The Veterinary technician profession has been subjected to variability since birth. Today, it faces a new, and hopefully positive, change with discussions about modifying the profession’s title to “veterinary nurse”. A movement lead by the National Association for Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) has illuminated differing opinions between those in and outside of the profession.
Veterinary Technician History
The profession began in 1908 when the Canine Nurses Institute made its first organized effort to train English “Veterinary Assistants”. Over the next eighty years, the profession grew. First, the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science created three different levels of “animal technician” certifications at research institutions. Next, the US Army, Purina, and State University of New York (SUNY) established “animal technician” training programs in the 1960’s, which the AVMA then began regulating in 1967. The AVMA waited until 1989 to adopt the term “veterinary technician”, feeling until then that people would be confused with the “veterinary” modifier.
Michigan State University and Nebraska Technical Colleges were the first animal technical educational programs accredited by the AVMA. There are now 230 AVMA accredited veterinary technician education programs. Of these, 21 offer four-year degrees and nine offer distance-learning (online) options. Even before the AVMA adopted the term, the North American Veterinary Technician Association (now called the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America) was formed in 1981. It works alongside the AVMA to protect the profession and encourages veterinary technician specialty developments. However, the profession has not grown uniformly across the United States.
In the United States, 37 states have established “veterinary technician” licensure, 10 states have non-profit organizations that implement voluntary credentialing, and 5 states/territories do not have any credentialing systems. This means that being a veterinary technician today could mean that either the state government regulates your credentialing, you are privately credentialed, or someone gave you the title “veterinary technician” when you started working at a veterinary practice and there is no credentialing system in your state.
Pros of “Veterinary Nurse”
The profession is fragmented by more than their state’s accreditations. Depending on their location, Veterinary technicians currently have varying titles. There are 19 states that use “certified veterinary technician”, 15 states that use “registered veterinary technician”, 14 states that use “licensed veterinary technician”, and Tennessee uses “licensed veterinary medical technician”. With this amount of fragmentation within the profession, how do we as veterinary professionals expect the general public to understand or trust a veterinary technician’s job description? As such a close-knit profession, we forget the foreignness of our commonly-used terms. Most clients underestimate the value of their veterinary technician simply by not knowing the education process. In fact, in a NAVTA survey to human nurses, 71% did not know the difference between veterinary assistants and technicians. Yet, we are baffled when we find that credentialed veterinary technicians are repeatedly unhappy and facing low income, compassion fatigue, lack of recognition and career advancement, underutilization of skills, and competition with individuals trained on-the-job. Due to this culture, the profession has incredibly high turnover rates despite its increased demand by the growing veterinary industry; veterinary technicians are projected to grow 30% by 2022.
How can we, without spending incredible amounts on advertising, uplift our veterinary technicians in the public (and practice’s) eye? Many have suggested using the familiar and applicable “nurse” title. The word “technician” implies an individual who has mastered veterinary science and technology, while “nurse” incorporates caring for animal patients into the description. Heather Predergast, RVT, CVPM, SPHR, a specialist with Patterson Veterinary Supply, Inc., discussed the need to abolish the profession’s fragmentation. She noted that “there has long been a need for common credentialing in this area. The responsibilities and job tasks of a veterinary technician have evolved over time and are inaccurately described by the term ‘technician’, implying a definition of their identify based on technical tasks. The term ‘veterinary nurse’ will incorporate the art of caring for patients from a patient-centered perspective, in addition to the science and technology.”
For these reasons, NAVTA has launched the Veterinary Nurse Initiative in an action to unite a single title, set of credential requirements, and scope of practice. This movement would hopefully provide recognition to the profession and elevate its credibility by requiring further education. Like human nurses, differing titles would recognize individual’s efforts for further education. To distinguish associate and bachelor’s degrees, NAVTA has proposed designating Registered Veterinary Nurse for associate degrees and Bachelor of Sciences in Veterinary Nursing for bachelor’s degrees.
Australia and the United Kingdom have already changed the name to “veterinary nurse” with large success. As the movement poses potential in the States, many academic institutions and corporations, such as Purdue, Midmark Corporation, and Patterson Veterinary Supply Inc. have published endorsements for its change; however, the initiative does face fair opposition.
Cons of “Veterinary Nurse”
Many veterinary technicians still opt to keep their current title. When questioned in a 2016 NAVTA survey, the majority of veterinary technicians (54%) favored the term “veterinary nurse”, over a third (37%) wanted to keep the title “veterinary technician”, and the remaining surveyed were undecided. Most of the pro-technician responders attributed their answer to disbelief that it will be possible to change the title. Some current veterinary technicians have voiced unease at their unsure futures after working their entire careers in a state that does not require licensure. Another similar situation arises for those that have passed the veterinary technician national examination but have not graduated from a school accredited by the AVMA committee.
