Laura Kidd is a qualified veterinary surgeon, VN lecturer and educational consultant who tutors on a post-graduate VN qualification, as well as teaching clinical skills to veterinary students.
Each year the actual number of veterinary nurses (VNs) in the UK increases (RCVS, 2014) yet, anecdotally, there seem to be insufficient veterinary nurses to meet demand.
The 2014 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Nurse Profession (Williams and Robinson, 2014) indicates that over the next 10 years the demand for VNs will increase: with members believing that there are not too many VNs being trained (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p88).
Veterinary nursing is a young profession: the average age of VNs in full-time employment is only 30.8 years (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p15). Identifying the reasons for VNs leaving the profession at a young age, and addressing these, is one potential way of increasing VN numbers in the future.
With the main reasons cited for VNs leaving the profession continuing to be poor pay, stress and not feeling rewarded or valued (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p 43), it is to be hoped that the combined efforts of RCVS, VN Council, BVNA and BVA, in introducing a new Royal Charter (RCVS, 2015, a) and campaigning to have Parliament change the law to protect the title ‘veterinary nurse’ (RCVS, 2015, b), will increase the status of the VN profession. As stated by John Blackwell, President of British Veterinary Association (RCVS, 2015, b), this could lead to increased recognition of ‘the skills of qualified veterinary nurses and the unique contribution they make to the veterinary team’.
The VN profession has changed and evolved significantly over the last 20 plus years, with many more postgraduate qualifications and options for career development. However, whilst the number of VNs who think there are opportunities for career progression has increased, many still do not believe this to be the case (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p82). Additionally, for many, the profession is not considered to provide part-time working opportunities or to be ‘family-friendly’ (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p82).
Most VNs surveyed (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p75) felt that their work gives them satisfaction and variety, but is stressful and the majority of VNs also feel that newly qualified nurses need more support in practice (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p 81). When considering these factors, maybe it is not a surprise that VNs leave the profession at a young age. Perhaps we may, reluctantly, have to accept that, for the time-being, veterinary nursing is a young profession with a high turnover.
However, the current focus on wellbeing within the profession, with attempts to identify and address the causes of the stress which makes some VNs leave the profession, and the stage in their career at which this develops, is to be welcomed.
Furthermore, it is promising that 83% of VNs surveyed (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p43) indicate their intention to remain in the profession for the foreseeable future. Is it therefore possible to improve the salary, work-life balance, career progression (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p93) and professional recognition so that even fewer VNs will leave?
The other main way to increase VN numbers is, of course, to train more students; and increase the numbers qualifying annually.
The VN professional qualification has a very strong emphasis on vocational training, encouraging the development of practical skills and Day One Competences. The broad syllabus and rigorous training are of a very high standard: ensuring that VNs acquire the required knowledge, understanding and research skills for veterinary practice. It is essential that these high standards of training are maintained and developed in order to produce veterinary nurses with the skills required for working within the profession, now and in the future.
Yet, in spite of the huge demand and competition for places on further and higher education VN courses, there appears to be insufficient VNs to meet the requirements of the profession. This is not a new problem but, anecdotally, the situation is worse than it has ever been.
The number of students able to commence VN training annually is limited by the availability of Training Practices: this is considered to be one of the main challenges to the VN profession (Williams and Robinson, 2014, p94). While it is admirable that so many approved practices support VN training, many cannot, for various reasons. Can we support more practices to become Training Practices in the future?
Furthermore, while the entry requirements for the VN Diploma are relatively low, the qualification is academically demanding. The volume and depth of knowledge is considerable for the level of qualification and the requirement to demonstrate critical reflection through academic writing can be challenging. It is regrettable that some student veterinary nurses, who appear to have the qualities to be very good VNs, are lost to the profession at this stage; unable to pass awarding body exams. Should we be developing an additional VN training pathway which allows more students to demonstrate they have the required skills to provide high quality nursing to their patients? Without lowering the standards in any way, can we identify a way of increasing the numbers of students who can start and complete VN training?
The future of the VN profession is exciting: it is hoped that the title ‘veterinary nurse’ will become protected and that there will be more stress-free, valued, competent VNs, providing optimum nursing care.
BUT the issues that are facing the profession need to be addressed now: we need to train more VNs and keep the ones we’ve got!
RCVS (2014) RCVS Facts 2014 (accessed 22.8.15)
RCVS (2015, a) New Royal Charter Comes into effect (accessed 22.8.15)
RCVS (2015, b) Protect the title ‘veterinary nurse’! (accessed 22.8.15)
Williams, M. and Robinson, D. (2014) Vet Futures: The 2014 RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Nurse Profession (accessed 22.8.15)
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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of either the RCVS or the BVA.