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March 15, 2020

NAVTA's Veterinary Nurse Initiative a work in progress

Veterinary technicians grapple with slow name change progress, but continue with other efforts
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Rachel O’Lone often has to explain her future job to people.

“Anytime I say that I am a veterinary technician or I am going to school to be a veterinary technician to someone, they’re like: ‘Oh, what is that?’” she said. “And I have to be, ‘Oh, it’s like a veterinary nurse.’ I always have to say nurse for them to even know what it is.”

O’Lone is president of the Veterinary Technician Club and a second-year veterinary technology program student at Joliet Community College in Joliet, Illinois. O’Lone believes that changing the professional title from certified veterinary technician to registered veterinary nurse would help indicate to pet owners how important her role in the veterinary care team is.

Veterinarian and staff examining a dog

“In the veterinary field, we are respected as nurses, but I think the public just doesn’t realize what we do and all that we do,” O’Lone said. “One of my (human health) nursing friends said: ‘Oh, I just thought you were the one who weighed the dog.’ And I’m like: ‘No, oh, no, no. I am running the anesthesia during surgery.’”

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America formed the Veterinary Nurse Initiative in 2016 to unite the name change efforts.

Kenichiro Yagi, president-elect of NAVTA, said there has been some progress with the VNI. To date, no state has amended its laws to change the title. NAVTA’s VNI has made strides in other areas.

Progress report

“I think one of the things we focused on in 2019 was to make sure people knew what VNI was about,” Yagi said. “I think people focus on the title a lot, which is really important for us, but at the same time, there is a lot more riding along with it.”

The veterinary technician association’s VNI has the following goals:

  • Professional standards: Promoting a standard credential with uniform educational standards in the U.S.
  • Public recognition: Establishing professional identity through public education and title recognition to contribute to public safety and protection.
  • Professional recognition: Clarifying the value, scope of practice, and title by delineating the credentialed veterinary technician or veterinary nurse role.
  • Expanding career potential: Defining the role of the veterinary technician or veterinary nurse in all areas of practice to maximize potential.

Erin Spencer, past president of NAVTA, said the organization has been focused on professional recognition within the veterinary industry for the past few years and it has paid off.

NAVTA has a seat at most tables now. For example, this past July, NAVTA was elected as a member of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association.

“We have the profession and the veterinary community behind us,” she said, noting that moving forward, efforts will focus on public education. “Let’s move out and start having those conversations and getting that education to the public so they can also support us.”

Along with public education, NAVTA’s VNI is working on finding solutions to title protection issues by building resources for members. Last year, the VNI created a Title Protection Task Force to specifically address this problem after continuing to hear of clinics not making a distinction between their credentialed veterinary technicians and those who learned on the job. The task force sent out a survey asking those in the veterinary profession what they knew about their state law on this matter and, if there was a law, whether it was being enforced. The VNI and NAVTA aim to create practical guides later this year based on the responses received from the survey to help individuals and organizations advocate for title protection.

Eileen McKee
Eileen McKee is a certified veterinary technician and the program director of veterinary medical technology at Joliet Community College in Joliet, Illinois. She agrees with the overall efforts of NAVTA’s VNI, but she thinks title protection is key. (Photo by Kaitlyn Mattson)

“We are trying to get fine details of what the current status is and get that out there and be able to say, in these states where title protection looks like this, we should be doing this,” Yagi said. “When there is no title protection or licensure, we should be doing this. Trying to make some suggestions as to how to improve the situation.”

Bills, bills, bills

On the legislative front, NAVTA’s VNI is still trying to pass a bill in Ohio to establish the registered veterinary nurse title. SB 131 passed the House last year and has been in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee since last May.

The other state the VNI targeted last year, Indiana, also saw the introduction of a title-change bill, which made it to the Senate last February but failed to pass by a handful of votes. VNI advocates plan to reintroduce the bill this year.

Similar legislation was introduced in Georgia last year, but it failed to get a vote in the Senate. Yagi said the plan is to move forward without the bill and instead work with veterinary entities to change the title through regulatory and other means.

Finally, NAVTA’s VNI is working with veterinary and veterinary technician organizations in Oklahoma to determine how to proceed with changes in that state.

At the same time, veterinary technician leaders have found themselves playing defense as well.

NAVTA and the VNI successfully opposed bills in Maine and North Carolina that proposed establishing an apprenticeship—experience only rather than formal education—route to obtain a veterinary technician credential. Veterinary technicians were taken off the list of occupations in these two states, thus preserving requirements for licensed technicians to graduate from an AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities–accredited program and pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam.

