ABSTRACT: VN Futures was launched as a joint Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA) project in 2016, associated with, but separate from, the Vet Futures project and with a focus on identifying and finding solutions to some of the specific issues facing the veterinary nursing profession, and highlighting and exploiting the opportunities that will drive forward our profession.

The VN Futures Report and Action Plan that was published in July 2016, identified five key streams of activity:

1.   Creating a sustainable workforce;

2.   Structured and rewarding career paths;

3.   Confident, resilient, healthy and well- supported workforce;

4.   Proactive role in One Health;

5.   Maximising Nurses’ Potential.

The following feature is an interview with Jill Macdonald who is the project leader for VN Futures as she discusses some of the work so far and how you all can be involved in the future.

Nikki – You have recently released a new website specifically for the VN Futures information; what are you hoping to achieve with this?

Jill – We felt it was really important to have a site dedicated to VN Futures, rather than having a joint Vet Futures and VN Futures site.

The website is a hub for VN Futures (VNF) information and our areas of work. Additionally there are career case studies, links for events, news and resources for nurses all available at www.vnfutures.org.uk

We really want nurses to contact us with their own stories or questions they may have about the project itself. There is also a blog section where people can share their views, and if you’d like to write a blog for us, then please get in touch.

It would be great if nurses could send their career case studies to me to showcase the diversity of people and roles in the VN profession. If people go on to the VNF website and select the link to the ‘news and views’ page, they will see a category on the righthand side labelled, ‘VN Career Case Studies’. We have a number of nurses who have shared their career experience with us already and I am keen to get even more. People can contact me through the website and I will send them a template to fill in to help write the case study.

Nikki – The school ambassador pilot sounds like a great idea for informing young people about the veterinary nursing career. What are your plans for this in the future?

Jill – We feel that veterinary nursing is not highlighted enough as a potential career choice, and wanted to be proactive in our approach to putting this right. Our aim is that the work will ultimately provide resources for nurses and teachers to use when discussing veterinary nursing as a career in schools. Unfortunately, this had to be put on hold due to the impact of COVID preventing veterinary nurses going into schools to talk about it as a career choice, however we are in the process of reviewing the pilot to get the scheme back on track, and are aiming to develop online school talks.

The pilot was developed with a group of eight VN Ambassadors and the aim is for the ambassadors to educate children about veterinary nursing through talks, activities and with use of additional resources, which we are also developing.

The idea is to try out three different approaches to holding school talks

1.   Describing a day in the life of a veterinary nurse;

2.   Career roadmap – this describes training options, different roles in veterinary nursing and career development opportunities;

3.   Clinical scenarios – showing how nurses are involved in specific cases that arrive in practice.

The pilot is primarily aimed at 11 to 13 year olds and nurses will be able to chose the format of their talk from resources we will produce.

We are also developing various supporting resources, for example, highlighting 10 great reasons to be a veterinary nurse, handouts, leaflets and posters. The children can take the leaflets back home to discuss vet nursing with parents so that they are aware of the role and routes into nursing, and with the development of online delivery we will also aim to create some digital resources.

By running the pilot we can get feedback about what works well and what doesn’t from the children, teachers and the ambassadors themselves. The ambassadors will also give suggestions of other things we can do to support the sessions.

We have been working with STEM Learning (a provider of support in science, technology, engineering and mathematics) when developing this scheme. All ambassadors are STEM registered and undertake an enhanced DBS check, and can access the free training resources they have available. It’s important to remember that anyone visiting schools should be DBS checked from a safe guarding point of view.

STEM Learning has lots of resources to help their Ambassadors; it would be great to get more veterinary nurses on their books.

Another aim of the scheme is to produce resources for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and other careers website. This may empower the careers officers and school teachers to give the talks about veterinary nursing themselves as all the information will be there for them to utilise.

Nikki – Community nursing is a hot topic at the moment, you’ve been talking to human district nursing educationers about the similarities in the roles.

Jill – Yes, we are at the early stages of this process; but we are very excited about this potential progression ofthe RVN role. It could have a huge influence on both animal and human welfare in supporting veterinary care, and there are also benefits in RVNs going into the community to educate and support pet owners and the public.

It has been really interesting to understand more about medical district nurse structure and education, and their heightened autonomy and responsibility in clinical decision-making.

An obstacle that Community RVNs will face relates to the Schedule 3 amendment of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, which stipulates that nurses must be working under the direction and employment of a veterinary surgeon.

The recent Legislation Working Party (LWP) report suggests removing the link between delegation and employment so a VS can direct a VN to perform duties for their clients without directly employing them. The report will go for consultation and from there, the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs will review the recommendations.

It is also imperative to consider the support aspects, since working within a veterinary practice provides RVNs with clinical and emotional support that may not be so available if they are working independently or outside of this support structure.

Another key aspect is safety and safeguarding, which will promote protection of both nurses and the public. The RVNs could possibly be helping vulnerable people, or handling more challenging animals alone. Any home visits should have a risk-assessment performed before the visit takes place. In order to successfully introduce the role in our profession, we need to consider and have discussions about safe guarding, safety and support policies that need to be adhered to.

