Celebrating the colossal contribution of veterinary nurses

Posted on May 15, 2017 by Robin Hargreaves

May is Veterinary Nursing Awareness Month. In our practice, we have been using social media and our client newsletter to increase public awareness of the complex and pivotal role that our nursing team plays in delivering excellent patient and client care.

Many changes for the better in veterinary practice over recent years are quite visible and relatively easy to demonstrate to clients. For instance, advances in practice facilities, advances in veterinary technology and the much wider availability of complex referral services. At the same time, I believe there has been a revolution in veterinary nursing capability, particularly in those practices that have proactively developed and invested in their teams. But this step change in clinical veterinary medicine at all levels often goes unseen and can easily be undervalued by clients, and even by businesses themselves, who might take this progress for granted.

Reflections and changes

We have recently been reflecting on the nursing team in our practice and trying to make sure we both acknowledge their colossal contribution to the quality of our service, and that we better inform our clients how much our nurses’ expertise and dedication underpins everything that we are proud of in our business. We recently made a film with BVA and ITN to showcase the important roles of everyone in our team demonstrating the breadth of the veterinary nursing team.



I graduated in 1985 and in my early career it seemed that decision making across all aspects of patient care and the development of protocols (such as there were in practices) were all top down. They were delivered to members of a support team with variable levels of training who simply followed instructions, albeit with great compassion and care.

The situation feels very different now. Whilst a veterinary surgeon still always remains in overall charge of a case, the hierarchy is now much flatter. Discussions around analgesia, nutritional support, peri- and post-operative management, and rehabilitation are very much two-way and vets and vet nurses will both take part in developing a consensus on the best way to proceed. In some cases, particularly for instance in dietary management, I might refer internally to the nursing team once we have agreed on a strategy.

Advances championed by the nursing team

When I look at how our companion animal practice has developed it often strikes me that vets have largely been responsible for bringing new techniques and medical protocols, via CPD or just more recent graduation, and they tend to be the ones making the case for new technologies. When it comes to analgesia, fluid therapy, infection control, and improved theatre practice, many of these advances are championed in the first instance by the nursing team.

We had a leaving party for a member of staff last week who commented that we had the best nursing team they had worked with across a range of practices. We talked about what makes for a successful integrated team where nurses feel fulfilled and are in turn properly recognised. A crucial factor seems to be a range of experience. We have nurses who started with us in work experience positions whilst at school and went onto full employment, then training, qualification and registration. These well trained, experienced individuals now run teams within our business with a significant degree of autonomy and, in some areas, veterinary surgeons defer to them.

I think the pride we take in having helped create careers and career development to the point of becoming regulated professionals is one of the most satisfying aspects of running a veterinary practice business.

Protecting the title 'veterinary nurse'

In 2015 we fully supported the campaign to protect the title ‘veterinary nurse’ for qualified and registered VNs. Those practices that invest in the standards that come with quality training and ongoing CPD should be able to differentiate their nursing team to their clients, and in so doing, encourage everyone to foster and develop an ever stronger nursing profession.

Although the campaign wasn’t successful, work has continued to formally recognise the role of registered veterinary nurses (RVN's). The RCVS recognises the huge strides the nursing profession has taken and I am taking part in a working group on behalf of BVA to review Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act under which RVN's carry out the particular tasks that are entrusted to them. I encourage everyone to respond to the consultation survey which has been emailed to vets and vet nurses and is open until 7 June.

During 2013-14 I was very fortunate to be President of BVA when we were working with the RCVS to redraft the Royal Charter under which the RCVS is constituted. Finalising that document and agreeing the specific wording in painstaking discussions was one of my proudest moments. That was in large part because it created the profession of veterinary nursing as a regulated body.

I now refer to the veterinary professions as a continuum and I would encourage everyone to get behind Veterinary Nurse Awareness Month. But I'm sure, like me, the whole veterinary team is already aware of the immense debt we owe to our nursing colleagues for the continued high esteem in which the veterinary professions are held.

Robin Hargreaves

Written by Robin Hargreaves

BVA President from September 2013 to September 2014

Robin is a director and small animal practitioner at Stanley House Veterinary Surgery in Lancashire. He also the BVA representative on the RCVS Mind Matters initiative.