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Certain professions have always been stereotyped to a specific gender; men as builders, females as midwives. Veterinary nursing is no different, with women predominantly carrying out the role.
The 2019 Survey of the Veterinary Nurse Profession (RCVS, 2019) revealed that only 2.7% of the UK’s VNs are male. So, why are men not as attracted to this role as women, and what can the profession do to help?
Here, six male RVNs from the Pets at Home Vet Group discuss stereotypes and preconceptions they face as male RVNs, and share their thoughts on how to bring more men into the profession.
Meet the participants
Carl May, joint venture partner and head RVN at Vets4Pets Alsager.
Thomas Hallam, joint venture partner and RVN at Vets4Pets Rushden.
Joshua Cridge, joint venture partner and RVN at Vets4Pets Rushden.
Bryan Thomson, deputy head RVN at Vets4Pets Worcester.
Steven Batty, practice manager and RVN at Vets4Pets Bolton Central.
Simon Johnson, head RVN at Vets4Pets Preston Capitol.
What first attracted you to the veterinary nursing profession and what was your journey into the role?
Carl: “I always had an affinity with animals from a young age and knew I wanted to work with them.
“When I was 14, I carried out some work experience at my local practice and absolutely loved it. When I left school, I was offered a full-time job in the practice. Then, at 16, I completed an animal care course before moving on to my NVQ RVN qualification. I qualified as an RVN in 1996.”
Thomas: “I studied animal behaviour at university and did my placement in a local vet practice, which offered me a full-time job once I finished my degree. I was taken on as an SVN, which I did for 10 months before starting my vet nursing qualification.
“I had always had a keen interest in animals and health, so working in a vet practice was perfect for me, and I fell in love with it right away.”
Joshua: “I always wanted to work with animals, so I did a national diploma in animal management and then got a job at The Groom Room. I worked closely alongside the Vets4Pets team in the store and spoke to them about my interest in animal care. One day, they offered me a role as an SVN – the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I went on to do my qualification and became an RVN in 2017. I haven’t looked back since.”
Bryan: “I always wanted to work with animals, so I completed an animal care course, achieving a national certificate, then higher certificate. During my first placement in a vet practice, a caesarean was being carried out, and it was helping these animals when they were in need that really made me want to become a vet nurse.”
Steven: “Being a vet nurse was never something I initially set out to do, but coming from a very animal-orientated family, I chose to do my two-week school placement at my local vet practice. After the placement, the team asked me to help with the kennels. I then went on to become a student nurse, and fell in love with it and found I was good at it. From then on I didn’t want to do anything different.”
Simon: “I was doing a master’s in photography and applied for a part-time client care advisor role at my local Vets4Pets practice, thinking it would allow me to earn some money while studying. I very quickly fell in love with job and found myself wanting to learn more.
“When it came to a crossroads of continuing with photography or moving into the vet nursing profession, I went with vet nursing, and have since qualified as an RVN and am now the head nurse at my practice.”
Were you only one of a few males on your training courses?
Carl: “I think I may have been one of the very first male vet nurses in the UK, so there certainly weren’t any other male students on my course. When I enrolled, I was given a list of items to bring, which included a dress, and there wasn’t even a men’s toilet for me to use.”
Thomas: “When I did my NVQ to get my qualification, I was the only male on the entire course of about 30 students. I wasn’t bothered, though, as it was always something I wanted to do.”
Joshua: “Even though I studied for my qualification only a few years ago, I was one of only 2 male students on my course, which had about 32 people on it.”
Bryan: “I did an NVQ and qualified as an RVN in 2011. I was one of only 2 males on my course of 20 students.”
Steven: “I was one of the only men on my course and was even the only male vet nurse I knew of at that time. It was only a few years later that I met more male RVNs.”
Simon: “There were about 15 people on my course, but I was the only male student, and this was only a few years ago.”
Why do you think this profession is so gender biased?
Carl: “I think it just comes down to tradition, which is often difficult to change quickly. Roles that have always been considered as more feminine and caregiving are seen to attract more females, and I think that is the case with the role of the vet nurse.”
Joshua: “I would say it is probably because of the nature of how it has always been over the years, with women always carrying out the role – the same as in human nursing. I think the pay gap might have pushed more men to be doctors or vets in the past, but I think it is changing.”
Simon: “I think nurse is still seen as quite a feminine word and role, and there isn’t enough education for young people to dispel any myths or stereotypes. In North America, there is a higher percentage of men in the profession when compared to that of the UK, which could be attributed to multiple reasons; however, I feel that, in many states, their RVNs are referred to as vet technicians, which does not come with feminine connotations.”
What do you think is the biggest stereotype about being a male vet nurse?
Thomas: “A lot of clients think I am a vet, or a vet in training – I think that is the biggest misconception or stereotype I face every day in my role.”
Bryan: “I think as a male vet nurse you do have to overcome the public perception of it being a female role. New clients always think I am the vet, which I think is just because of tradition.”
Steven: “Clients tend to immediately think I am the vet or am a vet in training. That is definitely a stereotype I face as a man in a vet practice most days.” Q What do you think the industry can do to make the vet nurse profession more “appealing” to men?
Carl: “Just generally more awareness of what the job involves on a much wider scale.
“Being a vet nurse is a far more scientific and practical job than people think, and there are so many different sides to it. And the way we get to learn on the job is amazing. I think if all of that was advertised more, the job would be much more appealing to people in general.”
Thomas: “I think the lack of knowledge and understanding on what our role involves needs to be remedied. If we more overtly outline everything a nurse can do within his or her role, I think it will be more appealing to many.”
Joshua: “I don’t think the role has been depicted properly to the public, and those in schools and colleges who are considering what career path to take. They don’t know that a nurse’s role can be incredibly broad and varied, and that we can do extra qualifications to take us down many different avenues. I think if we worked on promoting that more then it would appeal to so many more people.”
Bryan: “I think there needs to be more education in schools about what vet nursing entails and the broad progression opportunities available. I also think vet nurse needs to be a protected job title. Only an RVN can be an RVN, but anyone else can call themselves a vet nurse.”
Steven: “When I was at school, I didn’t even know vet nursing was an option, for men or even women. I think there needs to be more education at a school level to bring awareness to the role.”
Simon: “For men, I think simple things could be changed, such as having a more masculine or unisex uniform, but in the bigger picture, there just needs to be more education at a key level in schools and colleges. “If we had some really great vet nurse role models – male and female – going into schools to educate and raise awareness of the profession, I think that would help a lot.”
What would you tell a younger male interested in the profession? Would this be different from what you would tell a younger female?
Carl: “I don’t think my advice would be different between a male and female. I would just say persevere and make sure to get your foot on the ladder with some experience in practice first. I wanted to be a vet nurse regardless of my gender, so if it is something you want then just go for it.”
Thomas: “For me, the advice would be know and understand how hard the job can be before taking the plunge. It isn’t just your everyday nine-to-five job, and you have to work hard so you have to be sure you are committed to it as a career path.”
Joshua: “I would just say don’t be afraid to pursue this career path. It is an amazing job, so if it is something you want to do, then just do it.”
Bryan: “It is and incredibly rewarding job, but I would just say to really consider the work-life balance involved with this job.” Steven: “There may be certain stereotypes about being a male vet nurse, but take it in your stride. And then more generally for males and females I would say do your research to understand what the role involves before you commit.”
Simon: “I would say to anyone who has come from a different path, you can still make a great difference to vet nursing and the profession. You just have to be an advocate for the role and have the drive to always improve and be better.”
RCVS (2020). The 2019 Survey of the Veterinary Nurse Profession, https://bit.ly/2XpEybu