Veterinary Physical Medicine

Veterinary Physical Medicine

Paraveterinary workers are those people who assist a veterinarian in the performance of their duties. The job role varies throughout the world, and common titles include veterinary nurse, veterinary technician, veterinary assistant and veterinary technologist, and variants with the prefix of 'animal health'.

The scope of practice varies between countries, with some countries allowing suitably qualified paraveterinary workers a scope of autonomous practice, including minor surgery, whilst others restrict their workers to simple assisting of the veterinarian.


Veterinary nurse and technician

In the majority of anglophone countries, paraveterinary workers with a formal scope of practice, and a degree of autonomy in their role, are known as a veterinary nurses. The primary exception to this is in North America, where both the United States and Canada refer to these workers as veterinary (or animal health) technicians or technologists.

Human nursing associations have often claimed rights over the term 'nurse' and in some countries, this is protected by law. This was the case in the United Kingdom until 1984, where veterinary nurses were referred to as 'registered animal nursing auxiliaries', in line with the naming convention at the time for less qualified assistants in human nursing, called 'nursing auxiliaries'.

This is still the case in the United States, where the American Nursing Association and some state nursing associations have claimed proprietary rights to the term 'nurse'. Some veterinary technicians argue that as they spend approximately 90% of their time performing nursing tasks, they should be allowed to use the title of veterinary nurse, like their counterparts in other countries. Some argue that this is especially valid as their skill set is often greater than their human nursing counterparts, with the addition of skills such as radiology, laboratory work, pharmacy and more. Unofficially, many people (including vets and technicians) refer to these workers as veterinary nurses in conversation, as it is a succinct description of the role.

Veterinary assistant

In most countries, a veterinary assistant is a person with fewer or no formal animal health qualifications, who has no autonomous practice, but who is designated to assist a vet and act under their direct instruction.

Training programmes are often workplace based, and no formal licence or certification is required to perform the role.

Local laws may restrict what activities a veterinary assistant may perform, as some procedures may only be legally completed by a registered practitioner, such as a vet or a veterinary nurse.


Veterinarians have had assistance from staff throughout their existence of the profession, but the first organised paraveterinary workers were the canine nurses trained by the Canine Nurses Institute in 1908, and announced in the magazine 'The Veterinary Student'. According to the founder they would "carry out directions of the veterinary surgeon, meet a genuine need on the part of the dog owners, and at the same time provide a reasonably paid occupation for young women with a real liking for animals".

In 1913, the Ruislip Dog Sanatorium was founded, and employed nurses to care for unwell dogs and in the 1920s, at least one veterinary surgery in Mayfair employed qualified human nurses to tend the animals. In the mid 1930s, the early veterinary nurses approached the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for official recognition, and in 1938 the Royal Veterinary College had a head nurse appointed, but the official recognition was not given until 1957, first as veterinary nurses, but changed within a year to Royal Animal Nursing Auxiliaries (RANAs) following objection from the human nursing profession.

In 1951, the first formal paraveterinary role was created by the United States Air Force who introduced veterinary technicians, and this was followed in 1961 by a civilian programme at the State University of New York (SUNY) Agricultural and Technical College. In 1965 Walter Collins, DVM received federal funding to develop model curricula for training technicians. He produced several guides over the next seven years, and for this work he is considered the "father of veterinary technology" in the United States.

In 1984, the term veterinary nurse was formally restored to paraveterinary workers in the United Kingdom.

Role and responsibilities

The scope of practice for paraveterinary workers varies by jursidiction, and by qualification level. In some places, more than one grade of paraveterinary worker exists, for instance, in the United Kingdom there are both veterinary nurses, who are qualified professionals with a protected title, and veterinary assistants, who do not have a single level of qualification which they must attain, and whose title is not protected.

At the higher levels, veterinary nurses or technicans may be able to practice skills autonomously, including examinations and minor surgery on animals, without the direct supervision of a veterinarian.

Paraveterinary workers are likely to assist the vet, or perform by themselves on behalf of the vet, medical skills such as observations (e.g. taking and recording pulse, temperature, respiration etc.), wound and trauma management (e.g. cleaning and dressing wounds, applying splints etc.), physical interventions (e.g. catheterizations, ear flushes and venipuncture) and preparing and analysing biological samples (e.g. performing skin scrapings, microbiology, urinalysis, and microscopy).

Dependant on their scope of practice and training, they may also be called upon to operate diagnostic screening equipment, including electrocardiographic, radiographic and ultrasonographic instruments, including complex machines such as computed tomography, magnetic resonance imagers and gamma cameras.

Paraveterinary workers would commonly assist veterinarians in surgery by providing correct equipment and instruments and by assuring that monitoring and support equipment are in good working condition. They may also maintain treatment records and inventory of all pharmaceuticals, equipment and supplies, and help with other administrative tasks within a veterinary practice such as client education.

