A Global Perspective on Veterinary Nursing
All around the world, members of the veterinary nurse profession are increasingly connected by shared concerns, challenges, and successes. There are also some differences, particularly in credentialing. Generally, however, there is one shared goal—elevating the profession—that unites those who are passionate about their work. Many veterinary nurses and organizations across the globe seek to work collaboratively in standardizing credentialing and addressing the challenges facing veterinary nurses.
International Veterinary Nurses and Technician Association
Founded in 1991, the International Veterinary Nurses and Technician Association (IVNTA) aims to increase global cooperation among national veterinary technician and nurse organizations. The IVNTA has largely focused on gathering information regarding the state of the profession and created opportunities in sharing this information so progress can be better made in each respective country.
Current State of the Profession
When asked about the current state of the profession from a global perspective, Virginia Thomas, secretary general to the IVNTA, commented that “veterinary nurses and technicians are now in a phase of maturation and professionalization as countries worldwide are instigating compulsory or voluntary registration of the profession as national associations gain more credibility and authority.” The permanent member countries of IVNTA are Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States; affiliate member countries include Japan, Malta, Nepal, Norway, Pakistan, Spain, and Turkey.
In the numerous countries where the veterinary nursing and technology role within veterinary medicine has been defined or developed, qualifications involve obtaining a diploma or degree by following and completing an educational curriculum. In addition, veterinary nurses or technicians in some states and countries must pass a standardized examination to obtain certification or licensure. Credentialing of veterinary nurses can be described by 3 different categories:
- No credentialing—the state, province, or country has no regulatory oversight
- Voluntary credentialing—private organizations have created voluntary credentials that are not required to practice
- Compulsory credentialing—a governmental agency requires credentials to be obtained in order to practice as a veterinary nurse or technician
Of IVNTA member countries, the United Kingdom and Ireland are countries that have standardized national compulsory credentialing in order to obtain the title Registered Veterinary Nurse, though other countries are working toward establishing standardized credentials.
Challenges in the Profession
An international panel at the 2017 Ireland Veterinary Nurses Association Conference, which addressed the profession from different perspectives around the world, discussed the challenges facing the profession: low wages, high attrition, shortage of experienced staff (including shortage of credentialed staff in countries where this is not a legal requirement), underutilization, lack of opportunity for specialization, and barriers to legal recognition of veterinary nurses and technicians. These challenges are consistent with the findings of the demographics survey conducted by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) in 2016.
Despite the challenges faced by the profession around the world, progress is being made.
“The overall state of the VN profession is that we are in some ways behind human nursing (if you’re going to make that comparison), but in many ways, we are making faster leaps and bounds to catch up to them,” says Nimisha Patel, student council advisor to the British Veterinary Nursing Association. “A lot of people in the public still do not recognize who we are and what we do for animals, and so a lot more public awareness campaigning is needed. This is usually achieved through our Vet Nurse Awareness Month, but also throughout the year through client education and public education.”
Initiatives Around the World
Various efforts are being made by national associations to help resolve and overcome professional challenges.
In Australia, the Australian Veterinary Nurses and Technicians Registration Scheme has been developed by the Veterinary Nurses Council of Australia (VNCA). It raises the minimum standards and brings consistency to education, improves standards of practice, brings professional recognition, provides better animal health and welfare, safeguards public health, and better aligns with international standards.
The Registered Veterinary Technologists and Technicians of Canada, in addition to strengthening the Registered Veterinary Technician profession through advocacy, has established the National RVT Career Ladder Task Force to “develop a national document identifying a broad pathway for long-term RVT career progression specifically identifying skills, experience, and personal contribution”.
In the UK, the VN Futures project is a joint initiative between the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Nursing Association that aims to take charge of the profession’s future. It has set 6 goals: create a sustainable workforce, develop structured and rewarding career paths, support wellbeing, take a proactive role in one’s health, maximize the nurses’ potential, and define a clarified and bolstered role for the veterinary nurse.
In the US, NAVTA launched the National Credential Initiative in 2015, which was renamed the Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI) in May of 2017. The goals of the VNI include standardizing credential requirements, defining scope of practice, and establishing title protection under the title “Registered Veterinary Nurse.”
The Great Profession
Regardless of the country we reside in and the paths that are being taken to combat challenges, there is one commonality: The profession of veterinary nursing and technology is considered a career and way of life in which compassionate, educated, skillful individuals play a vital role in the veterinary team to provide nursing care and serve as patient advocates to lead an animal to healing. With groups of professional associations coming together to share ideas and resources through connections such as the IVNTA, there will only be success in our future.