The Big Debate: Veterinary Technician VS Nurse

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Technician.  Nurse. Certified.  Licensed. Whichever title your clinic chooses to call them, the fact remains that these members of your veterinary team are indispensable.  You and your patients shouldn’t care what their title is, or should you? The Veterinary Nurse Initiative thinks so. This coalition is focusing their energy to change the title of all credentialed employees to veterinary nurses rather than technicians.  Couple this name change with the standardization of credentials for these team members and the NVI has some major changes in store for this profession. But how do their counterparts in the human medicine world feel about it?

Why the Need For Change?

The NVI isn’t just looking to brand the veterinary technician profession with a catchy new name, instead they are looking to standardize the title, credentialing requirements, and scope of practice making it easier for clients and veterinarians alike to know exactly what they are getting when employing the services of a veterinary nurse.  As it sits right now the United States has four different titles for these team members- Registered Veterinary Technician, Licensed Veterinary Technician, Certified Veterinary Technician, and Licensed Veterinary Medical Technician.

Not only are the titles different, the routes to attain these credentials are different as well. Some states require completion of an AVMA accredited course and then passing the Veterinary Technician National Exam.  Other states only require passing the exam after a duration of hands-on experience. Still other states offer alternate routes depending on the individual. One state, Utah, doesn’t require any credentialing whatsoever.

A little confusing, don’t you think?  Let’s continue onto the scope of practice then.  Currently 12 states in our country don’t line out the specific duties that credentialed veterinary technicians can perform.  While all technicians are legally supposed to be overseen by a veterinarian, some may be placing catheters and giving vaccinations while others are simply animal restraint professionals.  Without set duties outlined for them, these team members may be underutilized by veterinarians or be operating in a legal gray area that I think we all want to avoid.

The NVI argues that by standardizing the title, credentialing process, and scope of practice we can make clients more comfortable with these team members’ roles in the treatment of their animals.  It will also make it easier for credentials to cross state lines so that a move doesn’t require going back to school or a complete shakeup of employee duties for these credentialed team members. Standardizing credentials and scope of practice can be a veterinarian’s or practice manager’s best friend as well when it comes to hiring new employees. 

A Name is Just a Name

If you ask most RN’s they’ll tell you that there’s more to a nurse than just a name.  They have worked hard to ensure that for over 100 years the title of nurse has carried the utmost credibility and trust.  To earn this distinguished title, these candidates have undergone rigorous coursework and mastered numerous technical skills.  On top of all that, they also possess boundless compassion for the patients that they serve. The act of another profession trying to adopt this title is not something to be taken lightly, and many nursing associations, including the American Nurses Association aren’t.  In fact, the title “nurse” is in one way or another protected in many states. While most of these states aren’t specific that the title nurse applies to human medicine only, I think in many people’s minds it absolutely does.

With the stronghold and strong feelings that RNs hold for the title nurse, why is the VNI seeking to adopt it into the veterinary profession?  Obviously, the title nurse brings lots of trust and esteem, probably why nurses have consistently topped the Gallup poll for most ethical professions.  It’s not that the VNI wants veterinary technicians to ride the coattails of RN’s reputations; rather they want to shed some positive light in the public’s eyes on the profession by correlating their two skillsets.  The title technician implies that these individuals have mastered the science and technical skills that the job require but doesn’t give justice to the caring and compassion that they possess for their patients as well.

The Steps the VNI Are Taking

A complete revamp of the system isn’t going to happen overnight, even without the opposition that the VNI is facing.  The coalition started by dipping its toes in the water in two states, Ohio and Tennessee. These states were chosen because they both have clearly defined scope of practice and credentialing requirements.  The only amendment to the veterinary practice acts would be to change the title to a registered veterinary nurse. Legislation has been met with severe opposition from state nursing associations and the bills have failed to advance. 

There is currently a bill going through the senate in Ohio, and the VNI is working with the veterinary medical boards in Georgia and Indiana to pursue the change.  The VNI is hoping that Ohio will serve as the model for other states to follow on this issue. Kenichiro Yagi, co-chair of the VNI, has stated that the VNI has not yet set its plan for 2020. 

Credentialed veterinary technicians in favor of this name change are hopeful that RNs will become less opposed when they learn more about the profession.  Veterinary technicians have to undergo similar coursework and hands-on training as RNs do. They also work to uphold honest and ethical treatment of their patients and are compassionate and submerged in what they do.

Powerhouses like Banfield Pet Hospitals, Royal Canin Pet Food, and BluePearl Veterinary Partners have all sponsored the actions of the VNI and the American Animal Hospital Association and American Veterinary Medical Association have given their endorsements to further their cause.

What For Now?

Until legislature passes in your state, it’s best to refrain from using the term veterinary nurse for the team members in your practice.  Instead refer to them by their credentials whether that be licensed, certified, or registered veterinary technician and don’t refer to un-credentialed employees as techs.  You should also utilize your technician’s skills and ability to care for patients. Educate your clients on the value of these team members and let them demonstrate their compassion and skills with your patients.

Many veterinarians are in support of this name change and an even greater number that are in favor of the standardization of credentials and scope of practice.  However, there are some out there that are more concerned about enforcing the use of the title. This means they fear that the term veterinary nurse will be inappropriately applied to those lacking credentials.  Even though it may be cumbersome to use in your daily work life, it’s important to always refer to your team members by the title that they have earned through their training and experience. Not only does this empower them, it also let’s clients have a better idea of who’s hands they are entrusting with the care of their animals.

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