In 1959, after two years of practice, I wrote an article for Modern Veterinary Practice, a journal long since deceased. It was titled "We need a nursing profession."
Back then, many small-animal practices had day help, usually referred to as a "kennel boy" or a "kennel girl." Some hospitals had someone up front called the "receptionist." Others referred to an "assistant." I did relief work for my first year in quite a few practices, and the "kennel boy" was the most frequent personnel. If bald and wrinkled, he was sometimes designated the "kennel man."
I was a radical in the fifties. I operated in a cap, mask, and gown. Most of my neighboring colleagues operated barehanded, and two of them wore aprons in the O.R.
My wife was my original assistant. After a while, I hired a woman who would go on to work for me for 25 years. In each case, I outfitted them in a white uniform and referred to them as my "nurse." The response I saw from my clients inspired that MVP article. It also was an important factor in the explosive growth of my practice.
When I wrote the article, what I had in mind was nursing schools within each veterinary school, where the future nurses could work with future veterinarians on actual patients.
Eventually, of course, the profession of veterinary technician came into being. Initially, veterinary schools awarded their students an Animal Health Technician (AHT) degree. Later, some schools changed that to Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT) and others to Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT).
In England, veterinary nurses are known as nurses. They are RVNs—Registered Veterinary Nurses. I like that.
In the July 1, 2009, issue of JAVMA, there is an article titled "Survey shows veterinary technicians grapple with new, old challenges." One of the concerns mentioned is the lack of a professional recognition.
We work in one of the medical professions. Veterinarians are known as doctors and I think formally trained veterinary technicians should have an RVN degree like those in England, and should be called nurses.
On the other hand, veterinary students in England earn an MRCVS, not a DVM or VMD. They are addressed as "mister." Remember "Mister Herriot"? Perhaps we can learn from each other!
When I wrote that MVP article back in 1959, there were a few positive responses. But there were many more opposing the idea of a veterinary nursing profession. The concern was that such a move would create competition that would cut into the veterinarian's income. This view, based upon many doctors' insecurity, was expressed despite the fact that a shortage of veterinarians existed in the nation at that time. Certain rural communities were actually subsidizing practitioners to locate there, offering free facilities and a guaranteed minimum income.
Today, once again, the economic wheel has turned and, despite a nationwide recession, a shortage of veterinarians exists. It is most evident in the food-animal industry, increasingly apparent in equine practice, and will inevitably affect small-animal practice.
Fortunately, we have licensed veterinary technicians to lighten our load. I just wish we called them nurses.
Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his Web site at robertmmiller.com.