The Veterinary Nurse Initiative Update
The Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI), which seeks to unite the veterinary technician profession under a single veterinary nurse title, standardize credentialing requirements and define scope of practice, continues to make progress despite some challenges, including resistance from the human health nursing profession, say those who are leading the call for change.
In June 2017, the board of directors of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) announced the Veterinary Nurse Initiative Coalition to pursue legislative amendments in all 50 states.
“NAVTA seeks to unite the profession under a single title, credentialing requirements and scope of practice,” the organization notes 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 initiative was created after a 2016 survey conducted by NAVTA found that veterinary technicians are subject to low pay, compassion fatigue, burnout, lack of recognition and few opportunities for career advancement. Currently, the credentialing of veterinary technicians is regulated differently, or not at all, on a state-by-state basis. Many states do not require mandatory credentialing and some states do not recognize veterinary technicians in the practice act at all. In addition, many employers fail to recognize the value of a credentialed technician and do not use them to their full potential.
The designation would replace the current credentials registered veterinary technician (RVT), licensed veterinary technician (LVT), certified veterinary technician (CVT), and licensed veterinary medical technician (LVMT).
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 (Utah) without any credentials for veterinary technicians, says Kenichiro Yagi, MS, RVT, VTS (ECC), VTS (SAIM), and member of NAVTA’s Executive Board. “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.”
In addition to these changes, VNI would make it easier for technicians to have credentials in more than one state. It would also provide for a means of reporting fraudulent credentials. NAVTA is in this for the long haul; it expects it will take up to 10 years to implement these changes in all 50 states.
Why VNI Matters — What’s at Stake
“I believe veterinary nurses love what they do, but there are certain needs that are not being met that human beings seek — decent income, respect, recognition, proper utilization of knowledge and skills,” says Kara M. Burns, MS, M.Ed, LVT, VTS (Nutrition), VTS-H (Internal Medicine, Dentistry) and editor-in-chief of Today’s Veterinary Nurse. “Through VNI, the hope is that veterinary technicians/nurses will gain recognition and respect, their skills will be utilized at the top of their credential, and subsequently, income will be increased.”
Industry Support: Momentum Is Growing for the Veterinary Nurse Initiative
VNI received official endorsements from a number of influential industry organizations, including the Michigan Association of Veterinary Technicians, Tennessee Association of Veterinary Technicians, Ohio Veterinary Medical Association, Michigan State University, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Veterinary Innovation Council, and Ohio Veterinary Technicians Association. The Veterinary Innovation Council has also joined Banfield Pet Hospital, Royal Canin USA, and BluePearl Veterinary Partners in providing financial support to the effort.
In November 2017, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) agreed to support the initiative’s standardization goals. The AVMA-NAVTA leadership committee wrote: “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. These in turn could increase longevity within the profession, improved delegation of duties, and higher remuneration.”
One year later, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) announced its support of the initiative. “By standardizing the term ‘veterinary nurse,’ we increase consistency throughout the profession while also growing professional recognition and relevancy among pet owners,” said AAHA Chief Executive Officer Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP (Emeritus). “Ultimately, this makes our profession stronger.”
In April 2018, Purdue University changed the name of its veterinary technology degree programs to associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in veterinary nursing.
Veterinary Nurse Initiative On the Legislative Front
Legislative progress on the initiative has been slow, but that’s to be expected says Heather Prendergast, RVT, CVPM, SPHR, co-chair of the VNI. “We have people saying change isn’t happening fast enough. There are going to be some states that will be easier than others, and then there’s Utah, where vet techs aren’t in the practice act. So it’s going to be several years, absolutely. We have 50 states we have to work in; it’s not going to happen overnight. That’s OK. We’ll have long-term success.”
Initiative supporters focused their attention on bills that were introduced in Ohio and Tennessee during the 2018 legislative session. Both states already recognize credentialed technicians in their Veterinary Practice Act or Rules and Regulations. The legislation would have changed the title from Registered Veterinary Technician (in Ohio) and Licensed Veterinary Medical Technician (in Tennessee) to Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN). Both states already have high standards to become a credentialed veterinary technician (graduating from an AVMA accredited program, passing the Veterinary Technician National Exam, and meeting set state requirements), a designated scope of practice, and continuing education requirements for relicensing, so they were appropriate places for the VNI coalition to focus their legislative efforts in 2018.
