Jill Macdonald, DipAVN (Surgical) RVN FHEA
VN Futures Project Lead and STEM Ambassador

In my role as VN Futures Lead for the RCVS I also managed the School Ambassadors project, alongside the School Ambassadors Development Group and lead ambassador, Tina Leake. Having coordinated and seen this work coming together over the past 2+ years, I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved – including the network of veterinary nurses we now have coming forward to register as ambassadors.

As part of my role, I also registered as an ambassador with STEM Learning, as I wanted to contribute to the cause, and be able to experience the scheme from an ambassador’s perspective.

I was asked to do a short online session outlining what it means to be a veterinary nurse, and then provide the students with a project to complete over the day.

Making a STEM offer

How did I find this opportunity? Through STEM Learning. As a registered ambassador I was able to ‘make an offer’ and was then contacted by the school to provide the session. I’ve also been contacted by two other schools from this one offer.
It’s really easy to do, as STEM provides an account with your STEM registration, enabling you to access a variety of resources, and the STEM network of ambassadors and careers advisors. You simply log in and go to your dashboard, and within the left-hand menu you can select ‘offers’ and ‘make an offer’ and then outline what you would be willing to do as an activity. I left mine broad so that it would invite contact.

You can also browse other people’s requests on STEM Learning and contact people you would be willing to help – it really is a very useful tool.


As with most things, planning is key. I arranged a Teams chat with the school careers advisor so that I could be clear about the students’ needs for the session, what they hoped to gain, and the level they were expected to work at. I also asked if there were any students with specific educational needs, and whether any of the students may be sensitive to any particular topics. The session remit was to meet the needs for ‘work experience’ for Year 10 students who had an interest in working in the animal care sector. I asked the advisor if any students had selected ‘veterinary nursing’ and must admit that I wasn’t surprised that none of them had. It’s one of the very reasons we want to perform this ambassadorial work – not enough students are aware of veterinary nursing as a career option, and what it means to be a vet nurse.

Presentation on veterinary nursing

I didn’t want to just talk at the students, and incorporated questions and invited interaction in my session – but it didn’t quite go to plan! I had added in questions such as ‘tell me about you – what area of animal care are you interested in?’, and ‘what do you think a veterinary nurse is?’, and ‘what do you think the best and most challenging things about veterinary nursing might be?’; but be prepared for students to be a little backward in coming forward! Be understanding – many young people feel self-conscious or are not confident to speak out, and if this happens, just help them out and fill in the gaps where needed.

Wordle cloud graphic heart shape with Veterinary nursing related words

The project

I was a little daunted by organising a project at first, as I had never set a project for school-age children before – but I came up with an idea and discussed this with the teacher beforehand to be sure it was at the right level and would hit the mark.
My idea was for them to create information for a client thinking about getting a puppy – from breed specific issues, owner lifestyle and situation, vaccination, nutrition, preventative healthcare, maintenance and veterinary costs, insurance, neutering, behaviour and training and grooming. This would help them to understand the healthcare needs of a dog, and the role that the veterinary healthcare team plays in this journey. I also wanted them to consider where they were gathering their information from (and the validity of that information), language used to communicate the messages, and use of images and/or diagrams. I created them a document to help guide their project and then talked them through it before I left them for the day to work on it.

Feedback to students

After a slow start during the interactive session, I was a little nervous about how they would engage with the project, but I needn’t have worried as they did an amazing job! They had worked in pairs and threes over the day, and each group had created their own PowerPoint presentation, which were all unique in their approach and the information they contained. They presented these to me via the Teams meeting, which worked well.
During feedback I highlighted things they had done well, and then added in additional snippets of information to help build on that which they had sourced. Be assured that the topic of the health and welfare issues suffered by brachycephalic breeds came up more than once! They all seemed really pleased with their achievements, and it felt really positive that they were going away from the session with far more knowledge on general dog care than they had come into it with.

What did I gain?

I found this an incredibly rewarding experience. Talking positively and frankly about a profession you love gives you a feeling of pride and validation. I also didn’t skirt around the difficult issues – that wouldn’t be fair. As well as all the wonderful elements of veterinary nursing we talked about some of the tricky stuff – the emotional pressures, including the financial challenges that accompany veterinary healthcare decisions; the often long hours, and the level of commitment to training and maintenance of your professional status. The questions that they asked really gave me an opportunity to open up some of these issues.

I was very pleased with the feedback the tutor gave me (via an online link, which we will share with ambassadors soon too). She felt the work was at the right level and really encouraged them to engage and learn something new – what could be better?!

I will share a copy of my presentation and the project that was set within the ambassadors resources section on the VN Futures website, so that you can take some ideas from this if you wish to. Good luck with your next careers activity – and I am sure you will take away as much from it as I did.

If you are interested in becoming a VN School Ambassador and are not yet registered, then you can find out more and register here. If you are already registered and would like further help or support, then please contact Jill on jill@vnfutures.org.uk.

Dog owner, dog and a vet