We’ve seen some great examples of community nursing roles, and some practices are already using their nurses successfully in the community; plus, there are initiatives such as the PDSA’s Community Education Vet Nurses who educate owners and give preventative advice.

I am looking for nurses who work in community that can share their profile with us, so th
at we can publish these on the website and highlight the variety in the roles. This may be district nursing, educating the public, or palliative and end-of-life care for example.

Nikki – You’ve recently produced three successful webinars

1.   Lead or Head RVN: what’s in a name?

2.   Veterinary nurse’s time is valuable: how and why to charge for it;

3.   Maximising the potential of the veterinary nurse.

Jill – Yes, we had three live webinars and have put them on our website for people to access (www.vnfutures.org.uk/resources/).

I think it is great that nurses are aware of these topics, but I think it is also important that vets, practice managers and owners engage with them. For change to take place, practice decision-makers need to be on board too.

The three topics covered in the webinars are key areas to consider if we are to address leadership in veterinary nursing, role recog-nition, role satisfaction and remuneration.

Nikki – There has been an increased awareness of mental health and its impact on physical wellbeing. COVID has also had a huge impact on the veterinary practice team. How do you think the mind matters initiative (MMI) has risen to the challenge?

Jill – Well it has certainly been an unusual time with the pandemic and it is fair to say that it has a negative impact on people’s mental health. The MMI aims to support the mental health and wellbeing of the veterinary team and part of that is encouraging people to take advantage of the support that is available. The initiative was launched in 2015 and has three areas of focus – prevent, protect and support.

There are a number of training opportunities that allow people to recognise signs of mental health issues amongst both themselves and their colleagues and also enable improving resilience in self and others. There have been several sessions and online events over the past months that specifically help to support mental health during this difficult time.

I’d advise everyone to visit the MMI website and take a look at some of the fantastic resources that are available. Veterinary nurses are encouraged to have a say in mental health and wellbeing issues, and our input in this area is really significant. Veterinary nurses suffer many of the same stress and wellbeing issues as other members of the veterinary team.

Nikki – I would definitely recommend that people access the website. What other areas of the profession are you supporting?

Jill – In terms of supporting leadership, which is a joint aim of Vet and VN Futures, the RCVS Leadership Initiative developed two leadership courses which are free access, with a paid upgrade for assessment and a certificate if they wish. They are based on NHS leadership courses, and contain content that is highly applicable to VNs.

Another area we are involved in is ‘diversity and inclusion’; and with recent development of the RCVS Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, and Dr Mandisa Greene coming in as the new RCVS president and Matthew Rendle as RCVS VN Council Chair; I suspect this coming year will see great progress.

Nikki – You’ve had to push the end date back of phase one of the project, when do you anticipate the phase one finishing?

Jill – We are aiming to push the end date back to December 2021 due to the understandable delay in progress due to COVID-19. The great thing is that we are already gaining input from the profession for phase two. We will take the learnings from phase one and feedback from the profession to develop areas to focus on in the next phase.

I would love to hear from people who would like to be involved in any aspect of the VN Futures project; we can’t do this without nurses. Don’t worry if you haven’t done it before, we need a variety of experiences across the profession so we get as many viewpoints as possible and we strongly encourage veterinary nurses to become engaged with future developments of our profession. The project aims to improve the impact of veterinary nursing practice and build our future together, so please contact me and become involve d (jill@vnfutures.org.uk).


Nicola Ruedisueli RVN PGCHE FHEA CertVNRT PGDip Veterinary Education

Nikki began her veterinary nursing career at Liverpool University Small Animal Hospital. She worked in both private and referral practice, then moved to Mars UK providing nutritional technical advice to veterinary professionals. Nikki moved to Nottingham Trent University in 2007 establishing and course leading the FdSc in Veterinary Nursing and now works for the BVNA as Head of Learning and Development. She still works in a small animal hospital at weekends.

Email: nicola@bvna.co.uk

Jill Macdonald RVN DipAVN (Surgical) FHEA

Jill spent 12 years in small animal practice as a head nurse and VN assessor She then moved on to the University of Liverpool to setup, deliver and tutor online modules for the Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice and an online masters level module for veterinary nurses, as well as teach and develop the professional and communication skills aspect of the undergraduate curriculum.

Jill held a visiting lecturer’s position at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in 2013, and an associate teaching fellow position at the University of Surrey’s Vet School from 2014 to 2015. She is a previous BVNA Council Member; is a representative for the BVA’s Animal Welfare Foundation, and a regular contributor to the veterinary press.

Jill owns and manages ONCORE ePD who provide online education to the veterinary profession, and who won an RCVS Innovation Award in 2017.

She took up the RCVS post of VN Projects Coordinator in January 2019, with the main remit of her role being Project Management for VN Futures. Email: jill@vnfutures.org.uk

Veterinary Nursing Journal • VOL 35 • September-December 2020 •