The Veterinary Nurse Initiative

By Graham Garrison
June, 2018
A movement is underway to unite the profession under a single title, credentialing requirements and scope of practice for a key position at veterinary clinics

A title or designation is meant to bring clarity. Something to highlight a degree or credential earned. Something to help define and communicate a role within a profession, and within organizations.

However, clarity has been lacking for many years in the role of the veterinary technician, not to mention the title itself. For starters, the title “veterinary technician” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different veterinary clinics in a lot of different states. Educational requirements vary. Responsibilities vary. Even the titles given to the professionals themselves vary.

“Our profession is fragmented,” wrote Lynn Johnson-Harris, RVT, in an Editor’s Note to Today’s Veterinary Nurse readers (Note: Today’s Veterinary Nurse is a sister publication of Veterinary Advantage, part of NAVC Media). “We have credentialed veterinary technicians; veterinary technicians who have been formally trained but are not required to become credentialed per their state practice act; veterinary technicians trained by their employer who are veterinary assistants (unless they are grandfathered); certified veterinary assistants; and veterinary assistants trained in practice. That’s way too many categories. Is there another profession that splits itself so many ways? I can’t think of one.”

An industry-wide effort is underway to untangle the mess and bring clarity to a critical position in veterinary clinics.

Untangling the mess
In June 2017, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America’s (NAVTA) Board of Directors announced the formation of the Veterinary Nurse Initiative Coalition to pursue legislative amendments in the 50 states. Among its goals: (1) to establish the credential of Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN); and (2) to substitute the title of Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) for the several other title designations currently being used. 

“NAVTA seeks to unite the profession under a single title, credentialing requirements and scope of practice,” the organization said on its website. “Through the standardization and public awareness of the credential, the profession will make strides towards better recognition, mobility and elevated practice standards, leading to better patient care and consumer protection.”

The scope of practice for the profession is “quite variable,” says Kenichiro Yagi, MS, RVT, VTS (ECC), VTS (SAIM), and member of NAVTA’s Executive Board. The credentials used are split between several designations:

  • Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT)
  • Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT)
  • Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT)
  • Licensed Veterinary Medical Technician (LVMT) 

Figuring out which states use what credentialing process is even more confusing.

Currently, there are 39 states that have the profession regulated by the state veterinary medical board, 10 states that are privately credentialed, and 1 state without any credentials for veterinary technicians, says Yagi. “The entry educational requirement is standardized to the candidate being an AVMA accredited program graduate that has passed the VTNE (national exam), though some states allow for alternate routes to qualifying to sit the exam. CE requirements for maintenance of the credential are established in the vast majority of states, though the number of hours is variable.”

Yagi says the process of standardization of the credential “will bring higher standards to states with a better-defined scope of practice that will push all individuals qualifying for the credential to meet standards that lead to better patient care.”

Why the designation matters
The change in title to Veterinary Nurse was proposed for several reasons. According to NATVA, the term “technician” implies an individual that has mastered the science and technology involved with the profession. The term “veterinary nurse” will incorporate the art of caring for animal patients from a whole picture perspective in addition to the science and technology.

“Globally, the people who serve the role of veterinary technicians are more commonly called veterinary nurses, as their status as medical professionals is solidified and supported by their government,” NAVTA explains on its website.

“In addition, standardization with a title easily recognizable to the public aids in public awareness of our role. In human medicine, the term ‘nurse’ is widely recognized to describe a group of medical professionals working in collaboration with physicians to treat a patient. The term ‘veterinary nurse’ will in turn have similar association in the public’s eyes.” 

Johnson says she always described what she did to clients as doing the same skills as those of a nurse. “We are jacks of all trades and in many instances, have specialized in a certain discipline, such as anesthesia/analgesia, nutrition, rehab or one of 10 other specialties,” she says. “From the client perspective, it better defines our skills with regards to their pet’s care. Everyone knows what a nurse can do. I am hoping with this change, that we will get the same recognition.” 