While, ideally, this veterinary nurse initiative works to unify the profession and ensure quality standards, we must realize that we may be alienating a population of technicians at the end of their careers that would be offended if required to pay for an accredited teaching program and learn alongside new, inexperienced future technicians. Another important consequence to consider is liability. Currently, liability for veterinary technicians falls to the veterinarian on all cases; however, human nurses have their own liability to practice under their license governed by a separate board. This is a consideration essential to address as we raise the accountability of veterinary nurses.
The Veterinary Nurse Initiative has faced opposition outside of the profession as well. In fact, the veterinary technicians initially opposed to changing the name also noted conflict with human nurses in any past attempted title changes. The Veterinary Nurse Initiative investigated this further by sending a survey to three nursing groups. Two of the three declined to even acknowledge the survey, potentially indicating apathy for veterinary-related topics. Of the one group that did complete the survey, 66% did not object to “veterinary nurse”; however, regardless of whether or not they were opposed to the title change, almost all of the responders incorrectly assumed a veterinary technician’s educational requirements. An analysis of the opposed responses to the nurse title found that the objectors believed technician education was subpar to human nursing and the title was not deserved by veterinary technicians. It suggests that the human nursing profession worries about maintaining the quality of its own title and hopes to avoid misrepresentations.
In the past, other professions, not similar in scope to human nurses, have attempted to claim a “nursing” title. For example, a Christian medical community attempted to title their “spiritual healers” as “nurses”; however, they did not share nearly the same amount of education rigor. When confronted with a potential title change in the veterinary profession, human nurses mistakenly worry that the term “veterinary nurse” will also encompass veterinary assistants. This confusion highlights the need for public awareness of technicians – if the closest human counter-part profession does not understand a technician’s role or certification, how can we expect the general public to know any differently? The veterinary profession must raise awareness to the public about the differences between its assistants and technicians.
Currently, as the veterinary nurse initiative gains a foothold in Ohio, the Ohio Nurses Association and its 170,000 members have fought its new legislation, arguing that the state legally defines the term “nurse” as caring for humans and that no other person or profession may insinuate that they practice as a nurse. With similar nurse title protection in about 24 other states, the veterinary nurse initiative is likely in for its fair share of conflict as it continues to grow.
The debate over the title of veterinary technicians remains controversial both in and outside of the veterinary community. As with any impending change, it is important to recognize its potential benefits and shortcomings in order to formulate the best strategy to improve the profession. If the Veterinary Nurse Initiative ends up being successful, the change will likely empower today’s veterinary technicians and reduce the profession’s current high turnover rates.
It has been said many times that employees are our most valuable assets. Without a well-trained, highly motivated staff, it will be difficult for any Practice to achieve its strategic vision and performance goals. Since every Practice will need to hire additional staff at some point, the decision to hire a new employee should not be taken lightly or without careful Talent Acquisition planning. The key to any Talent Acquisition effort is to devise and implement a strategy that will yield the greatest opportunity to attract talent and retain them.
Defining the Job
Every recruitment effort should incorporate strategies to address sourcing, screening, interviewing and selection. Before deciding where, when and how to advertise for a job opening, it is critical to confirm the need for the job still exists. Every Practice needs to accomplish certain basic functions, including reception, patient examination, inventory management, client billing, etc. When a Practice is just starting out, many of these responsibilities are combined into one or more positions. Team members often are responsible for doing anything and everything needed to help run the Practice and job descriptions should reflect this broad array of duties. As a Practice grows and evolves, management needs to analyze and improve the Practice’s organizational structure. Job descriptions will help reveal whether all Practice responsibilities are adequately covered and where responsibilities should be reallocated to achieve a better balance.
As a result, a job description should be reviewed annually to ensure it includes and clarifies information regarding the general and strategic nature of the work to be performed, specific responsibilities and duties and the employee characteristics or competencies needed by the person who will be required to fulfill the job requirements. Knowing these needed attributes will help ensure a Practice has the best possible chance of finding the right individual. In addition, an accurate job description will ensure interested candidates are provided a clear and concise picture of what the job entails and enables the potential employee to assess the relative importance of everything he/she is accountable for, providing a sense of where the job fits in to the Practice as a whole and how the position supports the Practice’s overall goals. If a job description does not exist for the position you are looking to fill, this is the ideal time to create it.
Determining Where to Look
Once your job description is completed, you are ready to craft a job posting that dazzles an ideal candidate by highlighting your Practice’s strengths and the position’s attractiveness. Describe your Practice’s culture, reputation, growth, benefits package, advancement opportunities and even location. Think of your job descriptions and job postings as advertising copy that you have created as an opportunity to highlight what is great about your Practice and to pull in your next high achiever.
