VNI and the Fight to Recognize Veterinary Nurses: A Conversation with Kenichiro Yagi

While still a relatively young field, veterinary technology is in dire need of a makeover. Fifty years of professional evolution has left a dusty trail of half-inhabited job titles and regulatory requirements, while credentials vary significantly according to state, institution, and scope of practice.

The position name for someone who works in veterinary technology has gone from animal technician to animal health technician—and finally to veterinary technician, with all the acronymic qualifiers (LVT, CVT, RVT) that now tail after it. Veterinary technicians have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to figure out what credentials they need according to the procedures they are conducting and in which state they are doing them. All that confusion and non-interoperability gets in the way of what matters most: improving patient outcomes.

Even the term “technician” is antiquated. This is a job where mastery of veterinary science and technology is only one part of a much larger role. Veterinary technicians have become a crucial part of a veterinary practice, taking on more autonomy and responsibility to bring a holistic approach to patient health.

The Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI), backed by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), is championing a comprehensive update, one that would unite the profession under a single title, a standardized set of credentialing requirements, and a universal scope of practice.

Kenichiro-Yagi

“The VNI and NAVTA are advocating for the future of our profession,” explained Kenichiro Yagi, a practicing veterinary technician and a key member of the task force that sowed the seeds for the VNI.

With ambitions to introduce legislation in all 50 states, headway has already been made in Ohio and Tennessee. Should the proposal pass in those two states, they would become models for implementation across the nation. Several states have asked to be added to the list of target states in the coming year.

Some institutions are already making the switch. Michigan State University, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the Ohio Association of Veterinary Technicians, and the Tennessee Association of Veterinary Technicians are just a few of those on board.

Purdue University became the first program to offer associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in veterinary nursing and is accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA). The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has endorsed the idea of a standardized credential and a consistent scope of practice and title. However, they remain neutral on what that title should be, reasoning that title change should come from the veterinary technician profession itself.

The VNI proposes the term “veterinary nurse” as the best descriptor of what the job entails—not merely a technician interfacing with a specialized suite of gizmos, but a compassionate, patient-facing caregiver able to practice a wide variety of complex procedures.

Veterinary technicians can specialize in anesthesia, behavior, clinical pathology, clinical practice, dentistry, dermatology, emergency and critical care, equine veterinary nursing, internal medicine, nutrition, ophthalmology, surgery, zoological medicine, and more; if these sound more like the foci of a nurse than a technician, that’s because they are. Australia and Europe already use the term veterinary nurse, which gained traction in the United Kingdom as early as 1908.

“The veterinary nurse title just makes sense,” Yagi says. The title change should be the most straightforward part of the VNI to implement, logistically speaking. Far easier than overhauling and unifying various licensing and credentialing standards across 50 different state legislatures. But in the early battleground states like Ohio and Tennessee, it is precisely that one-word change that presents the main barrier to adoption.

While the Ohio Nurses Association (ONA) approves of the VNI’s goals to standardize credentialing requirements and scopes of practice, they argue that the proposed title change could lead to confusion with standards related to registered nurses with human patients. In testimony to the Ohio state legislature, they point to state statutes regarding the title of “registered nurse” as applying to only to those who practice on human patients. They propose that the VNI adopt the term “veterinary practitioner” instead.

NAVTA and the VNI see it differently. They say the nursing statutes currently in place apply specifically to human nursing—and that does not exclude a separate nursing title from existing, nor does it govern what a different field of practice can or cannot do. A veterinary nurse would operate in a different domain entirely than a registered nurse and the proposed label “veterinary practitioner” would not solve nearly as many problems as it would create in the fight to streamline the profession.

“Just imagine us having to debate over three different titles to choose from,” Yagi says. It’s worth noting that Yagi wasn’t initially convinced of the need for a title change either. His initial focus was on the standardization of credentials and promoting the profession under whatever term it chose to identify itself. However, when he went out into the field, talked to state leaders, and met with experts at conferences, he found a vocal groundswell of support for the switch.

“The amount of energy and passion of individuals leading our profession really shook me and challenged me to think beyond my personal belief,” he explained.

The VNI is fighting on to gain recognition for veterinary nurses and the importance their profession brings to veterinary medicine. A veterinary nurse can perform a wide range of tasks that allow a veterinarian to optimize their time towards more critical and complicated procedures, in turn improving patient outcomes and improving the bottom line.

Veterinary practices can realize more than $90,000 in savings for each credentialed veterinary technician or nurse they employ. By creating a standardized set of credentials and an accurately unifying job title, the VNI is working to shine a more accurate light on the profession and enable the recruitment of talented professionals, which will ultimately improve patient outcomes. Preliminary survey results found that 73.3 percent of respondents were in favor of changing the profession’s title to veterinary nurse.

“We have a great deal of support,” Yagi said. “And it’s OK for our profession to advocate for what we want to see happen.”

In the end, the title change is just one small part of a much larger undertaking. Both NAVTA and other proponents of the VNI would like to see the focus return to the standardization of credentialing and scopes of practice. A grassroots campaign, mainly led by working veterinary professionals, is underway to push the initiative into broader adoption.

It could take years to implement, but if it succeeds, the heroes in the fight to recognize veterinary nurses will be the veterinary nurses who are passionate about advocating for the future of their profession—and the winners of that fight will be animals and humans both.

Matt Zbrog (Writer)

Matt Zbrog is a writer and freelancer who has been living abroad since 2016. His nonfiction has been published by Euromaidan Press, Cirrus Gallery, and Our Thursday. Both his writing and his experience abroad are shaped by seeking out alternative lifestyles and counterculture movements, especially in developing nations. You can follow his travels through Eastern Europe and Central Asia on Instagram at @weirdviewmirror. He’s recently finished his second novel, and is in no hurry to publish it.