Further, a bill that would have established licensing qualifications for veterinary technicians in Montana died last spring. HB 179, championed by the Big Sky Veterinary Technician Association, stalled in the Senate Agriculture, Livestock, and Irrigation Committee in March.

Rachel O’Lone (left) and Jordan Trauscht
Rachel O’Lone (left) is president of the veterinary technician club and a second-year veterinary technology student at Joliet Community College, and Jordan Trauscht is the secretary of the veterinary technician club and also a second-year student in the veterinary technology program at JCC. (Photo by Kaitlyn Mattson)

More recently, in West Virginia, HB 4813 was introduced in February that would remove licensing requirements for veterinary technicians in the state, according to the bill language. NAVTA’s VNI has put out a notice on social media for advocates to contact lawmakers and express their opposition.

In education

On the education front, the Michigan State University Veterinary Technology Program has moved to change its name this spring to the Veterinary Nursing Program. The name change was approved by the MSU academic governance. The MSU program joins six other programs that have changed their name to veterinary nursing.

Eileen McKee, a certified veterinary technician and program director of veterinary medical technology at Joliet Community College, tries to prepare her students for life as a veterinary technician, and that includes making them aware of the positives and negatives of the career.

“I love teaching. I love seeing these guys get so excited about what options they have in this career,” McKee said. “I try to teach these guys, if in 20 years your back hurts, don’t quit the field. Realize there are so many other opportunities for you. There is room for continual advancement.”

McKee tries to prepare her students for the financial realities of the career, too. She agrees with the overall efforts of NAVTA’s VNI, but she thinks title protection is key.

“I think if you change the name but you’re not protecting it, it’s a moot point,” she said.

McKee has been on the faculty at JCC for 17 years and the program director for two years. She said she has tried to make changes to the program by focusing on the academic side as well as practical skills such as communication, veterinary terminology, and administering anesthesia.

Role models

Only two states do not have some form of credentialing for veterinary technicians, but states vary greatly with regard to definitions, standards, title protection, and scope of practice for veterinary technicians.

The American Association of Veterinary State Boards Regulatory Policy Task Force completed a draft of its Veterinary Technician Scope of Practice model regulations in late 2019. The AAVSB’s newly proposed model regulations would delineate health care tasks that may be performed by veterinary technicians or veterinary technologists and would assign the appropriate level of supervision required—immediate, direct, or indirect—for each of those tasks. While some state boards do have regulations for veterinary technician scope of practice, this is the first model document that state boards could use to achieve a consistent standard across the country.

NAVTA and the VNI have provided input into the proposed model regulation language through representation on the task force. The association is currently receiving feedback on the draft, and the model will likely be available in the spring, said James T. Penrod, executive director of the AAVSB.

He said the AAVSB’s model practice act already addresses the practice of veterinary technology, but the veterinary technician scope of practice model regulations will provide language that AAVSB member boards can use when enacting regulations. The process for passing regulations is typically easier than the process for changing statutes, so the model regulation language should allow member boards to more easily make changes they deem appropriate to the tasks veterinary technicians and technologists can perform, Penrod added.

Utilization task force

In 2019, the AVMA Task Force on Veterinary Technician Utilization was created after the AVMA House of Delegates recommended asking the AVMA Board of Directors to convene a working group to design a plan to improve veterinary technician utilization.

The task force released its report during the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference Jan. 9 in Chicago.

The task force recommended, among other things, that the AVMA should encourage states to eliminate alternative routes to credentialing, so-called grandfather clauses, from state practice acts. It also suggested surveying credentialed veterinary technicians on a regular basis to track demographics, compensation, and utilization and surveying veterinarians to determine how many credentialed veterinary technicians versus veterinary assistants are employed in various practice types.

The Board referred the report to the AVMA Council on Veterinary Service, AVMA-NAVTA Leadership Committee, AVMA Veterinary Economics Strategy Committee, AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities, and other entities for their consideration.

Looking ahead

Despite the potential challenges, Rachel O’Lone is optimistic about the future of her profession. Although she hopes the name change will eventually happen, she has no concerns about her job prospects or her place within the industry. She already has two internships lined up and has plans to get into wildlife veterinary work after she graduates.

“This is a growing field; I don’t think we’ll have a problem finding jobs,” O’Lone said.