Critically Evaluate the Different Roles of the Veterinary Nurse, Explore Legal and Professional Framework That Governs Veterinary Nursing and Discuss Limitations of the Role of the Veterinary Nurse.

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As a profession, veterinary nursing is a relatively new contender in the animal care industry. In 1963, Pamela Pitcher was the first Registered Animal Nursing Auxiliary (RANA) to qualify, however back then there was no legal framework to abide by, no textbooks or a syllabus to refer to and no support or guidelines to follow. Since the sixties, there have been many schemes aiming to improve the veterinary nursing profession; such as putting together an academic syllabus, having a guide to professional conduct and most importantly creating a legal and professional framework. Despite such advances, veterinary nurses (VNs) still continue to encounter limitations in their profession and new challenges are constantly being faced (and some overcome) in order to achieve the ultimate goal of professional autonomy (Gray & Pullen 2006).

In the United Kingdom, bearing the title of a Veterinary Nurse means, having a recognized qualification and being registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). The RCVS is a regulatory body in the UK who make sure that the standards of the veterinary profession are being adhered to; and by doing so they ensure the health and safety of animals and the public (RCVS 2010a).  Whilst a registration process exists for veterinary nurses it is not yet a legal requirement. This has created four types of veterinary nurse: listed VNs, student VNs, unlisted VNs, and VN assistants. Listed VNs are qualified and registered on the RCVS List of Veterinary Nurses. They are also able to perform tasks under Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act, which will be discussed later on. These tasks must be executed under the direction of the veterinary surgeon. Student VNs are nurses in training and must be enrolled with the RCVS as a student nurse. They too are able to perform tasks under Schedule 3; however they must be directly supervised by a veterinary surgeon (VS) or a qualified and listed VN. An unlisted VN is a nurse who is qualified but not registered on the RCVS List. Finally, a veterinary nursing assistant is someone who has not gone through professional nursing training and is also not registered with the RCVS. They might however have some type of formal training and be perfectly capable to help out with veterinary nursing duties. Like student nurses and unlisted nurses, they are not allowed to perform any tasks under Schedule 3 (Earle 2007).

Veterinary nurses have numerous roles within a veterinary practice; however the most significant of these is their role in providing nursing care to animals receiving veterinary treatment (Earle 2007). Observation and assessment of the patient is a determining factor in this process, and includes the constant monitoring of the animal and response to any ‘out of the ordinary’ symptoms. Recording temperature, pulse, respiration rate, demeanor, rates of elimination and responsiveness are some of the few factors that are being documented as part of the in-patient care process (Seymour 2007). However there is only so much a VN can do in terms of treatment to patients showing signs of abnormal behavior. If a patient is clearly in pain despite being given medication, or if more fluid therapy is needed during their recovery period, a VN is unable to change or add any medication/fluid given to the patient based only upon his/her judgment, and therefore must consult a VS. This sheds some light on the limitations presented in this profession; in terms of the influence the VS exerts on the role of the VN.

To verify this point, there are specific roles of a VN which are highly regulated and require direction and supervision of a VS. These roles are clearly explained under Schedule 3 in The Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966. The purpose of this Act is “…to maintain a register of veterinary surgeons eligible to practice in the UK; to regulate veterinary education and to regulate professional conduct” (RCVS 2010b). In 1992, this Act was amended in order to include and...
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