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Summer 2020, Personal/Professional Development

The Road to Veterinary Nursing

Renaming veterinary technology programs to veterinary nursing programs is a major step for the VNI and the profession.

Kathy KoarCVT, MEd

Kathy is the Program Director for Veterinary Nursing at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Kenichiro YagiMS, RVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)

Ken has spent nearly 20 years in practice. He obtained his VTS certification in emergency and critical care, as well as small animal internal medicine, and earned his master’s degree in Veterinary Science. He served as ICU Manager and Blood Bank Manager at Adobe Animal Hospital until 2018, and is now Program Director for the RECOVER CPR Initiative and simulation lab manager of the Park Veterinary Innovation Laboratory at Cornell University. He co-chairs the Veterinary Nurse Initiative and serves as a board member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians, and the Veterinary Innovation Council.

The Road to Veterinary Nursing

Gina is a licensed CVT in the state of Pennsylvania, and has been employed as a veterinary nurse in a busy veterinary emergency room for 10 years. One day, when Gina went to the waiting area to triage an incoming patient, the client asked her if she was a doctor. She replied that she was the veterinary nurse. The client asked several questions about how one becomes a veterinary nurse. Gina explained the process and suggested a website that the client could visit to get more information. The client replied, “Oh, it’s not for me, I am too old. But I have a young friend who is too smart to be a vet tech, but she could be a veterinary nurse.”

As a veterinary technician educator for more than 20 years, stories such as this one are common to me. The frustration created by lack of public awareness is real, and I discuss it often with the students in my classes. It starts the moment that they decide to apply to school and major in veterinary technology. Although the AVMA has been accrediting veterinary technology programs since 1972, the public is still largely unaware of our profession. Over and over we try to explain to well-meaning strangers, friends, and relatives what it is we are studying, or what it is that we do for a living. In the end, frustration wins the day, and we just tell them we are nurses for animals.

When NAVTA announced the Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI) in 2017, I knew that this was indeed the way forward. From the perspective of an educator, the VNI addresses some of the largest problems faced by students hoping to enter the profession of veterinary medicine as veterinary nurses, and it also brings fresh energy and excitement to our AVMA-accredited programs of study. As many have pointed out, the word “technology” was never really an accurate description of the work we do. That has never been more true than today. Over the last 5 decades, technology has taken on a much different definition than it had in 1972. Today’s young people think of technology in the terms in which Google defines it—the application of tools, materials, and knowledge to solve problems and extend human capabilities. They describe a technician as someone who works with computers, or someone who fixes machines.

As many have pointed out, the word ‘technology’ was never really an accurate description of the work we do. That has never been more true than today.

But when I recruit students for my program, I am looking for people who want to provide medical care for animals. I am looking for people who want to educate and comfort clients, and advance the quality of life for animals through education, legislation, and medical advancement. The students who meet these criteria are not drawn to the name “veterinary technology;” they are drawn to veterinary nursing. It has occurred to me more and more in recent years that one possible reason we struggle to keep veterinary technicians in the field today is that we are not attracting the right people in the first place.

In January of 2019, Harcum College’s veterinary technology program became the second in the country to change its name to “Veterinary Nursing” in response to the VNI. This has been an incredibly positive change for the college, but even more so for the students. The students understand the goals of the VNI—to standardize licensing requirements, to standardize scope of practice, and to unite the members of our profession nationally under a single title. They understand that all of these things are important and can lead to better care for our animal patients, better salaries, easier movement from state to state for work, more respect in the professional space, and better public awareness. But it is the proposed title, and the dream that one day it will be their title, that has propelled them forward and injected new energy into every aspect of what we teach and what we do. Registered Veterinary Nurse, or RVN, is the title that NAVTA is promoting. This is the title that most accurately describes the goals of our current curriculum. When our students put on their scrubs, throw their stethoscopes around their necks, and stuff bandage scissors and a fine-point Sharpie in oversized pockets to head out on their clinical rotations, this is who they are. It is a title that reflects their passion. It is a title that the public understands. It is a title used around the world. In short, it is a title that fills them with pride.

In January of 2019, Harcum College’s veterinary technology program became the second in the country to change its name to ‘Veterinary Nursing’ in response to the VNI. This has been an incredibly positive change for the college, but even more so for the students.

I believe that meaningful change within our profession needs to start in our veterinary technology and veterinary nursing programs, of which there are now 5.
I believe that we are creating meaningful change. The change is palpable and has taken on a life of its own at Harcum College. Not only has the name change attracted students who are excited about and dedicated to veterinary medicine, it has attracted partnering veterinary practices that support the change and are eager to support the education of our students. To be honest, I feel it myself every time I proudly tell someone that I am the program director for the Harcum College Veterinary Nursing Program. We are going in the right direction. It may take a while to get there, but it will be worth the trip.

Ken’s Commentary

Since the launch of the Veterinary Nurse Initiative, several veterinary nursing programs that issue degrees in veterinary nursing have emerged, starting with Purdue University. The students of veterinary nursing programs are our profession’s future. As the number of households with pets being treated as family members increase and society becomes more conscious of the health care they receive, the individuals with the desire to serve as their veterinary nurses also have increased. The prevailing message we hear from those involved in a veterinary nursing program is that the program name change more accurately describes the educational program they are receiving.

Educators considering similar changes should reach out to those who have made such a change. There are procedures in place that can vary depending on the institution to which the program belongs. A relevant question to ask may be whether your students and prospective students would like to see the change. If the program exists for them, should they have a voice?

Of the several programs that have changed their program and degree name, some have started to graduate the first group of students with veterinary nursing degrees and there are veterinary medical boards that have received licensure applications. In these cases, these applicants have seen some delays in the application process but have ended up being granted the license as veterinary medical boards experience these applicants for the first time. As a result, this situation serves as an example in which thought leaders within the educator community are leading changes in the field and the future of the profession.