Jade Pengelly is a Registered Veterinary Nurse from New Zealand who has just published her debut book, titled “Tales of a Vet Nurse” in New Zealand, Australia and the UK, via Harper Collins Publishers. She has worked in practices across the UK and New Zealand and was also teacher of veterinary nursing at Wintec, Waikato. She is currently a practice manager for SPCA New Zealand in Christchurch.

From Edward the Burmese cat and his extravagant diet, to the burly farmer with his beloved Lulu-bell, a tiny Chihuahua; in her book, “Tales of a Vet Nurse”, Jade shares stories of the diversity of everyday veterinary nursing in practice. She shines a light on the respect, trust and knowledge which is the glue that holds a practice team together and her passion for veterinary nursing and desire to raise awareness with the pet owning public comes through loud and clear.

“I wrote the book because I felt like vet nurses are just so under-represented within our industry and there are so many misjudgements about nurses,” explained Jade, still enthusiastic and articulate despite the late hour and a long day in practice. “The public don’t seem to know what we do, and they also seem to assume that we’re paid quite a lot of money. The misconceptions are what I really wanted to change.

“I wanted people to know how talented veterinary nurses are and all the different things that they turn their hands to every single day. They have so many incredible skills that are utilised all the time. I also want to make the public understand that they are woefully underpaid for the skills that they have, and hopefully help to raise some awareness for our profession so that we can continue to improve it. I also just wanted the public to know a bit more about what goes on behind the doors of a vet practice.

“I was inspired to write the book during COVID because I was dealing with these two conflicting worlds where I would go to work and it was emergencies only, so it was very mentally intense and people’s emotions were very heightened. Then I was going home, and living on my own at the time, it was a very isolating experience. I had all these thoughts in my brain that I wanted to get out, so writing was a form of therapy for me during that time. I also felt that more than ever, the public misunderstood or didn’t know what we were doing. I felt I needed to open a window into what was going on behind closed doors.”

The many varieties of pet owners

Tales of a Vet Nurse” has reached number five in the non-fiction bestseller list in New Zealand and Jade has found feedback encouraging. “People have said that they’re quite surprised as to what goes on behind closed doors and some people have also said they feel better about leaving their pet at the vet practice,” she confides. “I think they just have a bit more insight into what might be happening during the day, especially if they’ve dropped their animal off in the morning and picked them up in the evening.”

Jade’s book contains some very funny – and extremely touching – stories about pets and their owners. Reflecting on the wide variety of clients a vet nurse encounters, she gives an insight into handling them. “Everyone reacts so differently when they are in a state of emotion. For example, if you have people dropping off their pets for a procedure in the morning, some are in absolute bits, crying, sobbing and beside themselves. Then you’ll have people who just hand you the lead and walk out the door, people who can’t stop chatting or people that can’t even look you in the eye. Everyone experiences those nerves differently.

“Something else I’ve learned is that if people are upset about what’s happening with their animal, they can turn their emotion onto you. While they might come across as quite intense or even aggressive at times, if you can keep your calm and talk to them with compassion, they will often calm down pretty quickly and you’ll see that behind that they’re really just worried about their pet. When you can reassure them that you’re there to look after the animal and you have their best interests in mind, they’ll normally come round and be a lot easier to deal with.”

Caring for wellbeing

Research has shown that veterinary professionals have a high risk of compassion fatigue and Jade finds that her own levels of compassion can ebb and flow. “I think it’s really important for me personally to keep compassion. I try and ensure that I have a good work-life balance and that I’m doing the things that I love outside of work. I try to do happy things outside of work so that my life doesn’t become consumed with sad things, particularly if I’ve had a really hard week at work and a lot of sad cases coming through. Whether it’s having a lie-in and reading a book, going out for a walk with the dogs, going for a ride on the horse and seeing my friends; I’m just trying to make sure that I love my life outside of work as much as possible.”

Jade is also highly cognisant of ensuring her team are supported. “It’s really, really important to me that I have a happy and healthy team, and as a manager that’s at the forefront of my mind. I try and encourage a good work-life balance for them as well. Everyone on my team must take their morning tea and lunch breaks every day. If they’re sick, they must rest and actually get better. There’s no guilt tripping. We always try and make cover work so that if people need to be away from work, whether that’s for a holiday, for a mental health break or physical health break, they’re able to do that. In turn, I found that just doing those small things has created a really happy team, which I’m very proud of.”


A theme that Jade strongly reiterates is teamwork. In her book, she writes: “The best vets I’ve had the privilege of working with have understood the true value of their vet nurses. They know we need each other, and that we both have our important place in veterinary practice. When we work collaboratively and with respect for one another’s value, we ensure the very best outcomes for our patients.

