UP vet nurse alumnus passes prestigious USA National Veterinary Technician Exam

Posted on April 08, 2019

University of Pretoria (UP) alumnus Ezette Coetzee, who has a Diploma in Veterinary Nursing from UP’s Faculty of Veterinary Science, is believed to be the first South African to write and pass the prestigious National Veterinary Technician Exam (NVTE) in the United States.

The exam is generally known as the boarding exam and most state and provincial agencies use it to evaluate the competency of entry-level veterinary technicians. She passed the exam on her first attempt, after being  accepted for the NVTE in North Dakota through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards in 2017. She now has a license to practise as a veterinary nurse in the state of North Dakota.

“After working in North Dakota in 2014 I discovered my love and compassion for animals,” she said. Coetzee worked at the Keller Broken Heart Ranch in North Dakota as an exchange student with Dwight and Susan Keller and their three children. “This experience changed me for the better. Dr Susan Keller is an amazing veterinarian and very loving, caring, passionate and kind but also humble towards animals and people.” It was here that she was inspired to study to become a veterinary nurse.

According to Coetzee, Dr Keller, a state veterinarian, saw her ambition and compassion for animals and taught her life and animal-orientated skills. “I think the biggest thing the doctor taught me was to be patient. Nothing happens overnight. She taught me lots about caring skills, working with cattle and taking care of calves, how and where to give injections, feeding the animals, and what to look for in sick animals.”

Coetzee, who completed her Diploma in Veterinary Nursing in 2017, suffered setbacks during 2018 before writing the NVTE exam. On her return from her visit to the USA in 2018, she was diagnosed with an extra-large atrial septum defect, which led to open heart surgery, during which specialist surgeons built a septum using a pericardium patch. “The day the doctor diagnosed me was the worst day ever; it was a big shock, and I was not sure how to handle it. The only reason my doctor  picked the murmur up is because my heart was so enlarged that my valves started leaking.” She had surgery and was in intensive care for three days.

Then she was involved in a horrific accident, which she miraculously survived. She later managed to write and pass her boarding exam, which has made her thankful for her achievements. “God has a plan for everyone, even for me and he saved me more than once last year. We do not always understand or agree with things happening in the moment, but if you look back you are thankful that you were not the one in control.” 

Before and after her surgery, she worked as a locum veterinary nurse at the Bult Animal Clinic in Potchefstroom, followed by three months as a locum at UP’s Onderstepoort Veterinary Academic Hospital, in the Intensive Care Unit as day and night sister. She said being a veterinary nurse entails  “taking care of the hospital and the animals  after hours, assisting with emergencies, helping and teaching the students, and making sure everything and everyone is alive and well the next day.”

She described her veterinary nursing studies at UP as “an amazing experience, and I am proud to say that I have learned from the best. The role of veterinary nurses in a clinic or hospital is so important. We are the go-between in every aspect. I’ll even say that the vet is the head, but we as nurses are the rest of the body. In my experience, clinics struggle without nurses. We are both the left and right hand of the vet. If you are looking for a missing link in a veterinary clinic, look for the nurse.”

Coetzee said veterinary nursing is hard work, “but if your heart is in what you do, it’s amazing. You can have the most stubborn owners (of animals) but they will always come back and say thank you.”


- Author Faculty of Veterinary Science

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