Education and qualification

The level of education of a paraveterinary worker will depend on the role they are performing, and the veterinary medico-legal framework for the area in which they are working. Many areas employ veterinary assistants, who have a simple role to directly assist the vet under direction, and may hold no formal qualification or training, or have been trained on the job.

Higher level paraveterinary workers, such as veterinary nurses, veterinary technicians or veterinary technologists, who have a scope of autonomous practice which they are expected to perform without instruction, are likely to have both formal qualifications and in many jurisdictions will also require a formal registration with a monitoring body.

In countries where the role of paraveterinary workers is most advanced, the qualification required is likely to be based in higher education, such as in the United States or Canada where veterinary technicians must normally gain an associate degree at an institution recognised by the American Veterinary Medical Association or Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, and can choose to study for an extended period to gain a bachelor's degree (which in America may confer the title 'technologist', rather than 'technician'), or the United Kingdom, where veterinary nurses enter the profession through either a two year diploma programme or through completion of a foundation degree or honours degree.

In almost all cases, regardless of the level of formalised training, a high level of practical experience is usually required prior to a student being fully qualified, which may be completed as part of their course, or during a post-qualification period. This may require maintenance of a log of all work completed, which may need to be signed by a supervising professional (such as the vet or senior member of the paraveterinary staff) to indicate competence. In some cases, such as in the United States, video records may be required of some procedures, which may then be examined by the awarding or registration body.

Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and parts of the United States, restrict some elements of practice, and may restrict use of the recognised name, to those people currently registered with an appropriate licensing body, meaning that it would be illegal for any person not on the register to represent themselves as a paraveterinary worker, or to perform some of the procedures that a licensed professional could. The precise details of these restrictions vary widely between legal areas, and neighbouring areas may have different policies, as is the case in the various states of the US.

This licensing body may have its own requirements for maintaining a registration, and those who hold the requisite academic qualification may still have to still complete a further range of exams or tests to become registered. For instance, in the United States, most areas use the Veterinary Technician National Exam, and this will be used by the state licensing authority (such as a state veterinary medical association) to qualify an applicant to become a registered veterinary technician.

In some cases, those people who qualified before the introduction of formal academic qualification requirements may still be working as paraveterinary workers, and may still be entered on a required register through the use of grandfather rights. For instance, in some states of the US, people with a set number of years or hours of experience assisting a veterinarian could sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam, however this route was phased out in 2011, and future candidates must have an academic qualification.

Specialty certification

Beyond credentialing as a veterinary technician specialty certification is also available to technicians with advanced skills. To date there are specialty recognitions in: emergency & critical care, anesthesiology, dentistry, small animal internal medicine, large animal internal medicine, cardiology, oncology, neurology, zoological medicine, equine veterinary nursing, surgery, behavior, nutrition, and clinical practice (canine/feline, exotic companion animal, and production animal sub-specialties). Veterinary Technician Specialists carry the additional post-nominal letters "VTS" with their particular specialties indicated in parentheses. As veterinary technology evolves more specialty academy recognitions are anticipated.

By country

  • Paraveterinary workers in Australia
  • Paraveterinary workers in Belgium
  • Paraveterinary workers in Denmark
  • Paraveterinary workers in France
  • Paraveterinary workers in Ireland
  • Paraveterinary workers in Italy
  • Paraveterinary workers in Japan
  • Paraveterinary workers in New Zealand
  • Paraveterinary workers in Norway
  • Paraveterinary workers in South Africa
  • Paraveterinary workers in Sweden
  • Paraveterinary workers in Switzerland
  • Paraveterinary workers in Thailand
  • Paraveterinary workers in Turkey
  • Veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom
  • Veterinary medicine in the United States

Global Presence

Attempts at professional solidarity resulted in the creation of the International Veterinary Nurses and Technicians Association (IVNTA) in 1993. Its members currently include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Ireland, Japan, Malta, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 2007 the Accreditation Committee for Veterinary Nurse Education (ACOVENE) was established in an attempt to standardize veterinary technology education throughout the European Union and to allow movement of veterinary nurses educated in one member nation to employment in another. On the specialty front, the Swiss-based organization VASTA (Veterinär Anästhesie Schule für TechnikerInnen und ArzthelferInnen -- Veterinary Anaesthesia School for Technicians and Assistants) is a six module year-long program that is approved by the Association of Veterinary Anaesthetists (AVA), the European College of Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia (ECVAA), the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM), and that has applied for RACE (Registry of Approved Continuing Education) approval in the United States ("Assistants" in the VASTA title refers to assistant or junior veterinarians and not to unqualified veterinary assistants). Its instructors include diplomates of the ECVAA, nurse anesthetists from the human medical field, neurologists, and veterinary physical therapists. It is currently offered in Germany, Austria, and the German speaking regions of Switzerland. It has previously been offered in the French speaking region of Switzerland but is currently on hiatus there due to low participation. Courses are planned for the US and the UK in 2012. Successful completion of the course results in the awarding of the post-nominal letters VAT (Veterinary Anaesthesia Technician).

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