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Our Profession Needs More Than One CVNO

Our Profession Needs More Than One CVNO
Ken Yagi is the newly hired chief veterinary nursing officer (CVNO) at Veterinary Emergency Group.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is frequently asked, “What’s going to change in the next 10 years?” The more important question, he says, is “What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?” because a business strategy can be built around things that are stable over time. Three stable things are: People will have pets. Pets will have emergencies. Pet owners will always prefer a great emergency experience over a poor one.

The singular insight of my company, Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG), was that if a great emergency experience is so important to pet owners, then there should be a company that provides just that. One small way in which VEG differs from other emergency rooms is that we don’t separate people from their pets. Pet owners can stay at their pets’ sides throughout all stages of the visit, including surgery and overnight hospitalization.

Many things contribute to a great emergency experience, but perhaps the most important in the eyes of the pet owner are compassionate care and communication. To pet owners, an emergency means their cat or dog might go through a terrifying experience full of pain and loneliness, being separated from their families, and being subjected to IV catheters, injections and restraint, all by strangers. What pet owners want for themselves and for their pets is for the ER visit to be filled with gentle compassion, understanding, helpfulness and warmth, all while getting the emergency diagnostics and treatments a pet needs. They also want to be kept in the loop so that they understand what is happening with their pet.

In an emergency setting, veterinary nurses have their hands on patients and interact with them the most. Veterinary nurses administer most treatments and perform most of the diagnostics and monitoring. Along with veterinary assistants, they tend to the comfort and cleanliness of their patients and see to it that their patients are fed, walked and, if they are anxious, comforted. In addition, the nurses frequently update the pet owner and explain what they are doing.

All this close contact with and responsibility for patients and pet owners makes veterinary nurses the predominant providers of compassionate care and a major part of communication with pet owners in an ER like VEG.

We believe that veterinary nursing has not been treated as a specialized and essential component of the entire emergency experience. Veterinary nursing, for many, has not been a lifelong career with compensation commensurate with the value provided to customers.

At VEG, we asked ourselves one too many times, “If veterinary nurses are so important to our customers and patients, then why is nobody focused on elevating and maximizing the nurses’ impact on the customer experience and on making their jobs a career? Why is nobody focused on making sure that veterinary nurses get the education they need and the compensation they deserve?” We wondered, “Why is there no such thing as a chief veterinary nursing officer (CVNO)?”

So we created the position.

We could not have imagined anyone better to be the nation’s first chief veterinary nursing officer than Ken Yagi. Ken has worked in the industry for 20 years. He holds a master’s degree in veterinary science and has veterinary technician specialist (VTS) certifications in emergency and critical care and small animal internal medicine. Ken got the NAVTA Veterinary Technician of the Year award in 2016, the California Veterinary Medical Association Outstanding RVT of the Year award in 2016 and the California RVT Association RVT of the Year award in 2017. He’s the program director for RECOVER, an initiative designed to globally standardize CPR.

Ken has been a supervisor, a manager and a part of practice leadership. He’s been an adjunct instructor and delivers education and training in practices and at conferences. Ken advocates for his profession and has seen veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing from so many different angles. With these perspectives, he challenges the status quo and speaks up for his profession. Ken has walked the walk in creating change.

The CVNO at VEG owns our entire veterinary nursing function. He sets the company’s tone and direction for veterinary nursing from recruiting, compensation and benefits to education, clinical standards and management. The role will work to:

  • Expand existing career pathways.
  • Establish new career pathways in veterinary nursing.
  • Raise veterinary nursing care standards and competency.
  • Enhance team dynamics that celebrate autonomous veterinary nursing practice.

The CVNO at VEG reports directly to the CEO. This is no small role. I have tasked Ken with nothing short of revolutionizing the experience of veterinary nursing at VEG and making VEG into a voice and light for the veterinary nursing profession as a whole.

Ever since I started VEG in 2014, I have known the importance of building and running a business according to a well-defined set of clearly stated principles. One of our core values is openness. It is because we believe in openness — beyond simple transparency to true participation — that we need a CVNO to make sure our veterinary nurses participate as equals in the care of our pet owners and their pets.

Our vision statement states, “VEG is the best place to work if you’re interested in a career in emergency. Our employees brag about their jobs and their friends are jealous.” Our veterinary nurses have dedicated themselves to emergency nursing. The CVNO must make sure that it is a career to brag about.

I’m clearly bragging. Are you jealous? You should be. If you are the manager of a veterinary business, you know that veterinary nurses are hard to come by. Veterinary technology and veterinary nursing programs are not turning out enough graduates to meet the demand. Your clients see your veterinary nurses as valuable members of the team and demand that they be excellent at their jobs. At the same time, your veterinary nurses are looking for meaning, impact, professional growth and a great work environment.

If you’re going to get it right, you’re going to need someone like a CVNO to focus on all this. That person needs to be at the highest level in your company and needs the experience of having walked in the shoes of your veterinary nurses.

You had better get on that! You can’t have Ken. We got him first.

Dr. David Bessler is the founder and CEO of Veterinary Emergency Group (VEG), a network of 20 hospitals and the first and only national brand focused solely on veterinary emergency medicine. Dr. Bessler earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences from Cornell University and his VMD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.