Looking Back on the Year(s)

Blog Author: Ken Yagi, MS, RVT, VTS (ECC) (SAIM)
NAVTA Immediate Past President

As I thought about the past year, a memory from a year ago popped up on Facebook that was so very relevant. I posted regarding my next adventure as the Chief Veterinary Nursing Officer at Veterinary Emergency Group. As I read back on my thoughts going into this role, I’m happy to say that the year has been fruitful.

The post from December 26, 2020, read:

“Many of you may already know that I’ve accepted the Chief Veterinary Nursing Officer position at the Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG), which is my next adventure.

VEG’s focus on veterinary nursing led to establishing what is likely the first CVNO position in the United States, and I am being given a large blank canvas to elevate our profession. I could not pass up the opportunity to work directly on creating an environment for members of our profession to lead fulfilling and meaningful careers and contribute as equals specializing in the practice of nursing care.

Emergency is VEG’s middle name. The open hospital concept (where the pets have their family with them “in the back” as a part of the veterinary team) is a part of the culture. Doing what’s right to treat people as people is a clear philosophy. Each of these points added to the alignments. In other words, I felt I could continue taking steps in changing the world in the new role.

Addressing aspects that attract and retain veterinary professionals, developing a rewarding career pathway in veterinary nursing, raising nursing care standards and competency, enhancing team dynamics that celebrate autonomous nursing practice, and being a voice for our profession. There is so much to do, and much of it is easier said than done.

What is clear is that this position will challenge the entire veterinary field to put veterinary technicians and nurses in seats of decision-making at every level. If we see further shifts in the field because of it, that is only the beginning of our success. And you can be sure without a doubt; I will always be out there striving as we forge new paths.

What hopes do you have as CVNOs become a new norm? Let’s make it happen!”

As I read back on my thoughts from a year ago, I can see that there are tangible results that speak to what we’ve set out to do with much more currently in motion. Of course, when crossroads in life present themselves, it’s difficult to know what the “best” path to take is. But, I can undoubtedly say that there are no regrets. What a great feeling to end the year with.

Painting our profession on a blank canvas as equal and respected professionals with sustainable careers is well underway. We’ve created a pay scale that allows credentialed veterinary technicians to earn $50,000-100,000/yr, placed clear value in becoming credentialed, removed the financial barriers to becoming credentialed by fully supporting tuition for a veterinary technology or nursing degree, catalyzed the creation of a national travel nurse team, created a competency-based training program that makes clinical skill advancement visible, and set out on defining the practice of nursing in veterinary medicine. “It’s time to stop talking about change. We need to create the change we want to see.” I am now sitting at the leadership table of a group that truly supports the change and believes in treating people like human beings.

Have these changes challenged the field of veterinary medicine to make similar changes? We have seen a large veterinary hospital create the position of a Chief Veterinary Technician, and there are rumors of more companies establishing Chief Veterinary Nursing Officer positions. Wages seem to have gone up a bit. While much of this is driven by the increased demand and shortage of veterinary professionals, we’ve received many “Thank you” messages from those who took our pay scale to their current employer as a living example of appropriate compensation. There is much focus on topics like utilization and advanced practice in the field of veterinary nursing, and we’ll continue to press forward in breaking the status quo. What we change within the company certainly influences the field by showing what is possible.

I have been able to appreciate over the last year that there is a difference in the pace of impact within individual companies/hospitals and non-profit work. Changes can be made more nimbly within individual companies with forward-thinking leadership and a cohesive and progressive culture. Impact on the field by a national level non-profit organization is in a more gradual manner due to the nature of it involving stakeholders of all perspectives and mindsets.

This can lead to people feeling like non-profit organizations are “too slow” to create change. I was one of those people, but I’ve found this sentiment to be inaccurate over the past ten years in volunteering my time (last four years being on the Executive Board for NAVTA). Nimble, private organizations, and heavier, national advocacy organizations have a collaborative relationship. Private organizations can more easily challenge status quos, spearhead change, and be early adopters to positive changes and forge the way. National advocacy organizations can push with force behind these changes as tides within the general population starts to shift to create steady momentum. Change does not occur without both of these presences. We’re in luck, as there are many amazing leaders in both areas in our field today.

One thing I have changed my mind on over the past year is that I no longer focus on “changing the field” to solve the issues of today. I now focus on taking what is within my reach and resources to solve the issues the right way. Treat people like human beings. Give people lifelong careers, not jobs. Create a place people can find their purpose. A wise person said to me, “Change lives, and the field will follow.” I am on a mission to change the lives of as many people as possible. If each and every one of us can impact the lives of as many people as possible through positive change, the field will change on its own.

It has been an absolute pleasure serving on the NAVTA board and looking at the progress we have made. Where the profession is today and will be going is a cumulative effect of the efforts by those leaders that stood up since decades before us, the efforts of the leaders of today, and the efforts of the leaders of the future. Who is going to stand up as future leaders? Is it you?