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The importance of being qualified

by
01 January 2016, at 12:00am

Nikki Cumberbeach is proud to have her official RVN badge but believes the profession cannot move on until all veterinary nurses are properly trained and qualified, creating a truly level playing eld where all are equal.

I AM very proud to be able to call myself a Registered Veterinary Nurse. I still remember how excited I was on my first day at college, and how I took myself to the front row in the classroom as I was determined to be a proper teacher’s pet and make the very most of this opportunity to realise my dream of being a fully qualified veterinary nurse. 

I also remember how many times during my training I had “eureka” moments where the underpinning anatomy and physiology made what I was being asked to do in practice make sense, and thinking how this knowledge was so necessary to be able to do the job properly, safely and to the best of my ability.

My veterinary nursing training wasn’t always easy – I came to nursing as a career change so I had to juggle a mortgage, get back into studying mode and writing caselogs (portfolio – arrgghh!), but it gave me an enormous sense of achievement when finally I was able to legitimately call myself a veterinary nurse. 

Although, of course as things stand at the moment I could always have legally called myself a veterinary nurse. I had known while training and working in practice that there were people who worked as veterinary nurses who were not qualified, but thought naively that they weren’t able to do all the duties that I would be able to as a qualified nurse.

I soon realised that my practice, in which my boss insisted on only having qualified nurses and student VNs, was actually in the minority at that time and as the buck stopped with the vet whatever us nurses did, it was their decision as to whom they allowed to perform nursing tasks.

Now things have moved on from when I first qualified – we are a registered profession which was an enormous step in us VNs getting recognition as a bona de profession. But the fact that “laypeople” are employed in practice doing the same VN duties as me, being on the same salary as me but it is me who can be sued and/or struck off as a RVN whereas the unqualified layperson would not have this consequence really does rankle.

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So what can we do as a profession to change this? Registration was just the first step. There is a petition running at the moment that I hope you would have heard of – to give legal protection to the professional title of “veterinary nurse”. There are a few months to run on this petition and signatures are still needed. Ask all your colleagues, family, friends and clients to sign. Go to http://petition. parliament.uk/ petitions/106153.

Legal protection of our title will go some way to help our profession but there is much more we can do. Education of our role in practice as RVNs for the public is incredibly important – clients are not always aware what the role of the VN is, let alone who is looking after their pet.

I have spoken to many clients who haven’t been aware it is the nurse that monitors anaesthetics – they thought it was another vet, so imagine how they would feel if they knew it may be an unqualified staff member? The clients ultimately pay the bills so if they lobby for RVNs to be responsible for their pets, practice owners are more likely to make sure this is the case.

Now I have worked with and know a number of people working in practice as “unqualified nurses” and I am not saying they are unable to perform the roles they fill – there can be a number of reasons they haven’t trained; a good friend of mine until recently worked at a practice for 10 years. They had always said they would enrol her to train but never did and eventually she couldn’t see a reason to train – all that extra work for no discernible benefit.

But all staff who look after pets in the way an RVN does should be qualified – until this is the case, we cannot move on as a profession. If you are an RVN you are obliged to keep your CPD up to date and therefore standards are kept up and the role of the RVN evolves and improves – and hopefully our salaries improve.

We can push for RVNs to be recognised for the benefits they bring to practice – so many of us are under- utilised in practice. I attended the London Vet Show this year and one of the lectures was about utilising your RVNs. It seemed to me practice owners are still not aware of what we can do for them, so it is up to us to push for nurse consults and we can do so much more than just flea and weight clinics.

In fact I believe that we should be working towards charging for our time as professionals – some clinics I have worked in have done this and it doesn’t always put people off the consult; in fact it can be helpful in client compliance as they are investing in your professional knowledge.

So I am still proud of my qualification and wear my badge with pride – but until practices need to employ RVNs whether they are part of the Practice Standards Scheme or not, the shortage of RVNs is addressed (pay us more and we might not be tempted to locum) and RVNs are utilised as they should be, we will always have more to strive for to improve our situation.