Protect the title ‘Veterinary Nurse’

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So what role do veterinary nurses play in the care of your pet?

Registered veterinary nurses (RVNs) have a diverse role in patient care and client support and undertake many duties under the direction of veterinary surgeons. For instance, RVNs can complete diagnostic tests such as laboratory tests and imaging (radiography, MRI and CT). Medical treatments also form a large part of our role, including administration of medicines via injection as well as orally, and intravenous fluid therapy. We are also permitted to complete minor surgery such as suturing. Taking blood samples and placing and maintaining intravenous catheters is another important part of your pet’s treatment undertaken by RVNs. We carry out vital monitoring of patients while under sedation or general anaesthetic, or in a critical state.

The title ‘veterinary nurse’ has been the subject of a petition in recent months, with efforts made to increase public awareness surrounding who veterinary nurses are and what our role involves, in terms of caring for your beloved pets. Some of you may have seen coverage by the BBC news outlining this issue, as well as the government’s decision to reject the initial petition. At present, the title ‘veterinary nurse’ is not legally protected, meaning an individual lacking the necessary education, training and qualifications may refer to him or herself as a veterinary nurse, as detailed in this Huff Post article. There is a strong feeling among veterinary professionals that this must change.

In 2007, veterinary nursing made a huge step forwards with the introduction of the register for veterinary nurses. Veterinary nurses on this register (RVNs) are fully qualified and have received the appropriate training and education approved by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to enable them to care for your pet. You can check the registers here. With this professional recognition comes the obligation to maintain their knowledge and qualification through at least 45 hours of Continuing Professional Development every three years. RVNs are accountable for their actions and must adhere to the standards laid out the Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses. Initially a voluntary scheme, the register for veterinary nurses is now underpinned by Royal Charter (as of 17 February 2015).

All of the veterinary nurses at Northwest Surgeons are Registered Veterinary Nurses. Our nurses have all undertaken years of thorough in-practice training and passed the required written and practical examinations. Some have completed this via the vocational diploma route, while others of us have undertaken a 3 or 4 year degree to achieve our status. Many of our nurses have attained additional qualifications such as certificates and diplomas in various subject areas, including emergency and critical care, anaesthesia, and nutrition.

The recent petition to protect the title ‘veterinary nurse’ has been rejected, as the government feel existing laws provide the sufficient safeguards to protect animal health and welfare while receiving veterinary treatment. The Veterinary Surgeons Act (1966) requires veterinary surgeons to oversee treatment undertaken by veterinary nurses; therefore veterinary surgeons should ensure they are satisfied with the level of the veterinary nurses’ qualification. The RCVS register is accessible to any member of the public wishing to verify that a veterinary nurse is properly qualified. However, many people are unaware of its existence, and may be unaware of the distinction between an RVN and a lay person calling him or herself a veterinary nurse. Were you admitted to hospital and cared for by a nurse, it would be reasonable to assume that person was a registered nurse, and as such sufficiently qualified to care for you. How many people would presume the same of somebody calling themselves a veterinary nurse?

A person could currently join a veterinary practice as an assistant, and learn nursing techniques over many years. Despite often having much experience and dedication, this person may not have enough understanding of the basics. If someone working as a veterinary nurse has not pursued a Veterinary Nursing degree or undertaken vocational training, gaps in their knowledge could impact the health and welfare of a patient.

There is also a concern among veterinary professionals that as animal healthcare advances, so too will the responsibilities of RVNs. This increases the importance of our level of qualification. As RVNs, we work very hard to attain and maintain our title, and protecting our title respects this. Veterinary organisations will therefore continue their campaign to increase public awareness on the matter, ultimately improving animal health and welfare. In the meantime, rest assured that all of the nurses at Northwest Surgeons are fully trained and registered, ensuring we are best placed to provide nursing care to your pet.

For more about all the great work undertaken by RVNs at Northwest Surgeons, check out our other blogs here.

This blog was written by Rachel Jackson, BSc (Hons) RVN.