Much discussion these days swirls around the broad topic of Veterinary team members, which breaks down into three categories: (1) Veterinary Technicians/Nurses, (2) Veterinary Technician Specialists, and (3) Mid-Level Professionals, often referred to as VPAs, which plays off the human healthcare Mid-professional PAs. These discussions are affected, of course, by the impact of shortages throughout Veterinary ranks, often highlighted by shortages of veterinarians, but the same applies to Veterinary Technicians/Nurses. VPAs are designed or justified to relieve the shortage of veterinarians.

Let’s start by classifying the issues surrounding each profession:

  1. Veterinary Technicians/Nurses
  • Under-compensated in a demanding role, leading to high turnover.
  • Wide variances in practices, allowing credentialed Veterinary Technicians/Nurses to practice to the full extent of their education and training. Note: the VTNE national board exam for credentialed Veterinary Technicians/Nurses is administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) and is recognized in all 50 states.
  • Licensed in some states but still not all. Full licensure across 50 states is a high priority of the organized trade association representing credentialed Veterinary Technicians/Nurses known as NAVTA (National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America). The remaining states have a voluntary credentialing process through the state vet tech association or VMA, but no title protection is awarded.
  • Licensing and accreditations are governed by veterinarians, unlike most professions, which are self-governing.
  • Challenged to develop and enjoy career ladders or ownership opportunities.
  1. Veterinary Technician Specialists (VTSes)
    • Even though the Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties was created in the 1990s and is now overseeing 16 NAVTA-approved academies, many veterinarians are unaware of the rigors and expectations of earning the self-driven achievement. This causes the approximately 1,500 VTSs to be underutilized in their chosen area.
    • Few states recognize the title and only two states currently outline duties or levels of supervision for VTSs.
  2. Mid-Level Professionals (VPA or Veterinary Professional Associate)
  • Still a concept and not a recognized title or profession.
  • A single program exists to train these professionals (limited to credentialed Veterinary Technicians/Nurses): the Masters in Veterinary Clinical Care at Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. At the same time, Colorado State University is developing its own version of the VPA, but is encountering strong resistance from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and Colorado VMA.
  • Opposed vigorously and loudly by the AVMA, in part via a claim that the VPA will harm Veterinary Technicians/Nurses despite its goal of providing an additional career ladder with higher compensation.
  • As a result of the AVMA’s campaign, the debate about a VPA often positions (or at least attempts to position) Veterinary Technicians/Nurses against the idea of a VPA.

It’s unfortunate but all too common, that the Mid-Level Professional option is treated as a zero-sum game. In other words, its advancement necessarily takes something away from Veterinary Technicians/Nurses. A new organization, BCVMO, represents the Chief Medical or Veterinary Officers of more than 50 powerful practices and companies across North America. More Veterinary Technicians/Nurses and Veterinarians work for the member organizations of BCVMO than any other Animal Health institution, so its voice should count. BCVMO supports improving the stature of Veterinary Technicians/Nurses and creating the VPA. The BCVMO viewpoint sees the success of PAs and Nurse Practitioners in human healthcare as having mitigated shortages of doctors while creating an attractive career ladder for nurses. Why couldn’t this work in Veterinary medicine?

One other organization has jumped into the arena with a goal of bridging these differences and that is NAVC, best known for its industry-leading VMX Conference in Orlando each January and Vet Folio programs around the calendar. NAVC launched a two-day conference devoted to Veterinary Technicians/Nurses last year in Austin known as HiVE during National Vet Tech Week. Two more HiVE events in 2024 will also focus on Veterinary Technicians/Nurses and Practice Managers in Minneapolis and Anaheim. NAVC plans to grow HiVE and offer more regional events for Veterinary team members and has identified 12 HiVE Champions, all credentialed vet techs, to help bolster the events.

There you have it: a full roster of animal care-related interests stirring up important dialogue and endeavoring to shape the future of Veterinary professionals. The goals of each group are earnest, and we hope aim to improve the situation. Still, the solutions don’t align, and it appears we have years of skirmishes ahead. Must this be the case? Wouldn’t it make sense to put the “positioning” and “counter-punching” on hold while we sort out the issues and evaluate the solutions?  Before everyone in the animal care industry is expected to choose a side, why not lay out the choices and rationales, plus trade-offs for that matter, and enable stakeholders to understand the menu before picking a “winner”?

Kudos to NAVC for its HIVE initiatives and BCVMO for pulling together a uniquely powerful and well-positioned group of Veterinary professionals to examine these options. Let’s seat each stakeholder mentioned above around the table and have an honest discussion with all interests visible . . . and heard.