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Diamond Jubilee Evening speeches from Julie Dugmore and Matthew Rendle

The speeches given by RCVS Director of Veterinary Nursing Julie Dugmore and Chair of RCVS Veterinary Nurses Council Matthew Rendle at the Diamond Jubilee Evening on Friday 19 August 2022 at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Matthew Rendle, Chair of VN Council, and Julie Dugmore, RCVS Director of Veterinary Nursing, at the Diamond Jubilee Evening on Friday 19 August 2022

Julie Dugmore, RCVS Director of Veterinary Nursing

Thank you once again everyone for joining us here tonight. I hope you’ve all had a chance to watch the video, meet new people, network and enjoy our hospitality.

This event is all about looking back on a proud past, how we’ve grown from small and inauspicious beginnings as ‘auxiliaries’ 60 years ago, into a distinct profession, increasingly recognised and respected by members of the public, and now boasting over 21,000 members.

In our own way, each of us is part of the history of veterinary nursing – whether we’ve been in the profession for four or forty years.

And so, I wanted to give you a bit of a potted history about the 20 years I have worked at the RCVS, how this period of time has seen some of the most important developments in the story of our profession, and how there have been resonances with the development of my own career.

Following a career in small animal clinical practice – which at one point saw me flat-sharing with future Chair of VN Council Liz Cox - I joined the RCVS as an External Verifier in 2002.

I should actually say that I joined RCVS Awards as an EV because back then the College had its own awarding organisation for veterinary nursing qualifications which was founded in 1997. As an EV I was responsible for ensuring that FE colleges, VN training centres and universities were not only meeting our standards but were also delivering the quality and consistency of training we expected from them.

A few years either side of me joining the RCVS saw some very big and significant events, particularly around the increasing professionalisation of veterinary nursing as well as developments in its governance. This included a request for further amendments to Schedule 3 of the Veterinary Surgeons Act in 1999 to enhance our role and the establishing of VN Council with an elected veterinary nurse membership in 2002. The latter decision meant that we were becoming increasingly in charge of our own destiny.

With professionalisation and self-governance also came increasing responsibility, and this is why in 2007 we opened the first non-statutory Register of Veterinary Nurses. From 2011 those veterinary nurses on the Register also became subject to the College’s formal complaints and disciplinary system and the following year vet nurses got their own Code of Professional Conduct, setting out clearly for the first time the professional standards that should be adhere to along with that all important declaration  all VNs now make upon joining the Register.  

This increasing professionalisation and responsibility was reflected in my own career. In 2005 I was promoted to Quality Manager for RCVS Awards, leading my own team of talented EVs and having responsibility for ensuring that our veterinary nurse educational establishments were producing competent professionals, who adhered to the Code and who were able to meet set standards of skills, knowledge and behaviours by the time they finished their training.

This period also saw the development of the Diploma in Advanced Veterinary Nursing and nurses being expected to meet continuing professional development targets, recognising that the learning and development journey for nurses didn’t stop when they joined the Register, but was ongoing.

In 2013 I was delighted to have been appointed Director of Veterinary Nursing at the RCVS the first veterinary nurse to hold this position. I was now leading a team responsible for all aspects of veterinary nurse education, as well as being responsible, along with colleagues on VN Council, for a strategic vision on the future development of the veterinary nursing profession.

In the nine years since I took this role, we have seen a new Royal Charter recognise veterinary nurses as a fully regulated profession, with associate membership of the RCVS and a statutory register. I’ve seen the formation of the VN Futures project which involved holding dozens of meetings with  members of the profession to discuss the challenges facing veterinary nurses, what solutions can be found, and how we can better take hold of our destinies in areas such as career development, maximising our potential and developing our leadership skills.

The first phase of the VN Futures Action Plan has produced some very tangible outputs – the development and rollout of the new Certificates in Advanced Veterinary Nursing allowing greater choice and flexibility in both clinical and non-clinical advanced qualifications, The SUPERB poster and a series of case studies to help both vets and VNs navigate the tricky topic of delegation along with mental health awareness and resilience training via the Mind Matters Initiative.

We’re here with a proud past behind us but this is not a case of remembering the good old days because, notwithstanding some challenges, we also have a great future. Even in the short-term we have some amazing developments coming up such as a new clinical supervisor support course via the RCVS Academy, the development of an Advanced Veterinary Nurse Practitioner to complement the Certificate, as well as the development of a greater support package for newly-registered VNs.

These are definitely exciting times. I will now hand over to Matthew who will talk about his own hopes and dreams for the future of the profession.

Matthew Rendle, Chair of RCVS VN Council 

Thank you Julie, now I would like to talk about my hopes for the future.

I stand before you, 30 years into my veterinary nursing journey. Working for 30 years has left me with the physical issues common in our profession, bad knees, bad back, and also now bad elbows. These things are common and discussed openly without hesitation or any judgement. I alter my nursing approach daily to allow me to continue to physically be an effective and valued member of the nursing team.

But, I also have mental issues too, imposter syndrome, anxiety, and depression, again sadly common in our profession, but with less acknowledgement. Nurses still struggle to feel empowered and safe to discuss these issues openly and are often not given the opportunity to alter their nursing approach to allow them to continue to feel valued and a part of  the team.

We need to continue to work on this. I think the first step is highlighting that having physical or mental issues are manageable and that they do not detract from a nurse’s ability to do their job or to progress and excel in our amazing profession. But we do need to keep talking and being honest, we owe it to the next generation of nursing to remove this taboo.

Kindness is key for the future of our profession, kindness to our patients, our clients and ourselves. Kindness often trumps ability and knowledge. We tend to all continue to gain ability and knowledge the longer work in any area of veterinary nursing, not just clinical.

However, we can completely alter a colleague’s day, month, year, or even career just with some kind words or support. Sometimes just discussing someone’s worries can be very positive, especially if you feel strong enough to disclose that you share these worries and talk about  your own coping mechanisms. This can be extremely powerful, and in my time in nursing these kind of conversations are becoming more common.  It is okay to not be the best at something and while talking about your weaknesses can be hard, it will help others, so let’s do it and let’s make this happen now.

I would like to see in the future the profession end just accepting toxic behaviours as normal. We glamourise overworking. We ALL need to take breaks and leave on time when we can. Remember there are no medals for burning ourselves out because we did not take a break, so let’s change this culture. Let’s also stop making excuses for incivility in the veterinary professions, it’s absolutely not okay, and we all need to call out these behaviours when they occur and support each other in being able to confront this problem.

I feel unnerved standing here today, I never feel worthy or like I am the right person for this job. I know that it’s is my imposter syndrome, but some of it is because I am surrounded at the RCVS, and in the veterinary nursing world, with people much smarter than me, and who have achieved much more than me. I am always thinking I am so lucky to be standing on the shoulders of giants, and I am so pleased to see some of those veterinary nursing giants here this evening. But, in my own small way, I have done my bit, if as a profession we engage more, and all do our bit in turn. If we do this, I know that veterinary nursing will be in safe hands for generations to come and it will continue to grow both in numbers and recognition in all forums.

We have opportunities and challenges coming up in many areas of our profession and we must all embrace them, not for us, but for the future of our amazing profession. Remember personal egos only ever detract, it’s not about me, its about us, the student, the new RVN’s, the vets, the whole team, so be open, be kind, be supportive, be inspiring, but most of all be LOUD and PROUD, we are veterinary nurses, and we are awesome!

August 2022