Is empowerment of veterinary nurses key to job satisfaction?

Updated: Jun 28

Do you remember why you started on the road to becoming a veterinary nurse? For many it is a love of animals and a caring nature that ignites the spark. With the current challenges facing the veterinary workforce, it can be easy to lose sight of the positives amongst the stresses and strains of daily life. So with an exodus from veterinary practice like never before and veterinary nurse vacancies at an all-time high, what does the future hold for this awesome profession, and more importantly, what can be done to reverse the trend? Veterinary Nurse Awareness Month (VNAM) provides the perfect opportunity to take stock and celebrate the work of this fabulous bunch of veterinary professionals.

Survey after survey suggests that the top two drivers in the veterinary nursing shortfall are poor remuneration and poor job satisfaction. Many are leaving the profession because they have so much more to offer than they are able to give in veterinary practice with greater financial rewards elsewhere. Job satisfaction and salary packages are not mutually exclusive however, and empowering RVNs to do the job they were trained for by fully utilising their skills, can have a knock-on positive effect on pay packages. Problem solved then? Sadly as we all know, there are no quick fixes, but maybe we should be asking ourselves whether a vet-centric industry is outdated. With more delegation and more career progression, nurses can increasingly become revenue earners, with potential for better salaries, better job satisfaction and maybe better retention.

Looking to the USA: a veterinary team-centric approach

The USA veterinary profession has evolved a more team-based workforce structure, where the veterinary nurse or veterinary technician has greater responsibility and a much more influential role within the practice. Many practices have as many as five support staff for each veterinary surgeon, sometimes more. Whilst the role of the vet tech is not hugely different to that of the RVN, the much higher ratio of vet techs to vets is key. With more delegation and more career progression, vet techs can increasingly become revenue earners, with potential for better salaries, better job satisfaction and maybe better retention.

So should we be adopting something similar to this in the UK?

Boosting job satisfaction in veterinary nursing: utilising RVN skills

Using veterinary nurses for the highly skilled role they have trained long and hard for might sound like common sense, but many RVNS feel their talents are under utilised and consequently they report lower levels of job satisfaction. How many RVNs regularly perform vet nurse schedule 3 procedures for example? Whilst many will be comfortable taking blood samples or placing intravenous catheters, this may not be the case for suturing wounds or descaling teeth for example. Just as new graduate veterinary surgeons need support to develop confidence and hone their clinical skills, so do RVNs. Investing time in developing such confidence, both in practice and through external veterinary nurse CPD, will pay dividends in the long run, by increasing RVN job satisfaction as well as freeing up veterinary surgeon time.

RVN time should be better valued too. Many practices do charge for nurse clinics but by no means all. How can RVN salaries reflect the wealth of knowledge of such skilled professionals if their time is not properly valued and charged accordingly?

How about a veterinary nurse practitioner role?

Creating a new veterinary nurse practitioner role has been suggested by some in the profession. After all the system works well in the human field, allowing human GPs to focus on their strengths, whilst providing nurses with opportunities for empowerment, career progression and enhanced job satisfaction. Providing RVNs with greater autonomy and powers to prescribe would be beneficial to practice efficiency and could have a positive impact on veterinary nurse salaries. Think of the current situation where an RVN can diagnose a post-operative infection but is unable to prescribe the appropriate course of antibiotics for example.

Resilience in the veterinary profession: #OurProfessionMyResilience

So where does resilience fit into all this and what does it really mean? Resilience says different things to different people but by and large it is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back up from difficult life events. With the daily rollercoaster of emotions in veterinary practice, first puppy visits one minute, end of life consults the next, resilience is a skill that needs nurturing.

Resilience is an important skill to have – we all need it to a greater or lesser extent to help get through the rollercoaster of feelings that those tricky days present us with. Whether it is a succession of challenging clients coming through the consulting room doors, a patient not responding to treatment as well as expected or the euthanasia of a much-loved ‘regular’, resilience helps cope with the melting pot of emotions. Add to this the fact that demands from the pet-owning public have increased exponentially in the last few years, and it quickly becomes clear that there are increasing pressures on practice employees both physically and mentally. Resilience helps in coping with the daily demands of veterinary practice life including the many highs but also those inevitable lows.

There are very few industries with such a strong team ethos as the veterinary profession with close bonds formed over late-night emergencies and hectic days where pulling together makes all the difference, so maybe resilience is best thought of at a team level, putting less onus on the individual to cope alone.

With a whole multitude of factors contributing to the current recruitment and retention challenges the profession is facing, there are no overnight solutions. What is not in doubt is what a wonderfully talented and resourceful group of professionals veterinary nurses are. Currently they are being under utilised to the detriment of the whole veterinary profession. Addressing this might just be one small step to filling all those vet nurse job vacancies and changing the negative rhetoric to a focus on the positives.