Top 5 Reasons Veterinary Nurses Are Essential
The role of veterinary nurses has evolved over the past 40 years in scope of responsibilities and value to a practice. The first title, animal technician, was changed to veterinary technician in 1989 with AVMA approval.1 Now veterinary nurse is under consideration to unite the profession’s credentialing requirements. Regardless of title, veterinary nurses are vital for an effective team and exceptional client and patient care.
Veterinary nurses bring essential qualities to a practice, including the following:
No other professional comes with such a job description. Especially in a smaller practice, a veterinary nurse plays numerous roles—he or she is a phlebotomist, laboratory technician, radiology technician, surgical technician, anesthetist, pharmacy technician, dental hygienist, client educator and liaison, trainer, housekeeper, inventory manager, and receptionist.
Veterinary nurses also use their versatility and ingenuity by making use of limited resources. For example, they turn toolboxes into crash carts, build organized endotracheal tube holders from PVC piping, devise anesthetic masks from breathing circuit adapters and examination gloves, and provide oxygen therapy with an E-collar and plastic wrap. Because few tools specifically designed for veterinary patients are available, veterinary nurses learn to be creative to ensure the best patient care. Sometimes their ingenuity even leads to the marketing of new products.
Veterinary nurses also show their versatility when they choose to specialize. Higher education and specific training have already led to 13 veterinary technician specialist (VTS) academies and certifications, with more in the works.
2 Providing Financial Sustainability
Veterinary nurses help with a practice’s financial sustainability because they increase efficiency, including taking over tasks otherwise performed by veterinarians, from the simple (eg, venipuncture for phlebotomy) to the complex (eg, management of a long-term mechanically ventilated patient). (See Figure 1.) A 2009 AVMA report stated practices increased their revenue by $93 311 for each highly utilized, credentialed veterinary nurse they employed.2
Hiring qualified veterinary nurses can be the first step toward improving a practice’s financial sustainability, but allowing them to perform their role to the maximum extent allowed by regulation is key.
3 Providing Optimal Patient Care
Often the first veterinary team member to examine a patient, veterinary nurses bring patient-focused perspectives based on patient personality and response when a treatment plan is created. Their active participation and ongoing close interaction with patients can lead to recommendations of alternative drugs and doses, handling techniques, diets, methods for enrichment and comfort, and other interventions during treatment.
The veterinary nurse can ensure the best patient care by assisting the veterinarian in double-checking the details and accuracy of treatments and medications.
The veterinary nurse can ensure the best patient care by assisting the veterinarian in double-checking the details and accuracy of treatments and medications. A second set of eyes minimizes the likelihood of errors, and veterinary nurses’ education, training, and experience can add insight and precision.
4 Ability to Anticipate
Veterinary nurses develop an uncanny ability to sense the needs and earn the trust of the veterinarian, clients, and patients. By performing preliminary examinations efficiently, taking thorough histories, listening carefully to veterinarian–client conversations, formulating cost estimates, and anticipating diagnostics and treatment, veterinary nurses build confidence in their abilities and increase practice efficiency.
With patients—particularly hospitalized patients—veterinary nurses are often the first to sense subtle changes in status, anticipate their needs, and intervene promptly. Their experience and knowledge of a patient’s clinical condition mean they are likely the first to note signs such as pale mucous membranes, sudden ECG rhythm changes, decreased alertness, altered breathing patterns, or increased effort. Even in worst-case scenarios such as an impending cardiac arrest, veterinary nurses, who are so closely involved in their patients’ care, likely will anticipate what is about to happen, swiftly gather the equipment and supplies needed to perform CPR, and maximize the chances of successful resuscitation.
5 Bridging Communication Gaps
The veterinarian’s time with the client is often limited, so veterinary nurses can bridge the veterinarian–client–patient communication gap with practical explanations and perspectives about the patient that the client can understand and use to make the most informed decisions. (See Figure 2.) For the veterinarian, the veterinary nurse can help communicate with clients because listening to a nonveterinarian who speaks compassionately about their pet can help them better organize their thoughts and emotions.
Figure 2 Sharon Zolezzi, RVT, discusses surgical procedures with Zeke’s owners. Owners are able to have compassionate discussions with veterinary nurses, who are adept at stating matters in practical and relatable terms. Photo courtesy of Kenichiro Yagi, RVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)
For clients, veterinary nurses can help boost their confidence to provide the patient with optimal at-home care with detailed explanations and demonstrations, or support them when they need to make the difficult decision whether it is time to say goodbye.
For patients, veterinary nurses are so in tune with their status, they can advocate for their best care (eg, conveying the need for better pain management, decreasing drugs causing detrimental effects).
Veterinary nurses, with all their special skills, knowledge, and attributes, are the gears that propel the veterinary team forward and bring significant value to any practice.
Studies show veterinary nurses can improve practice efficiency, including financial sustainability, by taking some responsibilities from veterinarians. Be familiar with the veterinary nurses’ skills and the tasks they are allowed to perform according to the state practice act, and use them to their maximum potential.
One key responsibility of veterinary nurses is bridging the communication gap, especially with clients, who often respond better to a veterinary nurse’s lay language and obvious compassion and knowledge when explaining patient treatment and care.
Veterinary nurses are excellent resources for handling many client medical concerns. When clients call with questions, veterinary nurses should be the first line for medical questions and can triage requests directed toward the veterinarians.