World Primate Centre, in Warwickshire.

“I work closely with a team of two vets to provide a high level of veterinary care to all species within the collection at Twycross Zoo to ensure the optimal health and welfare of the animals, says the 24-year-old, from Leicestershire.

“The role involves assisting the vets with clinical procedures, monitoring anaesthetics, dispensing medication, maintaining the daily upkeep of the veterinary facilities, teaching veterinary students on their rotation and daily implementation of preventative health regimes. I also keep accurate up to date veterinary records as well as processing, archiving and keeping database records of samples for research projects.

“Variety is what I enjoy most about my job - every day a different species, challenge or problem presents itself, allowing me to continually expand and develop my skills and knowledge.”

Her years at Harper Adams, she says, gave her the best start in her career. “It provided a great foundation of veterinary nursing knowledge. My syllabus covered a wider range of topics than would usually be taught in college-based Veterinary Nurse courses. This gave me a more extensive knowledge base that l have since been able to use as a solid foundation to build upon and specialise. In addition to this, the practical experience learned through my placement year ensured that l was able to learn industry relevant skills, whilst also having the opportunity to complete the AMTRA Suitably Qualified Person qualification and Veterinary Practice Management Certificate.”

That placement was spent at Teme Veterinary Practice, in Shropshire, as a Trainee Veterinary Nurse, where Sophie worked as part of a three-nurse team assisting with all aspects of daily nursing roles. “My daily tasks included monitoring anaesthetics, assisting in consults and procedures, administering medication, stock control and ordering, running nurse clinics, booking appointments as well as daily maintenance and cleaning of prep, theatre and kennel areas. It was a very friendly and welcoming practice that gave me a fantastic opportunity to use skills l had learnt and gain some real life and working experience. I was encouraged and allowed the freedom to set up and run nurse clinics and develop the services that the practice offered.

“By being given real life experience on placement you have a more informed idea of what to expect in your future career. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet people and establish professional relationships to help with future career prospects and planning.”

More from Sophie on Harper Adams

Why did you choose to study at Harper Adams? 

I loved the university atmosphere; being a small community, along with the location and the course - it suited me perfectly.

What were the best things about your course?

The broad subjects that were covered in great detail, twinned with the opportunity to focus on specific topics and areas that l wanted to explore further. 

How did you find the teaching?

Passionate, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable on the topics they teach.

And the facilities?

Fantastic for Veterinary Nurse students!  Modern vet facilities and a companion animal house ensure that all academic areas of the course can be reinforced with practical demonstrations and hands-on opportunities. Harper Adams also has a brilliant range of academic, social and sporting facilities that ensure there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with university life.

Would you recommend Harper Adams to new students? 

Yes, it is like no other university in the feeling that you are part of a close-knit social community. With great opportunities to learn from a wide range of courses on offer, accompanied by a brilliant extracurricular and social programme it can’t be beaten.

How did your qualification/experiences at Harper Adams aid your career?

It provided a great foundation of veterinary nursing knowledge and allowed the completion of Veterinary nursing training, on which I have built and expanded.

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