In Tennessee, HB 2288/SB 2154 was introduced in January 2018, but it was never scheduled for a vote during the state’s short legislative session. The initiative had the support of the Tennessee Veterinary Technicians Association, Lincoln Memorial University, and the University of Tennessee. The Tennessee VMA took a neutral position on the title change.
“We had committee progress in the Tennessee House, but met an onslaught of [human health] nursing opposition, so we paused and will finish in the 2019 Legislature,” says Yagi.
In Ohio, HB 501 was introduced in February 2018. The state House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee voted 14-1 in favor in Spring 2018, but unfortunately, the legislature went on recess before the bill could advance. The Ohio Association of Veterinary Technicians and Ohio VMA support the initiative and the bill will likely be reintroduced in 2019, says Ken Yagi, co-leader of the VNI.
“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,” Yagi says.
The success seen in Ohio is a result of the strong agreement 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 nationwide.”
Opposition to the Veterinary Nurse Initiative
The name change is arguably the most contentious of the goals of the VNI, especially on the human medical front in the U.S. (the U.K. and Australia have been using the term veterinary nurse for many years).
Both the Tennessee and Ohio bills were opposed by the state nurses associations. Brian Burger, president of the Ohio Nurses Association, testified before the agriculture committee in late March that the title “nurse” has always been linked to the care of humans. Instead, he suggested, “Perhaps the title ‘veterinary practitioner’ would offer a solution to title confusion, without using another profession’s well-established title.” In the veterinary profession, however, the term “practitioner” means a veterinarian in practice.
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.
The NAVTA executive board itself has decided to not change the name of its organization until legislative changes have actually taken place. “We believe the VNI is a solution to several of the profession’s issues, but we also realize that legislation moves very slowly and at its own pace. We do have plans to make changes as soon as it is practical,” said Mary Berg, NAVTA immediate past president.
What Do Veterinary Nurses Say About the Veterinary Nurse Initiative?
“We are educated, skilled, credentialed individuals who are compassionate and care for pet family members,” says Burns. “Our education parallels that of human nurses. We take a national credentialing examination. We work on a veterinary healthcare team — just like the human medical team. We want the best medicine and care for your family pet. With our knowledge, skills, and credentials, we work with the veterinarian to ensure this is provided.”
“Veterinary nurses play a significant role in the health of the family pet,” echoes Pendergast. “They have a science degree that qualifies them to sit for national and state exams just like our human nursing counterparts. Veterinary nurses perform a wide function of duties in the veterinary practice, all of which is centered around providing the best nursing care possible, allowing our patients to live a happy and healthy life.”
Ginny Nystrom, president of the Tennessee Veterinary Technicians Association, wrote in a letter to members: “To quote a section of the oath we all take once we as technicians graduate: ‘I solemnly dedicate myself to aiding animals and society by providing excellent care and services for animals, by alleviating animal suffering, and promoting public health.’ Human nurses are not the only profession that carries compassion, healing, holistic approach, and the desire to alleviate suffering.”
A recent NAVTA poll found that 81% of the 4,700 responding veterinary technicians are not opposed to the term (61% in favor; 20% neutral).
“That is an astounding number,” says Burns, “but change is often difficult, especially when there are perceived obstacles. Of the 19% that favor the title veterinary technician, they have many reasons for wanting to keep that term — they fought for that term, they believe that technician aligns more closely with their roles and responsibilities, etc. And this ‘resistance’ is good! I would be more concerned if we all agreed 100%. Our discussions over the proper term will truly make the profession stronger. What we need to remember is that the initiative is more than a name change. The initiative is fighting for the respect, recognition, and reimbursement for veterinary nurses. So NAVTA, as the association representing the profession, has listened and made the decision to move forward.”
Read Heather Prendergast’s and Ken Yagi’s A Call to Action.