In practice, she tries to develop a strong collaborative culture. “We have a daily meeting at the start of every day where we talk about who’s going to be doing what on the team and how we’re going to support each other.

“In stressful situations you can forget you’re on the same team and sometimes even turn against each other, but I think my team are very good at remembering we’re all on the same team and there for the same purpose. If someone is stressed or not coping, someone else will step up and do what they can to help them out, whether it’s picking up a bit more of their load or switching roles with them.

“Just having those regular conversations about the importance of respect, kindness, treating each other well, and using those words every day, helps you subconsciously take it on. Even if you’re having a bad day, just being able to keep that in the back of your mind and look after each other helps you remember that you’re on the same team.”

Highs and lows

Jade wanted to structure her book like a day in practice, “You never know what’s around the corner and you can be high one minute and then really low the next, but then something funny might happen. I really wanted to dot the stories that way throughout the book to make sure that it was as much as a roller coaster for the reader as working in practice can be. The public don’t always understand exactly what we go through and how much every day can affect us. I hope it shows them the reality of working in a veterinary practice, the importance of the conversation around mental health and makes them a little bit more sympathetic to what veterinary teams go through.”

She warmly relates a story about her greatest satisfaction in her career, which was a recent case. “A dog came into our practice and he was probably hours away from death. He was extremely malnourished, completely emaciated, couldn’t stand, couldn’t even lift his head. All he could do was wag his tail, and my entire team jumped in to help him. I’m working primarily as a practice manager, but I also do a bit of nursing and was closely involved. We managed to nurse him back to full health over the course of about six weeks. He went from 18 kilos to 35 kilos and pretty much doubled his weight. Now he’s a happy, healthy dog and will hopefully be getting adopted soon. Seeing an animal go from literally being on death’s door – just so, so sick – to being a bouncy, happy, healthy dog, that’s definitely a career highlight for me.

“This is my first job in shelter medicine and previously I’d only worked in private practise in mostly wealthy areas, so it’s been a real change of pace for me. But it’s really special. Although some of the cases I’ve seen have been the worst of the worst, when you do get to follow through and see them get better, it’s even more rewarding than seeing a healthy owned animal.”

Jade’s advice to anybody thinking about taking up a career in veterinary nursing also acknowledges the emotional impact of the role. “Check it out and go in and see practice as much as possible. Make sure it’s the right thing for you. It is a mentally and emotionally tough job, so always put yourself first. Make sure you look after your mental health. Make sure you look after your work-life balance. Don’t ever be scared to put in place things to help yourself, because you’re going to succeed so much more in this profession if you don’t burn yourself out immediately, which is something that we do see quite often. People jump in head first and they’re just so passionate about helping animals they burn the candle at both ends and then leave the profession really quickly. So don’t be scared to let it be a slow burn. It doesn’t have to be a fast burn.”

“I’m loving helping to create better cultures and environments within our profession.”

The future of veterinary nursing

In the future, Jade would like to see veterinary nursing develop further as a career, with additional responsibilities, the title of veterinary nurse protected and vet nurses paid appropriately for their skills. “It would be really exciting to see veterinary nursing go in a similar direction to where human nursing is heading at the moment, where nurse practitioners are doing certain types of medicine in its entirety. Maybe nurses could specialise in radiography and ultrasonography, or choose to just work in oncology and cancer care.

“I feel like nurses have strong passions the exact same way that vets do, but there aren’t as many pathways for nurses to specialise at the moment. It’s not often that you’ll see a residency or internship advertised for a vet nurse the way like you do for vets, and I know there’s lots of nurses out there who would really like to continue to follow their passions. It’d be great to see our profession progress in that way.”

So, what’s next for Jade? Will there be any more books, or is practice where her heart lies? Jade shrugs and laughs: “I am really enjoying management at the moment. I’m loving helping to create better cultures and environments within our profession. That’s been really exciting for me. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to leave working with animals behind and I love that I still get to do a bit of nursing.

“But I desperately want to write another book – I’ve got so much more in my head that I want to get down. If people read my book, give me feedback and tell me what they want from future books, the more likely it will be that I can get another one out there!

“I’ve written the book in the hope that a vet nurse can buy it for their friends and family, hand it to them and say, “Read this, this is what I do,” or put it in the waiting room so clients can understand. It’d be great to spread the word about vet nursing a bit more and see the book being used as a gift in that way. Gift people the power of knowledge about what we do.”

Tales of a Vet Nurse by Jade Pengelly is published by Harper Collins and can be ordered from all good bookshops. Further details can be found through Jade’s Instagram page: @talesofavetnurse

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