The graduation of 27 veterinary nurses has been described as one of the biggest milestones for the profession.

A group of students at the University of Pretoria (UP) recently became the first in Africa to receive degrees in veterinary nursing (BVetNurs).

The graduates recently took part in an oath-taking ceremony, which was delayed by Covid-19 restrictions.

“We are celebrating this important milestone in the history of the Faculty of Veterinary Science and the country, and congratulate the class of 2021 with the achievement of a 100% pass rate,” said Professor Dietmar Holm, the faculty’s Deputy Dean for Teaching and Learning.

“On behalf of the veterinary fraternity in South Africa, we welcome these new veterinary nurses to our community and wish them well in their careers.”

Tamarin Fisher, president of the Veterinary Nurses Association of South Africa (VNASA), has described the graduation as “the biggest milestone in the history of our 42-year-old profession.”

“The new three-year degree will give qualified nurses the opportunity to enrol in postgraduate studies, which will hopefully culminate in the awarding of masters and PhD degrees.”

Although the field of veterinary nursing is no stranger to UP, it is the very first time students could complete a degree, and not a diploma as in the past.

“As the only university in Africa that provides training for veterinary nurses, UP endeavoured to establish a modern, well-designed, integrated curriculum that was comprehensive in terms of content and educational approach, and well with any other veterinary nursing training programme internationally,” read a statement by the university.

According to UP, formal training in veterinary nursing has been in the making at the institution for several decades. The first call for the employment of medical nursing sisters first came in 1958 by Professor CFB Hofmeyr, the head of the Department of Surgery of the university’s Veterinary Faculty at the time.

The first full-time two-year university diploma for veterinary nursing was introduced at UP in 1977.

“Years later, with the introduction of the Higher Education Qualifications Sub-Framework, the veterinary nursing diploma programme had to be reconceptualised in order to grant those with diplomas entry into postgraduate education.

“VNASA petitioned the university to discontinue the two-year diploma programme and establish a three-year degree programme to afford students with a qualification in veterinary nursing the opportunity of postgraduate training.”

After a lengthy process, the BVetNurs degree was accredited by the Council on Higher Education in September 2017. After tweaks and fine-tuning of the curriculum, the degree was finally implemented in February 2019.

According to the veterinary faculty at the university, veterinary nurses are not merely extra staff. “They are trained to do everything except clinical consultations and surgery, saving the veterinarian’s time.

“Veterinary nurses provide support to veterinarians in the management and care of animals receiving medical and/or surgical treatment. They may also be involved in the management of the staff, and the financial and technical resources of a veterinary practice, animal hospital or similar treatment facility.”

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