Veterinary Nursing in Europe: An overview of attitudes and training
WSAVA 2002 Congress
Dr Ray Butcher


The current position regarding the use and training of veterinary nurses / technicians throughout Europe is reviewed. Special consideration is given to the situation in Spain.


Companion animal practice is essentially a "service industry," and though we may face the same range of clinical problems, our clinics have evolved to meet the needs of our clients. These needs reflect cultural and economic differences; however, I do believe that there are similar trends throughout Europe and the entrenched ideas of some veterinarians must change if they are to successfully meet these new challenges.

One of the most significant differences between countries is the role that support-staff play within small animal clinics and the value that veterinarians place on them. This in turn will influence whether or not training programmes are provided, as well as the quality of the education given. As the title suggests, the whole issue is a reflection of the attitudes of the veterinarians in each particular country and I would challenge those colleagues that have doubts about the benefits (indeed necessity) of nurse training to the evolution of improved standards in our clinics to attend.

In the following presentation I will consider the term "veterinary nurse" to mean all non-veterinary staff within the clinic.

The Team Approach

Within the UK there are structured training programmes for all support staff and qualified nurses have become valuable professionals in their own right. We generally regard our staff as an integral team in which all members have a specific and important role. These varied roles require different qualities, in turn requiring people with a particular psychological make up. These theories will be briefly discussed, but the "take home" message is that nurses are not mini-vets, but professionals in there own right with a specific role. In general, vets do not make good nurses.

The view of the "Veterinary Dinosaurs"

There are those (now fortunately fewer in number) in the veterinary profession who consider that training nurses is a threat to jobs. On the contrary, I feel that "protecting" excess veterinary jobs by preventing the development of nurse training not only demeans veterinary professional standards, it also inhibits the evolution of higher practice standards. Moreover, by ignoring the problem and not taking the lead to promote education, has encouraged many non-regulated colleges to set up courses without any veterinary input or quality control.

Trends in SA Practice

Whilst there are cultural and economic differences between countries, there does seem to be the same trend throughout Europe. Ten to fifteen years ago, the emphasis was to treat sick and injured animals. Though this is still an important function, there is generally becoming a trend to promote pet health. In 1995, I lectured in Spain outlining 21 reasons why it was important to provide nurse training. These functions were principally providing support and assistance to the veterinarian so that he / she could work more efficiently. With increasing competition and perhaps a trend in the reduction of pet owners, we need to be an efficient business-veterinarians need to be employed to be veterinarians! (i.e.,: decision makers).

With the development of Pet Healthprogrammes, the role of the nurse and receptionist as key members of our team has become even more enhanced.

Types of qualification

In general, there are a number of levels of qualification that are possible within different countries of Europe:

1.  Degree status

2.  Higher diploma status

3.  Professional qualification (NVQ 3)-Animal Care qualification

4.  Non- standardised certification.

5.  Education material / courses with no certification

These qualifications may be achieved in a number of ways:

1.  Totally college based.

2.  "On the job."

3.  Distance learning

The benefits and disadvantages of these various types will be discussed.

Quality control

For the benefit of our own profession, let alone the nurses themselves, it is essential that there is veterinary involvement in the formulation of training programmes and that some form of quality control is in place. I believe that countries in which courses have developed in the absence of veterinary interest will face significant problems in the coming years.

Quality control could be achieved via:

1.  National supervised standard.

2.  European supervised standard.-Problem of agreeing a syllabus

Situation throughout Europe in general and Spain in particular

Given this background, the current situation throughout Europe will be discussed (A FECAVA Survey 2002). Special consideration will be given to the situation in Spain. C. Dumon

Speaker Information
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Ray Butcher
United Kingdom

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