A new series of blogs launched on the RCVS website takes a deep-dive into some key projects – including collaborations with other organisations – to show how they are contributing to the Workforce project. The project was launched last autumn in light of the workforce issues affecting the professions, with a Summit hosted in November 2021 to consider potential solutions and encourage people to think about innovative approaches. Jill Macdonald discusses the development of a VN ambassadorial role within the profession, which uses members of the vet nursing profession to inspire school-age children to consider a veterinary nursing career.

Recruitment and retention

Recruitment and retention are like a double act in one of the most currently talked-about issues in the veterinary professions – the workforce crisis. They are like the arms of barbeque tongs – one on its own really doesn’t cut it – or grasp it.

Retention of veterinary nurses is a multi-factorial challenge. There are so many reasons and drivers for veterinary nurses choosing to stay in the profession, and of course, many reasons they may leave. More research would be beneficial in this area to build upon previous feedback from the profession, which suggests that pay; not feeling rewarded/valued (non-financial); poor work-life balance; career change/new challenge; and dissatisfaction with career opportunities were the top five reasons that veterinary nurses may choose to leave the profession (RCVS Survey of the Veterinary Nursing Profession 2019).

I could talk about retention all day (don’t worry, I won’t) and having worked in a practice that I never really wanted to leave, I know I have my own ideas about what provides an incentive to stay – what makes nurses feel valued, appreciated, supported and nurtured.

But for today I’m going to talk about the other arm of the tongs – recruitment.

Why do we need…?

Veterinary nursing is a profession that has grown and evolved so fast – we’ve doubled our numbers between 2012 and 2021 – and it seems that whilst veterinary medicine may be an oft-cited option when talking to children about careers in animal science and care; veterinary nursing may often be missed in this discussion.

One of the actions for the first phase of the joint RCVS and British Veterinary Nursing Association’s (BVNA) VN Futures Project, which was set up to complement the Vet Futures project by focusing on VN specific issues, was to develop careers materials for schools, and the VN Futures Workforce Working Group steered towards a scheme that, in addition to achieving this aim, also developed a VN ambassadorial role within the profession.

What the Ambassadors Scheme aims to achieve

The School Ambassadors Scheme was developed through the input of the original working party and the School Ambassadors Development Group. The scheme aims to provide veterinary nurses with a suite of resources to support talks and other activities on a career in vet nursing to schoolchildren of a variety of ages, and develop a network of VN ‘STEM’ ambassadors to deliver information in an authentic and engaging way. There is no one better to do this than veterinary nurses themselves, as they can demonstrate their passion for and love of their job directly to the children. It’s also envisaged that we will continue to develop additional resources for children, contributed to by the ambassadors as they build on their skills.

The resources will also be distributed to careers hubs (such as Prospects) and other outlets to ensure that the scheme’s key messages around what a rewarding career veterinary nursing is, how to enter vet nursing, and the many career options that can open up upon qualification reach as wide an audience as possible.

Examples of the resources developed include general resources such as an animated careers video (which we are incredibly proud of, and hope reaches far and wide), posters, and careers information leaflets. There are also more detailed resources that provide ideas and inspiration for talk ‘themes’, activities to increase engagement, and even how to record a presentation using conferencing software.

Why STEM Learning?

Our aim is that all VN Ambassadors will register with STEM Learning, an organisation that provides education and support for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There there are a few reasons why we are collaborating with the organisation:

  • STEM Learning is an established organisation specialising in the development of careers information and ambassadors.
  • STEM Learning provides induction, enhanced DBS checks and additional training free of charge to ambassadors to safeguard both students and speakers
  • Membership of STEM Learning provides access to a network of both ambassadors and those seeking careers information – and bringing these two together is clearly going to be of enormous benefit.

A recent example of the ease of building these connections is that having put forward an ‘offer’ on the STEM Learning website (which was really easy to do), I was contacted only a few days later by a teacher wanting someone to talk to students interested in animal careers.

Off to a great start

Since its launch on 5 May 2022, 61 ambassador registrations have been received for the scheme. Registrants are from across the UK, hold a wide variety of qualifications and levels of expertise, and have differing experiences with delivering careers information. It is really exciting to think about what we can achieve as we build our army of VN volunteers!

STEM Learning has also shown that there are personal and professional benefits to being an ambassador, which makes sense if you think about it. Talking to others about your profession and all of those ways that you ‘make a difference’ every day, can only breed pride and affirmation of your own career decision.

According to STEM Learning, STEM Ambassadors increase their sense of achievement and reward; improve their presentation skills and confidence, and build a sense of personal and career satisfaction.

Come and join us

We are looking for as many nurses as possible to join the scheme, so if this sounds like something that you’d like to be involved in then you can register here now!

Jill Macdonald