British Vet Techs Don’t Get Enough Credit

What do veterinary nurses do exactly? Pet owners are not sure.

Assisting a veterinarian during surgery is just one of the many roles of a veterinary technician.

Janine Swiatkowski

Attention, British pet owners. Those scrub-wearing employees running around the hospital and doing just about everything are called veterinary nurses, and they play a very important role.

The British Veterinary Association, in a survey of practitioners, reported that more than 50 percent of pet owners do not understand what registered veterinary nurses do. From the veterinarian’s perspective, the two chief responsibilities of a veterinary nurse—known in the States as a veterinary technician—are to monitor patients during anesthesia and fulfill the medical needs of in-patients.

Julie Legred, CVT, executive director of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, said those are only two tasks in a long list of crucial duties.

“The technician does so much more,” Legred said. “We are the surgical assistants, the medicine givers, the radiology techs, the anesthesiologists, the dieticians, the educators, the parasitologists, the lab techs, the nurse, the behaviorists, the grief counselors, the phlebotomists, the groomers, the dental hygienist, the OSHA experts, the inventory specialists, the pharmacist, the shoulder to cry on, the mediator. And I can go on and on.”

British veterinary regulators want to raise the profile of nurses and protect their status by safeguarding the title registered veterinary nurse (RVN). The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons last summer launched a petition drive aimed at preventing unqualified people from claiming to be veterinary nurses—something they can do today.

The organization, which registers British veterinarians and veterinary nurses, was thwarted in January when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) declined to push for a policy change.

“While it recognized the important role that veterinary nurses have in animal care, it did not recommend that Parliament give the title legal protection,” the college stated. “However, Defra has agreed to work with the RCVS … and find new ways of bolstering the veterinary nursing profession.”

The misunderstanding about the role of veterinary nurses isn’t limited to Britain, Legred said. U.S. pet owners, she said, “generally do not know what a veterinary technician is.”

“They recognize the doctor and think that he or she is the only one that provides care to their pet,” she said. “They think of us as the person that weighs the dog or ushers them in a room or goes over the go-home instructions.

“I don’t believe they know there is a difference between us, the veterinary assistant or the receptionist. We all kind of blend in to them.”

Legred suggested that veterinarians do a better job of introducing the staff.

“Most practices just go about their duties and don’t take time to educate [a client] on what qualifications their staff has,” she said. “Technicians have gone to school and passed boards. The clients are under the impression that the doctor does everything, even dentals, lab work, radiographs, anesthesia, nursing care.”

Liz Cox, chairwoman of the RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council, said British nurses may need to speak up.

“Good veterinary nursing can make a huge difference to the outcome and experience for both the animal and the client,” Cox said. “We do [a] great job and we need to tell the public.”

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