Background

The 2016 VN Futures Report and Action Plan highlights the need for greater workforce sustainability within veterinary nursing under Ambition one: creating a sustainable workforce. This ambition incorporates several actions to address sustainability and includes the provision of up-to-date relevant information on entry requirements for veterinary nursing and showcasing career pathways /progression to encourage and inform those considering a career in veterinary nursing. (RCVS, 2016)The Sustainable Workforce Working Group, one of the initial working groups for VN Futures, assisted with the preliminary planning for creation of a pilot scheme to create relevant careers resources and information and explore the key factors in delivery of school careers talks.

Stem Learning

STEM Learning is a government-backed initiative to support career options in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics subjects, and the STEM Ambassador Programme helps to equip those wishing to become school ambassadors with training, support and guidance. It also places ambassadors on a central database so that they are contacted when available opportunities in the delivery of careers information arise.

Stem Learning logo

Over 2019, eight veterinary nurses were enlisted onto the School Ambassadors Pilot (SAP) scheme. The ambassadors were selected from those with a broad range of experience, from small animal and equine practice, and nurses working outside of practice. Ambassadors were registered with STEM and completed induction training, and as part of this process, obtained DBS (enhanced disclosure) certificates. Ambassadors offered their valuable time and expertise on a voluntary basis.

Development

A Development Day was hosted in November 2019 at the headquarters of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and training and discussion sessions were held that would help to equip the ambassadors in being part of the scheme, including:

  • Aims and objectives of the scheme
  • Discussion of the approaches that could be utilised in the delivery of careers information
  • Engagement of audiences of differing age groups
  • Use of practical activities, tasks and physical resources
  • Gaining feedback from teachers and school children
  • An overview of STEM and the resources available to ambassadors

The ambassadors, guided and supported by the RCVS VN Futures Coordinator, began work over a number of months on developing approaches to delivery and a variety of supporting resources (see resources section). Delivery of the scheme was suspended from April to November 2020 due to the
COVID pandemic.

The scheme was recommenced in November 2020, at which point a revised team of ambassadors convened and new ambassadors were inducted onto the scheme. Due to the uncertainty that the pandemic created it was decided that an online approach to delivery would be utilised going forward. This offers somewhat of a ‘silver lining’, since whilst online delivery can be challenging and somewhat restrictive, it provides greater opportunity for delivery and accessibility and widens the scope for the geographical areas that nurses are able to reach. Pre-recorded online presentations and talks could also be provided to online careers fairs and other careers events and portals.

A survey was administered to gain insight on the confidence levels of the ambassadors in using this approach, the perceived viability, and potential methods for successful online delivery. This yielded positive feedback and generated a pool of ideas for further development.

A discussion was held in January 2021, the outcomes of which produced:

  • A guide for key points to be covered in talks to school children of younger (9-14 years) and
    older (14-18 years) age groups
  • A PowerPoint template
  • A list of tasks or exercises that could be provided
  • A guide to delivering a presentation using Teams / Zoom
  • A guide for creating a narrated, recorded presentation
  • A backdrop for Teams / Zoom / video presentation recordings

Resources

Over 2020 a selection of resources were developed, which are currently at the design and production stage.

A word cloud poster and graphic

A colourful graphic that highlights the many features of the veterinary nurse’s role and is intended as a stimulant for discussion and exploration of the role.

10 great reasons (to become a veterinary nurse) poster/leaflet

Inspired by a similar poster for science and engineering, this offers the ten key positive factors in being a member of the veterinary nursing, and wider veterinary, profession.

Careers information Leaflets (for younger and older age-groups)

Containing an overview of veterinary nursing and the veterinary nurse’s role, and information on routes into veterinary nursing. The leaflets are designed to also be a source of information for parents, who are often a guiding influence in helping children to make career decisions.

Ambassadors’ crib sheet

A quick-reference document offering an overview of facts on routes into veterinary nursing, qualifications and work experience that may be required, and advice on gaining a job or work placement.

A list of FAQs is also to be constructed as talks are delivered and key question themes are uncovered.