Johnson says there is a need to clarify the difference between someone that is called a “veterinary technician,” who might not be credentialed, from those that are credentialed. “Would you want to be anesthetized by someone hired and trained off the street being call a veterinary technician or would you prefer to have a ‘nurse’ perform anesthesia? The pet parent would want to know the same. Veterinary practitioners need to support the initiative to help educate clients on what we are trained and credentialed to do. The efforts for the VNI will need continued support from the veterinary community to transition and increase client awareness.”

The Veterinary Nurse designation should also change what is expected of individuals with the title, leading to better public awareness of the need for educated individuals to care for their pets, says Yagi. “This will create a demand for veterinary practices to hire qualified team members to provide the patient care. The inherent respect in the veterinary nurse designation could also attract a larger pool of individuals to enter the field, leading to a better supply of qualified individuals and access to veterinary care. A team of Registered Veterinary Nurses will drive veterinarians to better leverage their professional staffs and optimize care for pets along the lines of the human healthcare model.”

Yagi says the RVN will be able to perform tasks that are written in the veterinary practice act and regulated through the veterinary medical board, “which makes the task of regulating the scope of practice still fall on each state board,” he says. “The VNI will be working with each state to help standardize around the nation.”

Industry support
The Veterinary Nurse Initiative Coalition’s goal is to work with organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Veterinary State Boards, industry and professional veterinary organizations and legislators to create common terminology, policies and procedures to ease the burden on individual states and associations in governing credentials.

The AVMA is backing the campaign to standardize the credentials, scope of practice, and title for U.S. veterinary technicians. But the Association remains neutral on a campaign goal that the title should be “registered veterinary nurse.”

The AVMA Board of Directors voted in November 2017 to support the initiative’s standardization goals. An AVMA-NAVTA leadership committee, in its recommendation for that vote, wrote that inconsistent state application requirements, oversight, and regulations can hamper veterinary technicians’ ability to change jobs, hold back their profession’s development, and confuse even veterinary professionals.

“Changing to one national standard and title could increase mobility, understanding and recognition of roles and responsibilities within the veterinary medical team and community, and increased public understanding of the role that veterinary technicians play in human and animal health,” the recommendation states. “These in turn could increase longevity within the profession, improved delegation of duties, and higher remuneration.”

Several other industry organizations have voiced their support, including Patterson Veterinary and Midmark Corporation. In October 2017, Banfield Pet Hospital, Royal Canin USA and BluePearl Veterinary Partners – all members of Mars Inc. – announced support for the Veterinary Nurse Initiative. Banfield’s endorsement of the VNI builds upon programs already in place to support licensed, credentialed veterinary technicians, including a Penn Foster tuition reimbursement program for aspiring technicians, a practice paid Vet Girl subscription, reimbursement for licensing credentials and practice-paid membership to NAVTA, according to a release.

“We are passionate about the incredible work that veterinary technicians do and are committed to investing in them. For Banfield, that includes supporting initiatives that raise awareness about the unique training and skill set these professionals have,” said Daniel Aja, DVM, Chief Medical Officer, Banfield Pet Hospital. “We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our Banfield associates about this effort, which solidified our decision to support it.”       

In February of this year, the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine endorsed the VNI. “The credential of registered veterinary nurse is understood by the public and would significantly improve the awareness and recognition of the highly valuable skills these professionals bring to the veterinary team,” said Purdue’s veterinary college dean, Willie Reed, DVM, Ph.D., DACVP, DACPV. “Now is the time to work toward adoption of a single credential, state by state.” The Veterinary Nurse Initiative also won another academic supporter in February with an endorsement by the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine and the university’s Veterinary Medical Technology Program. The Lincoln Memorial position statement was signed by Jason Johnson, DVM, MS, DACT, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Elizabeth Burchette Thompson, DVM, dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences, which operates the veterinary technician program.

Debate over the nurse title
Some pushback to changing the title from veterinary technician to veterinary nurse has come from the human health side. For instance, the Tennessee Nursing Association (TNA) opposed proposed legislation that would change the veterinary licensing classification from veterinary technician to registered veterinary nurse.

