You may have heard that the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Board of Directors voted to support the Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI) during their 2018 fall meeting. And, in 2018, the VNI attempted to establish the title of “veterinary nurse” as a recognized name for technicians in two states. The first bill failed in Tennessee, and a second is mired in political scandal in Ohio. Overall, it seems the VNI is not off to a great start.
I wanted to write an article on the VNI because I thought I knew where I stood on the issue… until recently.
I was sitting with a friend, enjoying one of the last sunny days on a patio in late autumn, the warm tea and sunshine perfectly combating the slight nip of the air. We were discussing the VNI, and I figured it was a no-brainer. My clinic had used the term veterinary nurse for years, and veterinary nurses perform as many or more responsibilities as human nurses do each day. We should all be on the VNI bandwagon, shouldn’t we?
Nurse vs. technician: terminology matters
My friend reminded me that in our state of Colorado, the term “nurse” is a protected title and is restricted to people who are licensed according to the state’s nursing act.
According to the American Nurses Association, this “is a protection for the public against unethical, unscrupulous, and incompetent practitioners. Nurse practice acts describe entry-level qualifications, such as education, practice standards, and code of conduct for continued privilege to practice nursing.”
During our conversation, my friend also mentioned that human nurses must hold a degree in their field, are responsible for the lives of human patients, and work under their personal license (not the license of a doctor, like vet techs do). Veterinary technicians, on the other hand, can have a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree, and some have no degree at all. Some have passed the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE), and some states require additional state exams (if you’re credentialed). Some states don’t require any continuing education to maintain your license, while some require 10 hours a year or more.
Imagine: A veterinarian walks into your practice to apply for a job. His resume says he’s a high school graduate—no bachelor’s, no doctorate. He explains that in his home country, let’s call it Wonderland, as long as people can pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE), they aren’t required to have a degree. How would you feel about hiring this doctor to work in your practice? How would your other doctors feel about this person being hired on to do the same job they studied more than eight years to do?
Can you see how human nurses might feel protective of their title?
Standardizing veterinary technicians
The discussion with my friend and my research since have inspired a change in my opinion on this debate. The VNI is focused on the wrong part of the initiative. Instead of focusing on gaining the term “veterinary nurse” in a few states that don’t currently protect that title, there are a multitude of changes to standardize veterinary technicians across the country that must take place before we can truly be recognized and respected in the same way our human counterparts are. Here are five of those necessary changes:
#1: Technicians need to be held to a higher standard
Now that we offer associate’s degrees for technician assistants, we need to hold our technicians to a higher standard. All previous techs can apply to be grandfathered into the new policy or to complete their remaining schooling, but all future technicians should complete a four-year program to become credentialed. We can’t hope to understand veterinary medicine on a deeper level—and be respected more—after completing the same degree as our technician assistants.
#2: There should be more focus on passing the VTNE
This process starts with attending vet tech programs that have high pass rates for the exam. With so many new schools being accredited by the AVMA every year, there are many options for each student in every state. Too many students graduate from tech programs and never become credentialed by passing the VTNE. We must do better.
#3: Technicians need to be held accountable
Once technicians pass the VTNE and are credentialed, they need to bear more responsibility for the medicine they practice. If a tech makes a mistake and causes injury to a patient, it should be that tech’s license on the line, not the license of the “supervising” doctor.
#4: Technicians should be appropriately compensated
More knowledge, more student debt, and more responsibility should garner a higher pay range. According to a study by the AVMA, a well-leveraged credentialed technician can earn a practice $93,000 on average each year. In Denver, Colorado, the average cost of living is $40,772. According to Indeed, the average technician position in Denver pays $16.40 per hour (roughly $34,000 per year before taxes). Our technicians need to be making $25 per hour or more to afford to live in Denver. Appropriately leveraging our technicians increases job satisfaction as well as the clinic’s bottom line. Let’s focus on leveraging our technicians better so that we can pay them what they deserve!
#5: Uncredentialed employees should not be called technicians
Now, before the internet blows up over this comment, please hear me out. I have worked alongside some phenomenally intelligent uncredentialed technicians whom I would trust with my own fur child in any scenario. However, I invested in my education, I passed the VTNE, and I earned my CVT with my time and talent. In the same way that “nurse” is a protected title in 39 states across the country, we should hold our title with pride as well.
In the end, it doesn’t matter if we’re all veterinary nurses, CVTs, LVTs, or RVTs. Only when we standardize our requirements, hold ourselves accountable, and wear our title with pride will we earn recognition for our accomplishments from our clients and the rest of the veterinary community.
Katie is a CVT, wife, mother, manager, and adventurous chef. When she’s not working at VSS (or being a mom – work in progress), she’s hiking, traveling, reading, or trying out a new hobby to see if it will stick.