Whether you’ve recently landed a big promotion to Head Veterinary Nurse, have been in the position for years, or are aiming to move into such a role in the future; you have probably asked yourself at some point: what makes a good Head Veterinary Nurse?
To answer that question, we need to look at what Head Nurses do and what skills you may need to succeed in the role…
What do Head Nurses do?
Head Veterinary Nurses lead and provide support to veterinary nursing and veterinary care teams in practice, in order to manage day-to-day workflow efficiently.
Day-to-day, this may cover many areas in team management, for example recruitment, selection, development, absence reporting and monitoring in line with practice policies. You may also be involved with stock control and managing income and expenditure to ensure the practice is using resources cost-effectively. The role is perfect for those looking to have a bigger influence over practice life; whether that be over developing staff, customer service or clinical practice.
It’s a difficult balance to be a head nurse: you need to be caring, motivating and approachable to your staff, but you also need to be firm and authoritative when needed. The role requires good management and leadership skills. The job also involves a lot of physical work and dealing with individual personalities can sometimes be challenging, therefore you must have excellent interpersonal skills and be able to support your team with patience, confidence and care.
Now we know what it means to be a Head Veterinary Nurse, take a look at what you might need to do to be a good one…
What makes a good Head Veterinary Nurse?
Prioritise Industry Knowledge and Technical Skills
Professionally, to be a good Head Nurse you will need to possess good theoretical knowledge and excellent clinical skills, which can be used to support and develop more junior members of the team.
What’s more – you will need to be committed to keeping your skills up-to-date and open to ongoing education. It’s important to acknowledge that nobody stops learning and that you should never pass up the opportunity to learn something new.
Be Approachable, Respectful and Friendly
Showing respect and understanding for colleagues and their concerns is essential to building trust, which will ensure that your team feel able to come to you to discuss problems. Make it clear that you’re there for your team and that you will do your best for them so long as they do their best for you.
Regularly check in on your team on a one-to-one basis to make sure they’re happy with their role and address any concerns they may have about their work. And, of course; a little ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ always goes a long way in the world of work!
Put Compassion, Empathy and Humility First
Sometimes your team members will experience troubles in their personal lives which will show in their performance, and you must be supportive in your response to this.
You should always approach uncomfortable situations with kindness. No one really knows what’s going on in other people’s lives. It’s not your job to fix your nurses’ problems, but it is your job to be a sympathetic ear and push them in the direction of professional help if needed.
If a nurse is having a hard time, ask them what they need to do in order to feel better. This puts the responsibility on them and helps them develop better self-care skills.
Make Sure Everyone is Heard
As head nurse, you need to have the respect and ear of all the stakeholders: the other nurses, the vets, partners, receptionists – and so on. It can be a stressful task to create the right balance, but very rewarding when you get it right. Here are some of the ways you can make sure everybody gets their say…
- It’s worth regularly checking in with vets, nurses and receptionists and asking them how they think the practice is doing generally. Some colleagues may have great ideas for things like tweaks to the rota or new protocols for customer service; and it makes staff feel more appreciated if they get the opportunity to contribute ideas.
- Recognise that some members of your team may be quieter than others, but that their input is just as important and they need to feel that they’re being heard too. You could perhaps have a quick chat in a more informal setting and ask them what they think about certain topics.
- Run regular meetings where there is the opportunity for small niggles to be addressed and sorted out in the open. This prevents issues from stewing and being talked about behind closed doors, and stops colleagues feeling like their issues aren’t being taken seriously.
- Appraisals are a good opportunity to understand more about your nurses’ strengths, weaknesses and career aims from their own perspective. Taking an interest in this will help your team members feel they are being listened to and that you care about their personal wellbeing and professional goals.
Fairness is Key
If one nurse in the team has always been your best friend, at work your loyalties should be left behind. Stick to practice policy when it comes to taking holiday, overtime (and everything in-between) for ALL team members. You don’t want your nurses to feel that some people are treated more harshly than others, as this will foster resentment and lack of openness in your team.
Lead by Example
It’s important to lead by example and be everything you would like your staff to be. You cannot enforce lateness if you are always late, or keep a strict dress code if you continuously break it. So keep your expectations high, and your standards higher.
You’re also not above the dirty work just because you’re in a managerial role. A good rule is don’t ask someone to do something if you wouldn’t be prepared to do it yourself.
Become Your Team’s Biggest Cheerleader
Once you become responsible for a nursing team with many strengths and talents, it’s your job to make sure they know that! There are a number of ways you can champion your team and make sure they feel happy and supported in practice…
- Get to know your team members and what makes them tick, find out what interests and motivates them and build on that in relation to training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
- Identify your team members’ strengths and make sure they know about them! Make it clear that they have a lot to offer in a particular area, and encourage them to share their skills and knowledge with other members of the team.
- When it comes to developing team members, it is better to be positive and focus on strengths, and be fair and practical when it comes to weaknesses rather than just criticising them – allow team members to reflect on what they may need to improve on and help themselves.
- Encourage them to contribute their ideas and concerns about practice life and what they think could be done to make positive change at work.
- Arrange time together outside of work to cement the team, reward everyone for their efforts in practice, and build better relationships.
Embrace Not Knowing all the Answers
Being responsible for teams is no easy task and is no role to sign up for lightly. You’re not always going to have all the answers or know exactly what to do; so don’t pretend you do!
Seek advice from senior management if you’re stuck. Ask for advice, ask for opinions, and don’t be afraid to ask the team for their thoughts on solving problems that affect them. That doesn’t mean they get to vote on your decisions; it only means that you take advantage of previous experiences. It’s possible they had a similar problem before and they can tell you what didn’t work.
Be Kind to Yourself – Delegation and Monitoring are Your Friends
You can’t be everywhere at once and you can’t take on absolutely every task in practice. Be kind to yourself and delegate and monitor where you can. This way, you learn more about what your team’s strengths are, and can better delegate work based on what your team members enjoy doing and are good at.
It’s also worth being strict with setting time aside for the extra work that comes your way as a head nurse – you can’t do all your nursing duties and the extra paperwork at once, and trying to do so will only end in unmanageable workloads.
Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!
As a Head Nurse, you need to be able to innovate when problems arise, be comfortable with change and be able to lead on making changes where they’re needed.
It’s a huge temptation to get in the driving seat and start rearranging things to a master plan immediately, but before you do that, it pays to take a few days to really listen to the practice, get used to what is ‘normal’ before you start making changes. You may know the practice really well as a nurse, but as a boss, the perspective can be different – how they treat you, how you treat them, the new bits of your job, and dealing with changes in your old job.
Get feedback, ideas and concerns from the staff, in practice meetings and appraisals; and find out what their biggest and most urgent problem is – you can then look at introducing gradual changes from there if needed.
If you’re a Head Veterinary Nurse, or are looking to move into the role, have you considered attending our Head Nurse Congress? The two day event features 10 lectures from expert industry speakers, as well as networking opportunities with both exhibitors and fellow head nurses – all while gaining 12 hours of evidenced CPD. View the full event details here.
“The most satisfying part of my job is dealing with difficult/critical cases as a team and succeeding to see the animal go home. There is something special about excellent teamwork.” – Stacey Brook on Life as a Head Veterinary Nurse Read more