Texas veterinarian Dr. Tannetje Crocker went on TikTok to explain why she received a complaint from the Texas Veterinary Medical Board. She wasn’t in trouble for administering poor-quality care or harming a pet. “I got sent to the Texas veterinary medical board because I work at a hospital that calls some veterinary technicians ‘veterinary nurses,’” she said in the clip. The video put her at the center of fierce debate as to whether veterinarian technicians can call themselves nurses.
Here’s where things stand:
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA) and others in the veterinary industry support the idea of calling veterinary technicians “veterinary nurses” to help the public better understand their role in the industry.
But the American Nurses Association (ANA) strongly disagrees. It maintains that the term “nurse” should be reserved for those who provide human care. Many vet technicians feel the same way. They believe adopting the term “nurse” would distract from their work.
The official title veterinary technician has been around for 34 years, but each state has its own credentialing requirements that can result in four different job titles: certified veterinary technician, licensed veterinary technician, licensed veterinary medical technician, and registered veterinary technician, but they all essentially do the same thing.
Nine states don’t have any licensing and credentialing requirements at all, which means anyone can themselves a vet technician in these jurisdictions.
In 2017, the NAVTA launched a campaign to change the professional title from veterinarian technician to “registered veterinary nurse” in all 50 states, which is currently the preferred title in the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, and Ireland. However, not a single state has since adopted the title.
The debate over whether vet techs can be called nurses was limited to state capitols all over the country, but it has since moved online.
Crooker posted six videos on TikTok about the complaint last November, but it’s still not clear who filed the complaint against her office.
“Our statute requires us, unlike other [state] agencies, to fully investigate every single complaint that comes in,” said Brittnay Sharkey, executive director of the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners executive director Brittany Sharkey.
It’s not unheard of for a medical board to investigate the improper use of job titles. The TBVME says the public can file formal complaints “about veterinary services you received from a veterinarian licensed by the board.”
Crooker said the complaint hurt her feelings and many users came to her defense in the comments section. She later found out the complaint had been filed by a veterinary professional, which seemed to upset her the most.
“We’re all out here working hard, and for you to cause this stress and anxiety on fellow vet professionals, I think, is pretty horrible,” she said in a video.
Several prominent veterinarian schools now offer degrees in veterinary nursing even though the title is rarely used in the industry.
Kathy Koar, the director of veterinary nursing at Harcum College in Pennsylvania, said she doesn’t understand why people are filing complaints over the usage of the title.
“I have great sympathy for people who have frivolous complaints brought against their licenses, because it is your professional life that they are attacking, and you may not even be aware of it,” she said.
Koar is also the co-chair of the NAVTA’s campaign to get more states to adopt the veterinary nurse title. “Title protection within a practice act … is to protect the public from being misled, or confused, whatever term you want to use,” she added.
“It is just not reasonable to think that someone is going to walk into a veterinary practice, come up to someone who has the title ‘veterinary nurse’ … and think that that person is there to provide human healthcare. So why are people spending so much time worrying about it?”
But veterinarian Liz Hughston of the National Veterinary Professionals Union said people are receiving complaints because of concerns about improper licensing within the veterinary industry.
“I am not saying anyone should lose their license for referring to people as nurses,” she said. “But I do think that we need to start making sure that people are using correct legal titles across the profession, because the more we allow it to slide, the sloppier we get, the lazier we get, the lower our wages are, the less our voice is respected in the practice.”