Veterinarians and veterinary technicians (licensed/certified/registered) are bound by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Principles of Veterinary Ethics but also by the licenses they hold. Technicians are likely only governed by the practice act of the state they work in. Veterinarians are governed by their state’s practice act too, but also by other miscellaneous licenses or agencies (i.e. DEA, FDA, USDA certification). With so many layers of regulation, it can be hard to remain compliant, especially when one may conflict with another.
As a veterinarian or veterinary technician, you are charged with the responsibility of providing appropriate medical care for your animal patients but also for serving the public or whoever owns the animal patient. One must always act legally and ethically in both regards. This is why it is so important that you know what your state practice act dictates and what positions your state board has taken in its rulings.
State Board Breakdown
The structure of each veterinary medical examiners board differs by state. The veterinary practice act of each state is different too. Each state board is composed differently but, generally, has multiple veterinarians serving. At least one member of the public likely serves too. Some states, like South Carolina, include a licensed veterinary technician on the board. The responsibilities of the administrative staff vary by state. In some states, boards act more independently while in other states the board is under the auspice of an umbrella state agency.
The state veterinary examining boards are charged with the responsibility of protecting the public and have been legislatively designed to do so. This is the area of regulatory law (as opposed to civil law or criminal law). This means the board has the jurisdiction and oversight to regulate licensees. The board grants licenses, manages continuing education, deals with issues of unlicensed practice, addresses complaints against licensees and handles any other matters related to the work performed by licensed veterinarians and veterinary technicians. In some states, veterinary facilities are also regulated under the practice act (i.e. standards for sanitation, record keeping, etc).
Complaints against a licensee can come from any number of sources. Most obvious is the licensee’s client, but it could come from other people inside the industry, such as a colleague or staff member. More obscure yet, an individual watching a marketing video on your social media site could potentially file a complaint out of expressed concern around the video content. Once a complaint is filed, there is a specific process that is followed. The process may vary from state to state but is going to involve investigators, attorneys, etc.
The Practice Act
The Practice Act is the law that state legislators put in place. The board then serves to ensure that licensees are working within the scope of that act. There are many rules and regulations the board uses to make such determinations. The board is always under the advisement of a council. Realizing not all licensees serve the public directly, they are not immune from complying with the regulations that govern their license. For example, one may work in a research facility or other industry position. Requirements for continuing education and the care of any animals they handle are still relevant.
In addition to reviewing your practice act online, you are encouraged to contact your board if you have questions. Your board may have a “FAQ’s section” or other resources on its website. The board administrator and staff should be able to guide you too. They can help you if you seek clarification or assistance in your desire to be compliant with regulations. Your regulatory board is not something to be fearful of but rather to appreciate and respect. It is protecting the reputation of your profession, protecting the public and offering you many useful resources for training and education.
I would encourage you to take a day and attend a board meeting. The public is welcome and you will be amazed at what you learn. If you want to go “all in,” you could volunteer to serve on your state regulatory board. After all, the board is made up of mostly licensees so it cannot exist without professionals such as yourself taking the time to serve. The opportunity to give back to the community in this way is very rewarding and humbling.
Visit the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) website at aavsb.org. The AAVSB is a huge resource center for boards and licensees alike. It even manages the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) and the Registry of Approved Continuing Education (RACE).
For a quick link to your board’s website, check out the AVMA’s comprehensive list here.