Introduction

The primary purpose of the Veterinary Council of New Zealand (VCNZ) is to protect the public interest by ensuring that veterinarians are competent and fit to practise. The Veterinarians Act 2005 provides VCNZ with a number of mechanisms to achieve this purpose including setting minimum standards for practising as a veterinarian, setting and monitoring standards for veterinary performance and promoting and encouraging high standards of professional education and conduct.
 
VCNZ sets standards in consultation with the public and the veterinary profession. This Code sets out the professional conduct standards the public, the profession and VCNZ expect veterinarians to meet and to be measured against.
 
The work of veterinarians can take many forms. Their roles and responsibilities, whether in clinical or non clinical practice, extend beyond individual patients and clients to include, amongst other things, food safety, public health and biosecurity. The principles of this Code are intended to be broad enough to define the expectations of veterinarians in any area of veterinary practice.
 
The Veterinarians Act 2005 restricts the right to practise as a veterinarian in New Zealand to those who are appropriately qualified, are registered with VCNZ and hold a current practising certificate. The rights conferred by veterinary registration go hand in hand with legal and professional responsibilities and are placed at risk if these obligations are ignored or flouted.
 
Veterinarians must comply with all of the requirements in this Code irrespective of whether they are charging fees for the services provided, i.e. if veterinary services are provided pro bono, this does not waive the veterinarian's obligations.
 

Structure of the Code

The Code has been structured around seven fundamental principles that form the basis of the professional behaviour expected of veterinarians. These principles are:
  1. Protecting animal welfare and alleviating animal suffering;
  2. Practising in a way that promotes effective communication, trust, meets confidentiality and consent requirements and recognises clients’ right to choose;
  3. Interacting with colleagues honestly and with respect and in a way that fosters good relationships and communication;
  4. Acting in a manner that promotes the public’s trust and confidence in the profession;
  5. Striving to provide a high standard of veterinary practice;
  6. Exercising sound professional judgement when authorising, dispensing, recommending, selling and using veterinary medicines; and
  7. Practising in accordance with relevant legislation and other applicable standards.
Supporting each principle is a series of statements which set out the specific expectations and a glossary with definitions of some of the terms used in the Code.
 
More detail on the expectations, and how veterinarians can comply with them, is provided in comprehensive explanatory notes which are embedded in the online version of the Code. These notes, and other identified resources also provide specific examples of the Code's application.
 
Those seeking further clarification of the requirements are strongly advised to consult the online version of the Code and explanatory notes at www.vetcouncil.org.nz.
 

Legal Status of this Code

The principles and responsibilities specified in this Code have been prescribed, by notice in the New Zealand Gazette, as minimum standards for practising as a veterinarian under Section 88 of the Veterinarians Act 2005.
 
All veterinarians must comply with the Code.
 

How this Code will be used

For those entering the profession, the Code identifies the fundamental principles of professional veterinary practice and serves as an educational tool.
 
For those within the profession the Code provides the basis for monitoring their own practice. The related online explanatory notes serve as an educational tool to guide veterinarians on meeting their professional obligations.
 
For those outside the profession the Code provides guidance for assessing the professional conduct standards expected of veterinarians.
 
The Code will be used by VCNZ and its Committees as a standard by which to measure veterinarians’ professional conduct in the event of complaints and concerns being raised.
 
The minimum standards are identified in the Code and related explanatory notes by the use of the word ‘must’. The explanatory notes include additional advice and recommendations to encourage veterinarians to maintain, or aspire to, high standards of professional conduct. In this case the word ‘should’ is generally used.
 
The overarching expectation of the Code is that veterinarians will exercise sound professional judgment in all their professional endeavours. The Code is not exhaustive. It is accepted that there is not necessarily one right decision in every set of circumstances and that the Code cannot define how every situation must be managed. VCNZ expects veterinarians to evaluate situations (whether in relation to a clinical matter or not), apply the principles of this Code and make competent and reasonable decisions about the most appropriate course of action taking into account the individual circumstances and the best potential outcomes.
 
Veterinarians are professionally accountable for their practice, which means being personally responsible for what they do or do not do. Veterinarians are encouraged to take advice from senior colleagues and managers, but when faced with conflicting responsibilities they must exercise their own professional judgment in deciding on the appropriate course of action and use this Code as a basis for making that decision.
 

Revision of the Code

This Code is based on VCNZ’s interpretation of the professional conduct standards that the public and the profession expect all veterinarians to meet. It may need to be reviewed in the light of any changes to these expectations or any significant issues arising from its implementation. Unless required earlier, a review will take place every three years.