Q&A with the NAVTA

Veterinary Practice News sits down with the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America to discuss the future of veterinary technicians

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CVT, LVT, RVT, LVMT. In all but three states—Hawaii, New Hampshire and Utah—credentialed veterinary technicians insert one of the four titles after their name.

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America is looking at replacing the alphabet soup of acronyms with nationwide credentialing requirements and the easily comprehended designation “veterinary nurse,” or VN.

Veterinary nurse is a title used around the world, a fact not lost on NAVTA leaders.

Veterinary Practice News met with NAVTA executive director Julie Legred, CVT—a certified veterinary technician from Minnesota—and three other leaders to discuss the proposal and other issues facing U.S. vet techs.

Veterinary Practice News: Why veterinary nurse? 

Legred: It’s hard for the public, the client, to understand what we are. If you explain, “I’m an LVT” and that client moves into a different state and meets a CVT, they don’t understand. How can we gain recognition when it is so inconsistent?

NAVTA state representative chairman Kenichiro Yagi, RVT, VTS: Depending on the state you’re in, there are different practice acts that regulate technicians differently. Some states have private governance instead of governmental regulation, and some states have no regulation at all. And so when that happens in the states that don’t have the regulation, there’s no quality check for people practicing as veterinary technicians. In states that have highly regulated, highly standardized methods of credentialing, veterinarians would be able to see value in credentialing and then be able to justify the wage they will be paying these professionals to perform the set tasks. By standardizing the credential requirement nationally, we should be able to raise the bar, gaining better recognition for the profession.

Give an example of a privately governed state. 

NAVTA President and Colorado resident Rebecca Rose, CVT: Colorado is self-governing. The Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians oversees membership and maintains credentials.

How else is Colorado different? 

Rose: Credentialing isn’t mandatory, but the irony is when you look at other self-governing bodies, Colorado’s association has the largest membership.

Legred: Minnesota is non-mandatory, too. The state VMA oversees our certification.

So no mandatory training in Colorado and Minnesota for a veterinary technician. 

Rose: Right, and this comes back to practice management. In those veterinary hospitals, if you have a manager who understands the titling and education, they would only hire people who have graduated from an AVMA-accredited program and have taken and passed the national exam. Noncredentialed team members shouldn’t be called veterinary technicians. They should be veterinary assistants or technician aides.

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Have NAVTA members said they want a single title and a national credential? 

Yagi: We had a leadership conference that all of the state association leaders were invited to. I remember Julie asking everyone, “Is this something we want to pursue?” I felt a unanimous “yes” in that room. Beyond that, recently we put out a survey to vet tech leaders and some veterinary technicians. We surveyed about 100 people. A majority—97 percent—said, “We want a nationally standardized credentialing requirement.” And then, with the title veterinary nurse, 75 percent said yes. We have a demographic survey that’s out that will survey the entire field.

What do veterinarians think of the idea? 

Legred: It’s been positive, very positive.

Rose: NAVTA leadership was invited to attend the AVMA leadership conference. I was overjoyed with the positive support from the veterinarians I spoke with. I’d say, “I’m a veterinary technician,” and they would instantly say: “We are so glad you are here. You’re doing fabulous things. We are going to support you in what you are doing.” And then they would tell me how to do it within their state—“If you want this to happen, you go speak with this legislator.” So there’s a lot of education we have to do on our side.

How can such an enormous task—creating a veterinary nurse title and nationwide credentialing—be accomplished? 

Legred: We’re still testing those waters.

Rose: It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s five to 10 years out.

NAVTA Editor-in-Chief Heather Prendergast, RVT, CVPM: We need the buy-in of the American Veterinary Medical Association to help us make the recommendations within the states.

Do you foresee a gradual rollout? 

Legred: Yes, this will be a gradual rollout as we work with individual states. A great place to start is in states that are currently nonmandatory.

