Interview with Veterinary Nursing Lecturer, Nina De Franco MRCVS

Nina DeFranco large

Why did you want to become a lecturer?

Both my parents are lecturers so you could say it is in the blood! I always enjoyed finding novel ways of learning at schools; making games, memory aids, mnemonics, posters etc. My friends often asked me to assist them with topics they were struggling to revise and we came up with fun ways in which to learn the information.

Although I loved my time in practice as a vet I still had ambition to continue learning. I studied to practice veterinary acupuncture and also did the business plan, as well as running our puppy parties.

When we relocated down south I took this as an opportunity to review my current position. I thought about what I enjoyed doing and about ways to combine all my interests into one role. When I saw the lecturer position at The College of Animal Welfare (CAW) being advertised I remember getting a feeling of ‘that’s it’. I thought that this was the perfect opportunity for me to pursue my veterinary career but also to contribute to the learning of others in the field.

How did you get into lecturing?

I applied for the job when my daughter was 2 weeks old and had the interview when she was only 4 weeks old. It was the first time I had left her alone and so I am glad it paid off!

I remember receiving the brief on the interview and being given a choice of two tasks on which I had to deliver a short session during the interview. Both of these were very much veterinary nursing orientated (which makes sense given the job role!). I had a sinking feeling because, as a vet, I seldom performed these tasks. So at that point I hit the books and taught myself the theory behind these. This is when it became more evident that this is the job I wanted to do. I enjoyed learning new theory and then putting my own slant on it to try and allow a better understanding of it. I prepared as much as I could; did the interview and then got the job!

Any helpful advice for studying and applying for the role?

Try before you buy! Perhaps run some in-house training sessions at your practice, do evening seminars to clients or offer to observe lessons at a college.

You may find that your idea of what a lecturer is differs greatly to what the job actually entails – it did for me! I had the image of my old university lecturers who stood up in front of 100 vet students, delivered a long drawn out PowerPoint presentation then left.

When I sat in on a lesson at the College I saw interactive teaching, tasks, discussion and lecturer feedback. Suddenly my role as I imagined had warped into something entirely new to me.

Most Colleges will be happy to accommodate people observing and you can observe the ‘behind the scenes’ activities and start to build connections which can only help in any possible future applications.

Which programmes do you currently teach on?

I teach on the Level 3 Diploma in Veterinary Nursing course but feed into some short courses at the College too. We also deliver some online material as part of our course which I input into.

What would you describe as a typical day?

As corny as it sounds, there is no typical day. Just the same as no two students are the same then equally no class is the same, no lesson the same and no challenge the same. This job definitely brings variety. But to play along, here we go…

My day usually starts before reaching work; I receive emails from students who are going to be late/absent as well perhaps some crisis ones from staff on things that need to be completed that day.

Once I sign in at work there are usually students who need to talk to me regarding assignments, work issues and general course queries.

If I am not teaching the first session then I will ensure that the other lecturers are ok and do not need any assistance with anything such as printing material, class tests or resources for their lesson.

I log onto my computer and cast my eye over the emails already in that day. I may have some calls lined up that morning such as to students needing some guidance or to clinical coaches regarding support for their student. Once these are done then the communication needs to be documented and saved to the system.

We are in good communication with all the centres so I may receive a call from our Leeds centre regarding an issue that results in me phoning the London centre in order solve the issues.

We have quite good IT facilities and so in the afternoon I may have set up a video conference with a group of students in another centre or a student and her clinical coach in practice. I would then deliver a presentation and tutorial via this link from one of our smaller meeting rooms.

During the lunch break there will always be students with queries and I may also find myself demonstrating and assessing practical tasks for them to log such as using an endoscope or doing physiotherapy on a dog.

We also have regular 1:1 tutorials with students and these are arranged for lunchtime sessions, during which we go through their course progress, any issues and we work together to set targets in order to drive them on before the next review.