Once you have clearly identified what position you are looking to fill, the next step is determining the best places to look. There are various resources that can help you “cast a wider net” about your job opening. The decision of where and how to recruit should be based on an assessment of how difficult you think it will be to find a sufficient number of qualified candidates and how much time, effort and money you are willing to commit to the recruiting process. While some sources are free or relatively inexpensive, others are very costly and may require signing an agreement with outside consultants to pay a percentage of the first year annual salary of the individual you ultimately hire. Be creative in your sourcing because you never know where your next ideal candidate will be present.
Conducting the Interview
The interview provides the hiring manager a perfect opportunity to identify the applicant(s) best qualified and best suited for the Practice. If conducted properly, it offers a valuable opportunity to assess how an applicant will perform the essential functions of the job and whether s/he will fit into the culture of the Practice. However, if handled incorrectly or unprofessionally, you risk alienating a candidate to whom you may want to issue a job offer. To ensure the interview process runs smoothly and without misstep, it is advisable to assign responsibility to one person to act as “gatekeeper” of the recruitment process.
In preparing for the interview, an applicant checklist should be developed to ensure all necessary information and documents have been obtained and distributed to persons involved in the interview and selection process (e.g. job description, application, resume, etc…). Prior to the interview, train the employees involved in the process regarding what questions are and are not permissible (all questions should be job related), interviewing techniques (ask broad, open-ended questions that require an applicant to process what is being asked and develop an appropriate response), behavioral interviewing (questions eliciting responses regarding goals, motivation, and responses to specific situations are valuable in determining if your Practice’s culture and organization structure offer opportunities that match those of the applicant) and ensure all team members know what skills, knowledge and competencies they will be looking for in the applicants. Asking the wrong questions, or asking the right questions in the wrong manner, can result in serious legal problems for a Practice. Only ask questions that will provide information about the person’s ability to do the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Effective interviewers listen more than they talk. Remember, your goal in the interview is to learn as much as you can about the applicant. Be sure to control the pace and flow of the conversation. Once the interview is completed, be sure to thank the applicant for coming to the interview, explain that you are still in the interviewing phase, and inform the applicant that you hope to be making a decision within the next few days/weeks.
Making the Offer
Now that you have completed the interview process and determined whom you want to select, it is time to decide how to extend the job offer. Here, too, there are guidelines you should follow to ensure the entire recruitment process does not fail because you did not act swiftly or decisively enough in the eyes of your chosen candidate. To avoid losing the “right person”, make the offer as soon as possible after the final job interview.
Admittedly, you don’t want to rush the interview process and risk hiring the wrong person. However, the individual you ultimately select may also be actively interviewing with other practices and might receive another offer while you deliberate. By making the offer as soon as possible, you increase your chances of hiring the person you want. Considering you may only have one opportunity to offer the job to that individual, be sure to reemphasize all the benefits of working for your Practice. This is the ideal time to review salary and benefits, paid time off, paid (or unpaid) CE, personal pet care benefits, and any other terms and conditions of employment.
If your Practice includes pre-employment drug screening and background screening as a routine part of the employment process, this testing will need to be done AFTER a contingent job offer of employment has been made. Depending on the level of the job being offered, you may wish to have a formal employment agreement developed by an employment attorney who is knowledgeable about the veterinary industry.
The final step in the interview process entails notifying rejected applicants that they were not selected. This notification is normally accomplished by email or written letter. While there is no requirement for this notification, taking this action sends the message that your Practice respects all applicants and is committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect. Furthermore, you may wish to reconsider a previously rejected applicant at some future date.
On-Boarding the New Hire
On-Boarding is the process by which a Practice acclimatizes its new employees. It is one of the keys for improving productivity, building loyalty and engagement, fostering a stronger team, and helping employees become successful early in their careers with the new Practice. Employee on-boarding includes the processes that allow new employees to learn about the structure, vision, mission, and values of the Practice as well as to complete new-employee paperwork relative to benefits and legal documents such as non-competes, at-will statements and employee handbooks. For some Practices, the employee on-boarding process consists of one or two days of activities; for others, this process may involve a series of activities spanning one or many months.
Veterinary Practices have learned that employee on-boarding is not merely a process for getting new employees to sign off on their new-hire paperwork, but a process that is essential to transitioning a new employee into your Practice. Studies have proven that employee engagement is partially determined by the new employee’s treatment and orientation during the first 30–90 days of employment. A solid employee on-boarding strategy will help build on that loyalty and help with retention and engagement issues throughout an employee’s tenure. The new employee will be anointed into the Practice’s team culture by understanding the Practice’s mission, vision, values and knowing how his/her job responsibilities and performance support the Practice’s overall goals. It is important to engage with recent new hires and ask open-ended questions to determine their level of satisfaction with the Practice to ensure success, improve productivity and ultimately, enhance retention.