Prendergast: And then we have to look at all the individual states’ practice acts. When somebody wants to change a practice act, it is brought before the state veterinary association, and most often the state legislature. Each board has input. We would like to recommend a model practice act that would use the terminology that would be most appropriate for all states.

What are common reasons you’re hearing for why you should not do this? 

Prendergast: That we can’t, that it’s impossible. There’s also a lot of fear out there that nurses in human medicine will want their title protected.

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Rose: Traditionally that was one of the biggest objections—that human nurses wanted to protect the name. And now, as we’re doing more research, we’re finding we have more support than we originally thought. One of our next strategies is working with the nursing associations to get the buy-in from everybody.

Yagi: There’s a lot of collaboration between the veterinary field and the human medical field these days. I think there’s a lot more open-mindedness to what a nurse is and what a veterinary nurse might be.

Legred: To take it a step further, there’s another argument that veterinary technicians do more than nurses. So why would we want to change our title to nurse? Through the public’s eye that’s hard to explain.

Prendergast: A key driving point is public perception about what we do and all of the professional training that most consumers don’t know about.

Might there be changes on the academic end? If you have national standards, won’t the curriculum have to change in certain places? 

Rose: Potentially. As this profession evolves, yes, I absolutely see that long term there are going to be changes.

Prendergast: Right now, even with the two-year curriculum for somebody to become a veterinary technician, people are saying, “That curriculum is so intense,” and then technologists have four years. So we already have a platform of two-year degrees and four-year degrees. So that’s one of the first questions I always get, “Well, is this going to make it a four-year degree?” Possibly. We don’t know yet.

Let’s change the subject. What are some current issues facing veterinary technicians? What would they like to see changed? 

Prendergast: Their salary. And appreciation, recognition, public awareness.

Rose: Salary, salary, salary was what they said for a long time. And then in the last NAVTA survey it was leveraging. With salary right behind.

Past surveys showed turnover as a top concern, often because of the wage issue. 

Prendergast: Pay is important, and we know that our retention rate is only about seven years.

So you have veterinary technicians saying, “It’s not worth it. I have to find something else to do.” 

Rose: They can’t support their families. If they were married and they had a spouse, hopefully the spouse is the breadwinner because they would never be able to carry the family.

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Do changes start with the practice owner? 

Rose: Well-managed practices are going to leverage their technicians. They’re probably going to have open-book management. They’re going to talk about how we make the money and where the money comes from and how we work together as a team to keep the doors open.

Prendergast: And they have better consumer education.

Compassion fatigue is another issue cited in surveys. What are some solutions? 

Rose: This has to be a conversation of the team. This is a conversation that must—and I rarely use that word—must be conducted within veterinary hospitals. Compassion fatigue is probably one of the biggest reasons why people leave, even though they’re going to say it’s because of the salaries and wages. Turnover is costly. It’s very costly. It’s stressful to the team. It comes back to having a management group that knows and understands. When you nurture and grow and are committed to the team, you’re going to have less turnover. Those pets are going to get the best pet care. Those clients are going to see consistently the same team members.

Where do you work, Kenichiro? 

Yagi: At Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos, Calif. It’s a large practice—30 doctors, staff of 150. My department is about 25 people. Our technicians take care of the patients, the inpatients, while the veterinarian checks in with us to ask about our assessment, what we’ve done. Together we devise a plan and the technicians implement it. We feel very utilized.

Prendergast: Hearing about the longevity and loyalty that the Adobe team has is simply amazing. What they’re doing is cultivating and growing their teams. There are well-managed practices, and Ken lives and breathes in one of them.

Yagi: I still get to enjoy being out at conferences, speaking on topics and sharing with everyone else what we’ve done, how we implemented the evidence-based guidelines for CPR. Our open-hospital policy, where owners are able to come back with their pets, to be present for procedures and such, makes them feel more comfortable and trust us. We need to be able to show them that we are professionals.

Originally published in the June 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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