Tabletop worksheets

Simple, practical and engaging tasks related to veterinary nursing, that can be completed with basic resources.

Paperwork

Documents have been created to assist the ambassadors with planning sessions and obtaining constructive feedback from schools.

Data

Data including a list of all schools in the UK with contact details, and diversity demographics of the UK population was obtained.

Additional Resources

Additional resources are planned, to include an introduction to an ambassadorial role, guidance on STEM registration and induction, guidance on creating and recording presentations and ideas for physical resources.

Diversity & Inclusion

The veterinary nursing profession currently demonstrates a lack of diversity, with the current demographics being 97.3% female, 2.65% male (0.05% unknown), 82% white and 2% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (16% unknown). The data for student veterinary nurses shows that 95.1% are female, 4.25% male (0.65% unknown), 95% white, 4% BAME (1% unknown).

There are so many important reasons to diversify our workforce. We must reflect the communities in which we live and work and be an example to young people who often cannot see themselves doing this work, because they do not currently have the role models. People from all walks of life have
animals and a diverse vet team will only encourage trust and confidence in the care of those animals. Incorporating many different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives into the profession can only benefit the team, pet owners and animal welfare.

The RCVS Diversity and Inclusion Group (DIG) recently published their wide-reaching strategy to work to improve diversity and inclusion within the veterinary professions at all stages – from school-age children who may be considering a career in the veterinary professions, to engendering positive culture change for those already in the professions.

A group of RCVS staff is also considering how diversity and inclusion can be addressed and supported within the veterinary nursing profession, particularly with regards to student intake.

The VN Futures School Ambassadors Development Group has the potential to have a key input in encouraging those from more diverse backgrounds into the VN profession, and to effectively address increasing widening participation in the next generation of veterinary nurses.

We aim to do this through:

  • Ensuring Widening Participation and Diversity and Inclusion form part of the focus and outcomes of the work
  • Researching and understanding more about Science Capital and the language used to talk about careers in science, and feeding this into ambassador guidance
  • Continuing to create a bank of images depicting a diverse workforce that can be used to promote veterinary nursing as a career
  • Ensuring we reach areas with a diverse population in provision of careers information

Imagery and case studies

With acknowledgement to the concept of ‘If you see it, you can be it’, there has been work completed to obtain imagery of a more diverse workforce that can be used for online, digital and printed material, and this work is ongoing.

VN Futures has also published a series of career case studies on the website that include male veterinary nurses, nurses from a BAME background, and that depict a wide variety of career pathways. These resources will also help to support the work of creation of careers materials and provide inspiring information for potential (and existing) veterinary nurses to access.

Reaching diverse populations

School talks delivered online provide the benefit of limitless geographical areas of reach and demographic data will help direct us to the locations and schools with a more diverse population and ensure that we reach this demographic.

Careers fairs

Careers fairs are currently being offered online, and these events provide us with an opportunity to reach a large audience in a single session and share careers information with a wide audience.

Career advisors and hubs

We aim to reach out to career advisors and enable them to offer guidance on veterinary nursing careers through the provision of clear and easily accessible material. We really want to get veterinary nursing on their radar.

We also intend to share information with careers’ hubs and portals.

Where now?

The School Ambassadors Pilot has served its remit in considering the best ways to deliver veterinary nursing career information, and the tools that can be utilised to achieve this. The group will continue to function as the School Ambassador’s Development Group (SADG), in continuing to develop and support an ambassadorial role in the profession.

A selection of resources will become available in the near future to facilitate the development of a UK-wide network of VN School Ambassadors.

Further plans include:

  • Potential collaboration with My Vet Future (an initiative run jointly by the BVA and the RCVS)
  • Reviewing veterinary nursing careers information provided by the RCVS and the BVNA
  • Highlighting the ambassadorial role to the profession

We very much look forward to taking this initiative forward and helping to support veterinary nurses who wish to help disseminate veterinary nursing as a career choice, and ultimately grow a stronger, more diverse and sustainable profession.

References