“TNA believes the title registered nurse has always been linked to the provision of care of humans,” the organization said in its Spring 2018 newsletter. “TNA believes the Registered Veterinary Nurse initiative would undermine the title ‘nurse.’”

Yagi says that he and Heather Prendergast, RVT, CVPM, co-chairs of the National Credential Task Force, have sought out input from the nurses on the human side to gain a better understanding of their reservations. “What struck us the hardest was that nurses had very little knowledge of the level of education obtained and the work performed by the veterinary technicians,” he says. “How could we blame them?”

“Technicians” in the human medical world do not have extensive education and practice in a very narrow area, so the same assumption was made, Yagi says. “The exact same assumption the public makes regarding veterinary technicians. We have had several touch points with the national associations, and also are engaged with state associations through the legislative process.

“With the principle arguments against the creation of the credential title of Veterinary Nurse from human nurses coming from the above assumption, we continue to help clarify the extent in which we are involved with veterinary medicine,” Yagi continues. “Through these efforts, there are many nurses that agree with the title change. We will continue to engage in dialogue with the nurse to reach a better understanding that we both share the same level of expectations of ourselves as professionals and the compassion for our patients; we just work on different species.”

Moving forward
The initiative has determined a couple of states to focus its resources in for the 2018 legislative cycle, Yagi says. For instance, bills have been introduced in Ohio and Tennessee. “We had committee progress in the Tennessee House, but met an onslaught of nursing opposition so we paused and will finish in the 2019 Legislature. In Ohio, the bill has seen an overwhelmingly positive vote of 16-1 through the House committee and will continue to be moved through the legislative pathway.”

The success seen in Ohio is a result of great alignment between the state veterinary technician association, veterinary medical association, and the Veterinary Nurse Initiative, says Yagi. “With the full support of the Association of Veterinary Technicians and Ohio Veterinary Medical Association, we are becoming better seasoned in legislative activism, especially in regard to the topic of the Veterinary Nurse title which we will be able to apply nation-wide.”

Benefits of veterinary nurses
Clarification of the credentialing process and title for veterinary nurses could benefit your veterinary clinics customers in several ways.

Clarity. Pet owners will have a better understanding of the role of the veterinary nurse.

Time. Veterinary nurses may be able to perform more routine procedures and services, freeing up the veterinarian’s time for either more in-depth procedures, or even consultations with clients.

Upward mobility. An AVMA-NAVTA leadership committee, in its recommendation for that vote, wrote that inconsistent state application requirements, oversight, and regulations can hamper veterinary technicians’ ability to change jobs, and hold back their profession’s development.

One element that will probably remain the same is how purchasing decisions within a clinic are made. Lynn Johnson-Harris, RVT, says she doesn’t think the veterinary nurse designation would make a huge impact on buying decisions. “Most veterinary technicians/nurses involved in inventory management will consult with the decision maker before a purchase is made. The change in the title, in my opinion won’t change the process unless the change is initiated by the decision maker.”

Nurse vs. Technician
Why should a veterinary technician be called a nurse? Aren’t the two different?

The responsibilities and job tasks of a veterinary technician have evolved over time, and are inaccurately described by the term “technician”, implying a definition of our identity based on technical tasks. 

A proposed title change to Registered Veterinary Nurse is not a proposal to be called a nurse.  The term “veterinary nurse” will incorporate the art of caring for patients from a patient-centered perspective in addition to the science and technology. 

The veterinary technician community has fought long and hard for the current level of recognition, and the human nursing community has fought long and hard for their recognition. We are two different professions with differing scopes of work. However, we are united by our medical knowledge and our care of our patients. Our distinction – we treat animals, and therefore the term veterinary nurse demonstrates where we focus our care and attention. 

Source: From NAVTA’s Veterinary Nurse Frequently Asked Questions webpage

Topics: Cover Story, veterinary technicians, Veterinary Nurse


Subscribe to Email Updates