Veterinary nursing is changing, although admittedly by necessity. Brexit led to fewer European vets taking up opportunities in the UK, and the pandemic simultaneously inspired more people to acquire pets while some practitioners reflected on their work–life balance and chose to reduce their hours. One of the few positives from these events has been the improved recognition of veterinary nursing.
Change is always challenging, but one organisation that is smoothing the path is the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA). I’m honoured to be the first nurse to chair the Congress Committee, something which has only been possible since 2020 when the organisation amended its voting rules to enable nurses to take on any of the volunteer positions, including the presidency.
Nurses have long sat on the various BSAVA committees, but one of the most obvious influences has been at Congress. Having earned a reputation for being one of the best places to obtain nursing CPD, in 2021 BSAVA’s congress programme committee brought vets together with nurses to share a learning environment.
The importance of learning together
This is more important than it may seem. Co-learning spaces build confidence and trust and provide vets with insights into how nurses approach a given clinical topic, and vice versa. They facilitate conversations between the two professions, not just around clinical cases but broader topics too. By learning together, we have each got full sight of the considerations and perspectives of the other and, as a result, are better able to perform as a team.
Co-learning spaces build confidence and trust and provide vets with insights into how nurses approach a given clinical topic, and vice versa
This year, the congress programme committee is taking the concept to another level. Alongside the lectures, which see vets and nurses discussing a range of topics from remote glucose monitoring and blood transfusion to nutritional challenges and patient stress, we have the “Day in the life of…” dramas.
A common scenario will be acted out on stage (either neurology, anaesthesia or reproduction, depending on the day). At key points, experts will discuss the latest clinical information or pick up on a non-clinical skill and demonstrate its impact on client satisfaction or patient outcome. The roleplays showcase the importance of the whole team, highlighting how impactful the nursing members are to success (or failure). We can all learn from these sessions, though you do have to be at the in-person event to do so, as they are among the few sessions not being live-streamed on the virtual platform.
The roleplays showcase the importance of the whole team, highlighting how impactful the nursing members are to success (or failure)
How can we better recognise the value of veterinary nurses?
We’ve still got a long way to go in recognising the true value of the nursing profession – both internally and externally – and that has consequences. Retention continues to challenge the nursing sector with under-utilised skilled team members resulting in clients missing out on key knowledge and services. Everyone is losing.
Relatively simple steps could make a big difference. A clear pathway of progression would recognise the knowledge and skills of our most experienced nurses, many of whom have worked in a specific field for years yet still can’t call themselves a “specialist”. Dedicated qualifications in advanced nursing take this a step further.
Updating regulation and closing loop-holes is another area in which a difference can be made. It is not right that an unqualified individual can monitor anaesthesia. What would our clients say if they knew?
Changing the way we speak about situations to truly reflect the work of nurses could be a small, non-confrontational way of shifting client mindsets. We are already seeing examples with the suggestion to shift from “hospitalising patients” in favour of “nursing care”. It is a great idea as, after all, that is essentially what is happening in most cases.
We’re very accustomed to seeing a nurse for our own healthcare, so why do so many pet owners feel short-changed if they don’t see a vet?
This could be a step towards normalising nurse consults and further improving practice efficiency. We’re very accustomed to seeing a nurse for our own healthcare, so why do so many pet owners feel short-changed if they don’t see a vet? Perhaps there’s a spin-off series in the making… Super Vet Nurse? I know I’d watch it. There are just as many highs and lows, twists and turns, funny and cute moments behind the scenes.
In short, the sunlit uplands are where the different skill sets of both professions are mutually and equally recognised and respected.
Communication is key. But so is investing in your nursing team. If you’d like them to do more, help them and train them
With veterinary nurses now being registered, we share responsibility and are accountable for the care of patients. It is no longer the case that, if something goes wrong, vets are the only ones to face consequences. Nurses are also subject to disciplinary procedures and can be struck from their register. This should give vets in practices with registered nurses the confidence that they no longer hold that baton alone. They can and should trust their veterinary nurses to work to the high standards held by RCVS. In circumstances where work is delegated to a nurse, that nurse is obligated to say if it is outside of their skill set, or beyond their current knowledge or experience. Communication is key. But so is investing in your nursing team. If you’d like them to do more, help them and train them.