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What's in a name?

by
01 September 2015, at 1:00am

PERISCOPE continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

VETERINARY nurses have always had a huge role to play in the running of a veterinary practice. A good nurse can work independently to the point where you sometimes don’t even know how much they are doing. Then, they go on holiday or move on, and you suddenly realise just how good they were.

Take those “little” jobs, like getting everything prepared for the morning’s surgical list, which we vets expect will be done to the highest of standards, simply because it always has been. And which we only really notice when there’s a hiccup in the staffing supply and we are left to contemplate that we have no idea where anything is kept and that we’ve failed to appreciate how much effort has clearly gone into keeping things running so smoothly.

OK, I have been around a while and I have worked with some excellent staff members over the years who had no formal qualifications but were excellent at the job of being a “veterinary nurse”. They had learnt their trade through observation, personal study and on the job training, and they were very, very capable.

So 20 years ago I probably wouldn’t have thought in the way that I do now about the title “Veterinary Nurse”. What’s in a name? I would have asked. It’s how you do the job that counts.

But over the years I have come to change my mind on this. I now believe that the use of the title “Veterinary Nurse” should be protected by law in the same way that our own title of “Veterinary Surgeon” is protected. To fail to take this next and obvious step would, in my view, be selling our veterinary nursing colleagues short.

You will all be aware that a new Royal Charter was granted in February of this year which clarified the role of the RCVS in regulating veterinary nurses. This created a single register of veterinary nurses and all those VNs on the register are now entitled to use the postnominals RVN. How incongruous then that the title of veterinary nurse is not yet protected in law and that anybody, yes, anybody can currently refer to themselves as a “veterinary nurse”.

So why have I personally changed my views on this? Much of it comes down to the fact that I now have firsthand experience of what it takes for someone to become an RVN, either through the diploma or the degree route.

I have seen how hard these courses are and the dedication and hard work that the students have to put in to get to the end of them. They are not a “Mickey Mouse qualification” or a “walk in the park”. Not only is there a huge quantity of academic studying to do, there is also a massive amount of on the job training.

For example, those students going down the diploma route have to fit their academic work in alongside their practice placement. So, long hours working in a veterinary clinic and then lectures/practicals to attend, either on day or block release, along with numerous written assignments and practical tasks to complete.

For the degree students there are not the long summer holidays beloved by most of the higher education student fraternity. The summers are spent working in practices, unpaid for the most part, again completing and logging a plethora of practical tasks designed to equip the students with the “day one” skills they will require when they graduate.

To complete either course is not a case of just turning up. It requires real effort and commitment and quite frankly it surprises me that so many of those who start out on the training continue right through to the end.

We are all aware that pay rates for veterinary nurses are not in the highest bracket. Sure, there will be some specialist practices in affluent parts of the country that are probably paying significantly above the average going rate, but most RVNs (just like most vets) are not going to become wealthy by following their chosen career.

Most people do it because they enjoy (love) it. For many it is a genuine calling. But the difference to the care and welfare of the patients and clients when there are trained and qualified VNs in the practice makes it almost impossible to overstate – which is reason in itself to protect and reserve the name of veterinary nurse for those who have really earnt it.

Being an RVN comes with a whole host of responsibilities too. RVNs are accountable for their actions and need to adhere to the standards set by the Veterinary Nurses Council which are to be found in the Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses. If they fail to meet these standards then they can be disciplined in much the same way as us vets.

So being called an RVN has benefits and responsibilities but these responsibilities are not shared by an unqualified lay person who, nevertheless, can call themselves a veterinary nurse if they so wish, which doesn’t seem quite fair.

With this in mind the RCVS is currently running a campaign to try to give legal meaning to the title veterinary nurse and is contacting the Government to ask them to change the law to implement this. It is asking for support from all interested parties in order to achieve this aim and by going onto the RCVS website and following the relevant links you are able to register your own support for protecting the VN title.

Veterinary nurses are all too often the unsung “heroes” of veterinary practice with the vets usually taking the kudos and accolades while the VN beavers away in the background keeping the whole ship afloat. Now is surely a good opportunity to show our appreciation for the work they do and to recognise its importance by supporting them in their desire to have their official title protected.