As a likely future employer of graduates of Polytechnic University's (PolyU) planned BSc in veterinary nursing, Dr Jane Gray is quick to commend the introduction of the programme and to highlight the range of career options such training will lead to.
'The new course is a great step forward,' said the chief veterinary surgeon at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Hong Kong. 'It provides the opportunity for a very high standard of training; the SPCA is fully supportive of this initiative.'
At present, Gray, pictured, said the society employed 30-plus veterinary nurses in its nine local centres. Their responsibilities include everything from dispensing drugs, preparing for operations and monitoring anaesthetics, to lab work, X-rays, ultrasound and blood smears. There are also extensive administrative duties that include liaising with clients, stock control, ordering drugs, and tackling the paperwork and management issues that go with running a clinic.
'They are very important, providing the link and, together with the vets, [being] the vital backbone of the work we do,' Gray said.
She added that there had been formal in-house training for nurses since 1999. This enables them to do a better job in the community. Nowadays, there is increasing demand to conduct public workshops on pet care and weight management, and to upgrade the general level of client education in other areas.
At one level, that can mean showing how to give a pill to a dog or explaining the key steps and likely outcome of a complicated operation.
At another, it can involve training people to work as inspectors in animal care, instructing kennel staff in matters of disease control, or telling lay staff what is expected of a volunteer.
With the SPCA, there is also chance to work with the mobile unit that specialises in de-sexing pets and on the management of cat colonies. Cruelty cases are still a necessary consideration.
'That is why we firmly believe it is very important to have fully trained veterinary nurses,' Gray said. 'We base our structure on qualifications and skills, so there is a career and people can move up.'
She noted that future holders of PolyU's degree, who had the academic background and practical skills, would potentially have greater career choices. They may go into education as full-time trainers or lecturers. There are likely to be openings in the drug and diet industries. Opportunities will crop up regularly in welfare and outreach work, locally and on the mainland, with organisations such as the Animals Asia Foundation. And expertise will always be needed in the day-to-day care of exotic animals kept at Ocean Park and Kadoorie Farm.
Gray pointed out that the SPCA always welcomed volunteers keen to gain hands-on experience of working with animals. Applicants should be 16 or older and would learn about the 'nitty gritty' of animal husbandry, initially as kennel keepers and dog walkers.