In conclusion, Talent Acquisition is a process that requires planning and detailed execution, but when done correctly, the outcome will yield the greatest opportunity to attract and retain the high achiever, ‘A’ player talent for any job position within your Practice.
Drafting job descriptions requires time, effort and creativity. The focus needs to be on what the job requirements are to support your Practice’s current needs and long-term objectives. Without a job description, it is not possible for an individual to properly commit to or be held accountable for the position’s role and responsibilities. The tendency when having to create a job description is to under-estimate the strategic nature of the role, ignore the necessary competencies to perform the responsibilities and be too detailed with operating instructions (which should be in either a standard operating procedures or training manual).
Job descriptions are essential for recruitment, enable you to distinguish positions, delineate tasks and determine pay levels. Without them, your best efforts to staff, develop and evaluate performance are without direction. And your ability to defend against complaints regarding pay, performance, promotion and discrimination are disadvantaged.
Be bold, empower your employees to write their own job descriptions but not without first providing them in-depth training on:
- What is a Job Description
o Includes information regarding the general nature of the work to be performed, specific responsibilities and duties, and the employee characteristics required to perform the job.
• A duty is what the person in the job will actually do while qualifications are the skills, attributes, or credentials a person needs to perform each duty successfully (success criteria competencies – critical for recruiting). Clarify the actual duties and responsibilities before you start thinking about what special attributes or competencies will be needed by the person who will be fulfilling those responsibilities.
o Focuses on outcomes and accountabilities and are used to manage performance. Have reasonable expectations, the job must be doable.
- Value of Job Descriptions
o Clarifies who is responsible for what within your Practice by defining relationships between individuals. By accomplishing this, job descriptions can be used to settle grievances, minimize conflicts, and improve communications.
o Enables the employee to assess the relative importance of everything he/she is accountable for, provides a sense of where the job fits in to the Practice as a whole and how the position supports the Practice’s overall goals.
o Provides information about the knowledge, training, education, and skills needed to perform each job. They prevent misunderstandings for employees by clarifying what they need to know, accomplish and prioritize regarding their jobs.
o Helps management analyze and improve the Practice’s organizational structure. Reveals whether all Practice responsibilities are adequately covered and where responsibilities should be reallocated to achieve a better balance.
o Limits legal exposure to issues such as equal opportunity and discrimination laws.
- Job Analysis
o A data-gathering process including examination/interpretation of the data to determine what the employee actually does on the job, the required qualifications needed to perform those duties and the context in which the work is performed
o It is an evaluation of the job function, not the person doing the job.
o Includes a thorough understanding of the essential functions of the job, a list of all duties and responsibilities, a percentage of time spent for each group of tasks, the job’s relative importance in comparison with other jobs, the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform the job, and the conditions under which the work is completed.
- Job Design
o Communicates what to consider when focusing on job design and creates teamwork in a smart way, so employees want to be on that team and be thoughtful in assembling it. Considers how individuals react to their jobs by looking at social characteristics of work (such as, interdependence, frequent feedback, autonomy, a socially supportive work environment, communicating with people outside of the Practice, etc) to reap the benefits of greater job/work/organizational satisfaction, increased performance, less exhaustion/stress and reduced turnover intentions.
- Compiles the data concisely using clear language and a standardized format
o Documents essential functions of the position
o At a strategic level, documents
• Does what work (including review of the work of others).
• When (or how often).
• Why (the purpose or impact of the work).
• How (it is accomplished).
o Indicates that the job description is not designed to cover or contain a comprehensive listing of activities, duties or responsibilities that are required of the employee.
- Signature Line
o Signatures validate the job description.
o Employees understand the requirements, essential functions and duties of the position.
Annually, in tandem with your performance evaluation cycle, you should be reviewing your job descriptions for accuracy and updating them especially if the Practice is dynamic, going through some business transformation and roles/procedures are changing rapidly. It is more than just a static document and reference point. Job descriptions should be used for job postings, interviews, reasonable accommodation requests, compensation reviews for determining salary levels/pay grades/titles, performance appraisals and clarifying missions, as well as for career planning, training exercises and legal requirements for compliance purposes.
Once your job description is completed, you are ready to craft a job posting that dazzles an ideal candidate by highlighting your Practice’s strengths and the position’s attractiveness. Describe your Practice’s culture, reputation, growth, benefits package, advancement opportunities and even location. Write your job posting as a performance profile, informing candidates of expectations and what kind of attitude your want in a new hire as well.
Think of your job descriptions and job postings as advertising copy that you have created as an opportunity to highlight what is great about your Practice, to raise your Practice’s profile in the industry and to pull in your next high achiever.