Enhancing leadership capacity

Jennifer Hamlin
July 2019



In the last few years, there has been growing pressure on our industry as a result of the global shortage of veterinarians and rising stress associated with poor work-life balance, student loan debt, compassion fatigue, burnout, mental illness, and a rising suicide rate. At the same time, and perhaps conversely, the veterinary nursing community has been developing and connecting. While we still have some of the same challenges as our veterinary colleagues, we have developed. We have established a strong voice in the industry, enhanced our professionalism, and reinforced our invaluable contribution to the veterinary workforce. It's a fertile field that is ready for transformation.

In human medicine, nurses comprise more than half of the healthcare workforce, and this certainly should be similar in the veterinary industry. The human healthcare system is supported by a multi-disciplinary care team, including physicians, nurses, nurse assistants, nurse practitioners, midwives, anaesthetists, radiographers, and the like. More importantly, physicians aren't seen as the only team members who can lead healthcare delivery systems. In fact, nurses are leaders in many of these areas, especially in resource-limited areas. They are at the frontlines, involved in research, evidence-based care decisions, quality improvement, and policy development.

While we in veterinary nursing have started on our journey toward creating leadership capacity in our profession, we are facing a critical gap in leadership to address the mounting pressures facing the industry as a whole. Despite decades of discussion around developing a veterinary nurse practitioner role, it still is in its infancy with only a few qualifications worldwide, and a lack of uptake. Unlike human healthcare, our industry is not publically funded, nor do we have the research funding or framework to guide us. Human research shows that baccalaureate-prepared nurses result in a decrease in patient deaths and complications. Surely we can consider this and how it might apply to veterinary practice?

It's hard to ignore the fact that we rely on the human–animal bond to fund our work. We are advocates for animal welfare and wellbeing, but the fact is the vast majority of animals cared for by the veterinary industry are client-owned and this brings inherent challenges associated with the conflict between animal welfare, funding, and pet ownership being a luxury. The end result is it's up to us to make changes. It's up to you, and me. We are the ones that need to push our industry to enhance leadership capability in the veterinary industry. We are the ones that need to step forward.

We need to push forward as a community to develop leadership capacity, frameworks for patient-centred care, and research that supports better patient outcomes. We need to establish graduate and master level qualifications for veterinary nurses, not just as elective continuing education, but as an essential part of our healthcare framework. We need to develop a role for veterinary nurse practitioners, we need to do it for our patients and we need to do it to relieve pressure on the veterinarians. We need to push for better utilisation of animal care assistants, and development of allied healthcare frameworks that better support patient care, and lead to more rewarding roles for veterinary nurses and veterinarians. We need to ask for changes in our qualifications, and continuing education to support this.

It's time. Let's start the conversation. We can do this!

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