The afternoon session I could be teaching anything from the legal system and ethics to medical disorders of the endocrine system. You never know how students will take to the tasks, what questions you will get asked and what the general mood of the group will be. After lunch sessions always suffer greatly with post-prandial tiredness!

Before you step in the room with the class then all the prep work will be done; you will know your learners. Those that will struggle with calculations, those who may already have a science degree and those whose first language isn’t English. As I say, all classes are different.
You will know what tasks you will do and you will also have to plan how you will assess the students and when. I find bribery works well with this! When the lesson is finished, some more students have stayed behind to ask some queries then you return to your desk.

Whilst you’ve been away then the emails haven’t stopped. There will be practices and students to call back as well as messages internally and externally of things that need to be done.

Adaptability and organisation are pretty much essential as more work happens behind the scenes than actually standing up in front of the class.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

Students learning and teaching each other. It’s always great to overhear students whispering to each other in group quizzes: “ahh, I know this, it’s when she told us…’. Not only is it good news to hear they have been awake but more importantly than you just delivering the information to students is that you have TAUGHT them something.

What is the least favourite thing about your job?

When students do not achieve. It is difficult to see in some situations, when you are aware of all the effort and hard work that students have put into preparing for an exam that they have failed to pass. All we want is for our students to achieve. Sometimes I think we are more nervous on results day than students are! They only have one result to be nervous about; we have class worth’s! It is, however, good when you can sit down with the student and talk them through the support on offer and create an action plan to see them through their next attempt.

Have you had any unusual experiences within the role?

There is much fun to be had both in and out of the classroom. There is no knowing just what questions or comments students can come out with. Perhaps it is my Scottish accent but I remember on one occasion I advised a class that they were going to be doing ‘Pharmacology’ the following lesson. One student got ever so excited and piped up with; ‘Wow, I love farming!’

The excuses for work not being handed in or students being late can also be interesting. I once received a call from a student who advised that she was not coming into College that morning due to the fact her cat had chewed the charging cord of her SatNav and as such she had got lost coming into College!

What are the benefits of being a lecturer?

Keeping your knowledge up-to-date. When you start learning the theory behind teaching you are soon taught that the best way to learn is to teach others. I would never have envisaged comfortably delivering sessions on law and ethics, the nervous system and practical nursing task. Once you start to prepare for these sessions you soon start reading around the subject in anticipation of any awkward questions and in doing so you increase your own depth of knowledge.

The variety and autonomy within the role is also something that is not often found in other roles. Each lecturer will deliver sessions in different ways and differently to different classes. You have the freedom to do anything from dissection of a heart through to group quizzes and games.

The interaction with others within the role is also something to highlight. Within the classroom there is a wide array of previous experiences that students will bring to the class; some have been in the army for years, some have a master degree and some compete their animals at national level. It is good to have an understanding of your students and then draw from their experiences within the lessons. Working for a large organisation is also something a little different from most veterinary practices. Having the expertise of IT staff, admin staff as well being led by a senior management team really helps instil a team spirit within the staff.

Is there anything you wish you had known before hand?

There is no way to prepare for the randomness of students questions! Also just how much use a laminator can be; no true lecturer is ever without their laminator!

Any top tips for the role?

Grow a thick skin. Whether you like it or not, your work and performance will constantly be evaluated. Each term students will evaluate you as a lecturer for such things as organisation, knowledge, responsiveness and support. You will be given the feedback from each class and have to respond to the comments in order to ensure that you take note of what has been said.

You will also undergo regular observations of your teaching from peers and senior management team; not to mention awarding bodies and even OfSTED! You need to learn to take criticism but more importantly than that; take action!

What opportunities are open to you once you become a lecturer?

There is much variety within the role itself from face to face teaching, developing eLearning materials, marking exams and assignments.

Many of our lecturers become practical examiners for awarding bodies and assess students in their final exams.

You are free to input into marketing ideas, environmental issues within the College as well as coaching and mentoring other staff members newly started within the role.

There is progression within the profession and we have more senior members of the academic team as well as those developing their own areas of interests working on a PhD and other post graduate qualifications.