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RCVS surveys offer insights into veterinary and veterinary nursing professions

Results have already been incorporated into the five-year Strategic Plan and will continue to feed into RCVS' work

14 February 2020, at 2:00pm

The RCVS has published the results of its latest professions-wide surveys, conducted with veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses last year.

All members of the respective professions were invited to take part in the surveys – including the non-practising and overseas-practising veterinary surgeon members – which asked a wide variety of questions on demographics, work status, type of work undertaken, type of organisation worked for, wellbeing, views on the professions, continuing professional development (CPD) and views on the RCVS. This is the seventh time such a survey has been undertaken for veterinary surgeons and the fifth time for veterinary nurses.

The response rate for the survey for veterinary surgeons was (including partial completes) 42.6 percent, while the response rate for veterinary nurses (also including partial completes) was 44.3 percent. The College has produced a series of infographics illustrating some of the key statistics, which can be found alongside the full reports at RCVS‘ website.

In terms of the survey of veterinary surgeons results, some of the key trends and results were:

  • An increasingly diverse profession – this was particularly evident in terms of nationality, with almost one-quarter of respondents having qualified in a non-UK EU country, but also in terms of black and minority ethnic respondents, who made up 3.5 percent of respondents in 2019 as opposed to 2 percent in 2010 – a small but significant increase.
  • An overwhelming majority (79 percent) of those working in the profession intend to stay within it for the foreseeable future, while 11.5 percent intend to retire at some point over the next five years, and just 9.5 percent intend to leave the profession at some point over the same period for reasons other than retirement.
  • The percentage of men who work part time (14 percent) has increased considerably since 2006, when it stood at 5 percent; the average age of women working part time is 44, compared to 59 for men.
  • Corporatisation – some 35.5 percent of respondents working in clinical practice worked in a practice that was corporate-owned, with another 6.4 percent working in an independent practice with some shared centralised functions and 4.6 percent working in a joint venture with a corporate group. This compares to 41.6 percent who worked in fully independent, stand-alone practices.
  • A more feminine profession – male respondents had a significantly higher average age (51) than female respondents (40) with the survey showing that graduates from the past 10 years were overwhelmingly female and that men will be retiring from the profession in greater numbers than women for the foreseeable future.
  • In terms of social mobility, of recent qualifiers (2016 onwards) who lived entirely or mainly in the UK while growing up, 59 percent have a parent/guardian with a degree, 75 percent went to state schools and 15 percent lived in household that at some point received income support; these percentages compare favourably with broadly comparable groups of medical students and doctors in postgraduate training.
  • The most frequently-cited work-related benefits reported by veterinary surgeon respondents were paid time off for training/CPD, financial support for training/CPD, RCVS retention fees paid whole or in part, and professional indemnity insurance. For example, 64.7 percent of respondents had their retention fees paid for them by their employer whole or in part – this compares to 48.9 percent of respondents in 2014 and 39 percent in 2010.
  • Changes in type of work – the number of veterinary surgeons working in dedicated small animal practices had risen since the 2010 survey (45.8 percent in 2010 to 52.6 percent in 2019) with an accompanying decline of members of the profession working in mixed practices in the same time period (22.1 percent in 2010 and 11.7 percent in 2019 ). The survey also saw an increase in the proportion of respondents working in referral/consultancy practices, with 6.4 percent in 2019, compared to 3.7 percent in 2010.

Respondents were also given the opportunity to give a “free-text” answer on their concerns about the future of the profession. Some of the themes identified by respondents included:

  • Concern over workforce supply, with some respondents feeling that newly-qualified veterinary surgeons had unrealistic expectations of working life and therefore needed additional support from more experienced colleagues.
  • A lack of work-life balance, with a need for employers to give further consideration to flexible hours, out-of-hours shifts, and workload as this was identified by respondents as having an impact on health, particularly mental health.
  • Concern over increasing corporatisation and the impact that this could have on patient care, the professional development of younger veterinary surgeons and small veterinary businesses.

In terms of the results of the veterinary nurse survey, some of the key trends and results were:

  • Clinics and expertise – an increasing proportion of respondent veterinary nurses (some 80.3 percent) were participating in clinics compared to previous years. Examples of clinics include parasite control, weight management and nail clipping. Furthermore, 91.9 percent of respondents considered themselves to have “expertise” in at least one area of their role with anaesthesia, parasite control, nail-clipping and weight management being the most commonly-cited examples. In 2014, only 70 percent of respondents believed they had expertise in at least one area.
  • In terms of social mobility, of those veterinary nurses who lived entirely or mainly in the UK while growing up, 21.3 percent have one or more degree-educated parents or guardians, 93.5 percent went to state schools, 19.8 percent lived in households that at some point received income support, and 17.5 percent received free school meals. This means that the VN profession is relatively accessible.
  • Some 72 percent of respondents plan to stay in the VN profession for more than five years, 3.2 percent plan to retire at some point over the same period, and 24.8 percent (compared to 15.4 percent in 2014 and 22.6 percent in 2010) plan to leave at some point over the next five years for reasons other than retirement. For those planning to leave, the top two reasons for doing so are the same as in 2014 and 2010: pay, chosen by 77.3 percent, and not feeling rewarded/valued (non-financial), chosen by 59.8 percent.
  • The three most commonly-cited workplace benefits received by veterinary nurse respondents are paid time off for training/CPD (77.4 percent), RCVS retention fees paid in whole or part (74.3 percent) and financial support for training/CPD (69.7 percent). In 2014, just 46 percent had their RCVS retention fees paid by their employer so this, in particular, has seen a big increase.
  • Respondents were positive about the RCVS with the overwhelming majority (90.1 percent) using the online Professional Development Record (the platform is now the 1CPD platform) to record their CPD compared to 52.4 percent in 2014, for example. There was also strong support for a mandatory RCVS Practice Standards Scheme.

As with the veterinary surgeons, veterinary nurse respondents were also given the opportunity to give a ‘free-text’ answer on their concerns about the future of the profession. Some of the themes identified by respondents included:

  • A desire to see the RCVS protect the title “veterinary nurse” so that only those suitably qualified and registered can legally call themselves a veterinary nurse.
  • The extension of the role of veterinary nurses so that those with suitable expertise and experience could do a greater amount of work, as well as encouraging further qualifications and expertise to be rewarded. This includes doing more to encourage veterinary nurses into management and leadership roles.
  • The need for better pay as well as public recognition in order to keep veterinary nurses in the profession.

Many of the results and trends identified have fed into the College’s 2020-2024 Strategic Plan, which was recently approved by RCVS Council.

Lizzie Lockett, RCVS CEO, commented: “These surveys are an interesting and informative snapshot of where the professions are and how they are feeling at a particular moment in time, but they won’t be left on a shelf to gather dust as we will be using the data to inform many of our projects and initiatives. These surveys also help us to build an historical picture of the professions and spot long-term trends.

“The results of the surveys have already been incorporated into the five-year Strategic Plan and will continue to feed into our work over the next few years.

“I am glad to say that much of the College’s work has anticipated some of the issues raised by the respondents – for example, our recently approved Graduate Outcomes proposals, which seek to better prepare and support new vets into life in practice, and our first steps towards developing a more structured and rewarding career path for veterinary nurses with our new Certificates in Advanced Veterinary Nursing.

“There are some causes for concern in these results – for example, around veterinary nurse pay and retention, lack of work-life balance and retention of recent graduates – and, while not all of these are in the College’s remit or power to resolve, we will continue to work with our partners and stakeholders within the professions to better understand the identified issues and how we can contribute to the debate.”