BAS, CVTg, RVTg, FFCP (Elite)
Caitlin is a military spouse of 8 years to an active duty Marine and has recently returned from living overseas in Okinawa, Japan. She has worked diligently to obtain her Veterinary Assisting Certificate and AAS in Veterinary Technology from Pima Medical Institute, BAS in Veterinary Nursing from St. Petersburg College, and will be graduating with her MS in Veterinary Medical Sciences from the University of Florida in 2024. Caitlin presently works as a credentialed veterinary nurse/technologist at the South Tampa Veterinary Emergency Group and Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo & Friends in Walt Disney World Orlando.
Updated July 2023Read Articles Written by Caitlin Murphy
The profession of veterinary nursing is constantly developing in countries around the world. Japan is one country where pushes have recently been made for the advancement of the role of the veterinary nurse. Taking a moment to evaluate what it means to be a veterinary nurse in a particular country can allow veterinary professionals around the world to learn and better understand the different ways in which the role of the veterinary nurse can fit into the broader field of veterinary care.
In an attempt to improve the available medical care for all animal species, veterinarians in Japan have recognized the need to advance their greatest weapon: the veterinary nurse. Similar to the United States, Japan experienced a large demand for medically trained caregivers in veterinary hospitals during the 1980s.1 This led to the creation of many vocational and degree-based programs to train such professionals.1 As of today, the most common roles seen in Japanese veterinary facilities are the veterinarian, the veterinary nurse (direct translation: “animal nurse”), the veterinary nurse assistant, and the receptionist—depending on the clinic’s location and needs.1,2
There are currently no license or training requirements for any veterinary staff other than the DVM.2,3 However, similar to efforts in the United States, the Japanese Veterinary Nursing Association is fighting to change and elevate those standards in order to advance the profession of veterinary nursing as a whole.1 As Japanese veterinarian Dr. Keiko Sugimoto said, “I believe we should try to make the importance of veterinary nurses as professionals more widely known in society.”1
The Role of the Veterinary Nurse in Japan
The first vocational veterinary nursing programs in Japan were created in the 1980s, required 2 years of study, and offered graduates the opportunity to become privately certified after passing the Japan Small Animal Veterinary Association’s board exam.1 In 2006, Japan established its first 4-year veterinary nursing and technology program at the Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University.1 Currently, there are no laws defining or allowing the practice of veterinary nursing in Japan.1,2 This means that no employee of any veterinary facility, besides the veterinarian, can take part in administering any veterinary care, no matter their certification.1,3 Therefore, common daily practices for veterinary nurses in Japan include the restraint of animals, record keeping, radiography, patient monitoring, lab work, oral and hand feeding, replacement of IV fluids, as well as other non–healthcare-related maintenance such as anal gland expression, toenail trims, and ear cleanings.1,2 Meanwhile, the veterinary nurse assistant role primarily encompasses those same tasks on a developmental or progressively learning level.2
Duties that credentialed veterinary technicians and technologists in the United States are used to performing which are strictly limited to the DVM credential in Japan include blood draws, tooth extraction, bandage placement, suturing, catheter placement, induction of anesthesia, administration of medications, and the administration of fluids.1-3 However, Professor Shigenori Ikemoto, president of Nippon Veterinary and Life Science University, shares, “In order to resolve these points and to elevate veterinary nursing [in Japan] to a position in the limelight, there is no alternative to pursuing a strategy of establishing a legal system for [the] veterinary nursing profession.”1
Issues Facing Veterinary Nurses in Japan
Veterinary nurses in Japan face similar issues to those in the United States, including low wages, unstable positions, overbearing workloads, and lack of recognition.1,2 Depending on experience, certification, and location within each prefecture, veterinary nurses earn an average hourly wage of ¥2284.80 (USD$15.98).4 This equivalates to an average annual salary of ¥ 3,601,333 to ¥ 5,691,652 (USD$25,188.73 to USD$39,809.00).4 Because of these issues as well as the lack of maturity of the role in the industry in Japan, it is most common for veterinary nurses to be uncertified and have been trained on the job by veterinarians or other veterinary nurses.1,2
Additionally, there is currently no ability for certified veterinary nurses to become specialized in a certain area of veterinary medicine, such as obtaining an American Veterinary Technician Specialist credential or Japanese equivalent as it does not yet exist in Japan.2 However, veterinary nurses can work in a range of facilities, including rehabilitation centers, emergency rooms, racetracks, and zoos.2
Differences for Veterinary Nurses in Japan Versus Those in the West
Client Perspectives and Requests
One area that many veterinary workers in the United States may not be used to, which can add a layer of complexity to Westerners working as veterinary professionals in Japan, is cultural differences between Eastern and Western perspectives from clients.2 While some pet owners may see treatment options as an agreeable way to care for their pet, others may see those same treatment options as a way of obstructing the natural order of the world.2 For example, some clients would rather see their pet pass naturally no matter the added hardships of the condition rather than considering euthanasia, which many in Western cultures see as an act to limit suffering.2
Veterinary Professional Attire
In Japan, it is common for all support staff to wear clothing similar to scrubs that are uniform in color and are cut in a style similar to the U.K.’s veterinary nurse uniform.2 The most popular colors chosen are light pink for women and light blue for men.2 Meanwhile, DVMs are typically seen in business attire along with a white lab coat for exams and scrubs for surgery.2
Preventive Health Care
The typical surgeries scheduled most often in Japan are identical to those in the United States, including spays and neuters with dental care procedures on the rise.2 The most frequent patients seen in small animal facilities in Japan are cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets, and birds.2
The area of greatest concern regarding the health care of all species, including humans, in Japan pertains to the rabies vaccine. It is vital that all domestic animals are vaccinated for rabies annually because the entire nation of Japan is rabies-free.2 This subject is particularly sensitive in the prefecture of Okinawa, which has a large United States military population as well as an endangered species of bat that is easily susceptible to the viral disease.2
A common veterinary faux pas in Japan is the large misconception and lack of desire for heartworm prevention due to the belief that Australia is rumored heartworm-free.2 This is, in fact, false and has no known origin of where the idea came from. From what most Japanese veterinary professionals understand, despite their efforts in client education, the myth is primarily based on the geographical proximity between the two countries.2
As individual countries continue to develop and refine the role of the veterinary nurse, it is important to consider the evolution of the role elsewhere around the world. Support, education, and shared understanding of value, despite title, can help elevate the perception of this chosen career.
- Ohta M, Hara D, Kojima Y, et al. Animal Care – Role of Animal Hospitals and Veterinary Nurse. Workshop presented at: International Conference on Animal Care; December 12-13, 2009; Kobe, Japan. Accessed June 22, 2023. https://knots.or.jp/npo/animalcare/english/workshop/workshop5e.htm
- Seki J. Interview, In-Person: The Perspective of Veterinary Nursing in Japan. Wolves Hands Hospital, Okinawa, Japan. September 24, 2021.
- Nishimura R. Veterinary Eligibility and Education in Japan. Asian Association of Veterinary Schools. Accessed January 4, 2022. https://aavs.jpn.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/8_Report-from-Japan-AAVS-2018-1.pdf
- Salary, Japan, Tokyo, Veterinary Nurse. Updated June 22, 2023. Accessed June 22, 2023. https://www.salaryexpert.com/salary/job/veterinary-nurse/japan/tokyo