The last time you visited your veterinarian, you and your pet may have had the opportunity to work with a veterinary nurse.  These individuals play a vital role in the veterinary hospital.  Some develop their skills through on-the-job training, and others earn a degree at an accredited university and pass their state’s licensing exam giving them the title of a licensed veterinary technician (LVT), certified veterinary technician (CVT), or registered veterinary technician (RVT).   This title is dependent upon their state of residence.  Licensed veterinary nurses can even further their skill set and knowledge and become an National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America  (NAVTA) recognized technician specialists in the areas of anesthesia/analgesia, behavior, clinical pathology, clinical practice, dentistry, dermatology, emergency & critical care, equine veterinary nursing, internal medicine, laboratory animal science, nutrition, ophthalmology, physical rehabilitation, surgery, or zoological medicine.  You will most likely encounter a technician specialist only in a veterinary specialty and emergency hospital, canine rehabilitation hospital, zoo, sizeable equine practice, or at an academic institution.   

The animal technician field has greatly evolved since its origin over 50 years ago.  State licensing boards determine the permitted duties of both veterinarians and technicians.  In the state of Kentucky, only licensed veterinarians can diagnose patients, prescribe medications and treatments, or perform surgical procedures.  Veterinary technicians also cannot participate in the operation of a veterinary hospital unless under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian on the premises.  However, they can perform a host of other veterinary medical tasks including, but not limited to, anesthesia induction and administration, catheter placement and blood draw, splinting, leading and performing CPR events, taking x-rays and performing lab work.   At the highest level of care, veterinary nurses are responsible for the continuous assessment of hospitalized patients providing them with all of their doctor-prescribed treatments and medications.  They are the advocates and voices for admitted patients.

In spite of all of these advances, the field continues to evolve.  In 2016, the NAVTA launched the Veterinary Nurse Initiative.  The goals of the initiative are to establish a national credentialing standard including requirements, title, and scope of practice.  This will eliminate the variety of titles mentioned above used to describe veterinary nurses throughout the country.  The intent is to unify and grow the profession and to educate pet owners about the duties of veterinary nurses as they relate to the care of their animals.  The goal is to encourage veterinary consumers to demand qualified veterinary nurses resulting in increased consumer protection and enhanced patient care.

So, the next time you visit your primary veterinarian or need to go to an animal specialty and emergency hospital, ask if your pet will be cared for by a veterinary nurse and remember to thank them for the love, care, and attention they provide your fur baby.  They are the unsung heroes of the animal hospital.