Posted October 19, 2017

By Jolynne Judge, MA, LVT

Judge Joylnne
​By Jolynne Judge, MA, LVT

I received my Michigan License Renewal Notice for my veterinary technician license this week. While I don’t usually think much of this biannual occurrence, it didn’t escape my notice that this one ushered in National Veterinary Technician Week. It made me pause and reflect. This will be the 18th time I’ve renewed my license to practice as a licensed veterinary technician in the State of Michigan. To be absolutely accurate, it is the 16th time to renew as a “licensed veterinary technician.” My first two licenses carry the title of “licensed animal health technician,” as that is what we were called when I entered the profession. Please don’t do the math. Just trust me when I say that is a very long time with many changes in the profession along the way.

Having worked at MSU my entire career, I have been fortunate to see first-hand the advances in veterinary technology. While many of the changes in the profession have been positive (there are now fifteen specialty academies!), there are still many longstanding concerns. In 2016, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) demographic survey showed that the most significant problems for credentialed veterinary technicians are low income, compassion fatigue, lack of recognition and career advancement, underutilization of skills, and competition with individuals trained on-the-job. What is so disheartening is that these findings are essentially the same as those of surveys done in 2007 and 2012, respectively. Longevity in the veterinary technology profession remains on average, 5–7 years and out.

One of the first changes I experienced at the professional level was when “Licensed Animal Health Technician” became “Licensed Veterinary Technician.” Once again, the veterinary technician profession is at the cusp of a major title change. The members of NAVTA have voted to pursue legislative processes to establish the credential of Registered Veterinary Nurse (RVN) in all states. This is a change I whole-heartedly support. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details of this initiative. (More detailed information about the veterinary nurse Initiative can be found on NAVTA’s Veterinary Nurse FAQ page.) It is in the best interest of everyone in the veterinary profession to become informed on this topic.

Why do I support this a unified registered veterinary nurse credential? To me, it makes sense on so many levels:  

  • “Veterinary nurse” is language that our clients understand; it better identifies the level of compassion, knowledge, and skill veterinary nurses contribute to the veterinary health care team.
  • The title veterinary nurse brings a different level of understanding within the veterinary field that will lead to better use of veterinary nurses to improve the overall productivity of practices.
  • Better use of veterinary nurses using the full range of their skills will lead to greater career satisfaction, which means lower turnover rates. Better use can increase the number of clients served, which leads to increased profitability by making more productive use of the veterinarian’s time.

The veterinary profession is in crisis. We see the story with increasing frequency at professional conferences, in professional publications, and on social media. These stressors range from the demands of the profession to an unmanageable debt-to-income ratio, compassion fatigue, and sadly, the tragedy of suicide. Veterinary technicians leave the profession. Veterinarians leave life. The attrition of veterinary technicians from the profession creates a revolving door and a constant fluctuation of experienced individuals on the health care team. The loss contributes stress to an already stressed profession.

Will this re-titled credential change any of this? The potential is there, but I think the answer is, “It depends.”

It depends on whether the veterinary profession is willing to embrace a ‘paradigm shift’ in how we frame the practice model. To recognize the value that veterinary nurses bring to the veterinary health care team and use the full range of capabilities we bring to the profession.

It depends on whether veterinary technicians will acknowledge that our veterinary technology profession is all grown up.  

We need to embrace the fact that we now need to engage with the veterinary profession at a level that we have not yet done—to no longer think of, or introduce ourselves as, “just a technician,” but to say, “I am the veterinary nurse.” We need to promote ourselves and practice as knowledgeable, skilled, and compassionate professionals within the veterinary profession and the public we serve.