Commentary: It’s time for technicians to be called ‘veterinary nurses’

Commentary: It’s time for technicians to be called ‘veterinary nurses’

The public will understand this title more easily, with less explanation needed.
Dec 30, 2015

Getty ImagesThe definition of the word nurse is: a person who is trained to care for sick or injured people and who usually works in a hospital or doctor's office. The definition of the word technician is: a person whose job relates to the practical use of machines or science in industry, medicine, etc.

Ever since I became a veterinary technician, more often then not when someone asks what I do, they don’t really know what it means. I have to explain what my job responsibilities are. Then the two most common responses are “That sounds fun” or “I could never do that; I can’t watch animals in pain.”

It is not well understood by most people, even those who have pets, what exactly a veterinary technician does. Most are surprised to learn that you have to go to school or take a test to be able to perform parts of this job. A veterinary technician is a phlebotomist, an anesthetist, an educator, a radiology technician and several other positions that would be all separate people in the human healthcare system. Being a veterinary technician is both physically and emotionally demanding. Even with all of this responsibility and skill we are paid less, supported less and less respected then a nurse.

In the public perception, a nurse is considered to be a more caring and highly educated professional than a technician and therefore is generally given more respect. I have never heard anyone ask what a nurse does. For those veterinary technicians who have obtained their license by going to school to get an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree and taken the necessary boards, they should be considered nurses.

It’s the same amount of education and clinical experience as a licensed vocational nurse or a registered nurse. We also have to maintain a minimum amount of continuing education credits every year to be eligible to renew our license. Whenever I talk to nurses, they are surprised to learn just how similar the jobs are, and we swap stories that could happen in either profession.

I know that if we decide to make the change to call credentialed veterinary technicians nurses it will make things more complicated, because we have many technicians that are not licensed and, according to the above requirements, could not be considered nurses. They would have to be considered assistants. I also know that there are people who disagree with me about this subject for various reasons, and I respect that, but I do think that this conversation needs to be held within our community.

As a rule, we do a poor job educating the public about what it’s like to be in the veterinary profession. A veterinarian and a veterinary technician have to learn multiple physiologies and anatomies—unlike medical professionals in the human field—in order to properly care for our patients. Also, many people are surprised to learn that there are many veterinary specialties which require the technicians to gain even more knowledge. We need to decide how we want to be perceived and to what standards we hold ourselves.

I believe that we need to help the public—and especially our clients—understand what we do and who we are. We are people who are trained to care for sick or injured animals and usually work in a hospital or doctor’s office. I understand that things will never be equal, but we deserve the respect of our peers for our level of education and skill.

I am a nurse—I am a nurse who cares for cats and dogs instead of humans.

Maya Rich is a registered veterinary technician in San Diego.

Maya, I found your piece

Maya, I found your piece really interesting, thank you, being a 'veterinary nurse' myself from the UK. Whilst we do have priviledge of the title 'nurse' (and I agree with you, this is clearly the correct term that signifies what we do, and that the public understand) we still have our own battles over here too.

We are still fighting for protection of the title 'Veterinary Nurse' as currently, anyone may call themselves this. Whilst is is against our regulatory (RCVS) code to do so, it is not breaking the law. The RCVS recently opened a petition on this topic, and so far over 20,000 signatures have been reached, however the government has just come back with a dissapointing response.

You can see it here:

I just thought you 'vet techs' in the US may be interested to see how things are hanging over here in the UK!