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Online or en-masse? Crossroads reached for veterinary CPD

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The amount of veterinary CPD now completed via online hubs, courses, articles and webinars has risen dramatically in the past decade.

Advances in technology and improved internet speeds mean much of the 105 hours of CPD a vet is required by the RCVS to complete over three years is just a few clicks away.

Unsurprisingly, online CPD has been eagerly adopted by a profession where time is a precious commodity, and it came as no surprise when Defra announced in 2014 that much of its official veterinarian training would be delivered via online CPD modules.

Yet, despite this seismic shift, events such as BSAVA Congress, London Vet Show and SPVS/VPMA Congress, continue to thrive as record numbers attend to clock up some high-quality CPD hours.

So, what does the future hold? Will these events struggle to attract delegates as the appeal of online CPD continues to grow? According to vet Susie Coughlan, managing director of CPD provider CPD Solutions, the answer is not that simple.

“Online CPD has many benefits, including easy access and flexible consumption – especially with the rise of smartphones,” she said. “It’s much easier to learn in small blocks of time between consults, in a quiet afternoon surgery, or while waiting for your kids to finish another activity. This type of learning fits well with lifestyles of busy professionals – especially those with families or small practices where locums are needed to get a day off to attend a course.

“That said, online formats also combine very well with attendance courses. For example, the online CPD can be used to communicate the essential theory in advance, freeing up time and focus during the attendance sessions for hands-on practicals. After the practical session, having ongoing access to presentations and course materials online can help reinforce learning, and allows vets and VNs to revisit specific parts of the course when they have a relevant patient.”

Learning together

So, will a market for traditional lecture hall CPD still exist? “Undoubtedly, as there is still a lot of it. Congresses, vet shows and festivals are largely composed of these types of sessions, and they are still well-attended,” added Dr Coughlan.

This is a view shared by Maggie Haverson, the woman responsible for putting together the management stream CPD for BSAVA Congress. Last year, 6,683 delegates attended the four days of congress and Ms Haverson remains convinced face-to-face learning still plays an important role.

She said: “The social interaction and networking cannot be provided easily by online CPD. Just being in the congress learning environment is exciting and motivating. There are some downsides – cost, travelling time and time away from work.

“But there are benefits to enjoying CPD together, rather than in isolation; being able to discuss topics and issues face to face with colleagues or lecturers. The environment of traditional CPD is important and so different from that provided online.

“It can be more expensive, but it is difficult to measure the positive side of social interaction and the motivation provided by being able to attend such big congresses as BSAVA. It is here professional contacts are made and networking is at its best and most effective.”

Approach and attitude

For some, however, it is not necessarily the modality of the CPD that is at issue, it is the approach and the attitude to learning adopted by those providing it.

Noel Fitzpatrick is the founder of Fitzpatrick Referrals and head of the Fitzpatrick Learning Academy, as well as the man behind Vet Festival, a new event combining CPD with live entertainment and music. Prof Fitzpatrick’s stated aim with Vet Festival is to “create the Glastonbury for veterinary medicine” and he believes the key to good CPD is about injecting passion and life into the process.

He said: “Delegates looking for CPD want to be inspired and enlightened to understand something so they can feel fulfilment in helping the animals under their care.

“I see this in my intern team all the time and I see it all the time with students I teach at the university – they really respond if you go into that environment with a vibe of excitement and you actually explain why this stuff needs to be learned.

“It is about the why, rather than the how. It feeds into why these people decided to be vets in the first place. CPD should be about looking after your heart and your soul, rather than just your mind, and that is what I would like to see happen.”

Prof Fitzpatrick went on to explain how Vet Festival and the Fitzpatrick Learning Academy have two very different, but very important, roles. He said: “Vet Festival is about injecting some light, fun, enthusiasm, joy and wellness into education. In fact, the theme for next year is wellness and we have a whole stream on the subject lined up. For the vet, the client and the pet.

“The Learning Academy is very much about practical hands-on skills because, if you are going to be a car mechanic and you don’t know what bracket fits on the exhaust, then you are not going to be a very good mechanic.

“So, the Learning Academy intends to set out and do everything people like myself, Stuart Carmichael and Nick Bacon have learned down the years and distil it into a form that can take you step-by-step through being the best scientific mechanic you can be, whether it is ortho, neuro, cancer or whatever it is. And behind it all is the ethos we are going to be excited about it because we are going to look at the bigger picture of why you are doing this as opposed to just giving you the skill set to do it.”


Prof Fitzpatrick is also a big advocate of mentoring for new graduates and the RCVS does allow college members to count time spent with a mentor as CPD. Other college-approved forms include workshops, distance learning and clinical audit activity, as well as a wide range of research activities.

However, changes are afoot, with the college having just completed a consultation on plans to introduce a more outcome-based approach to its assessment of CPD.

A statement on its website gave the following reasons for the review: “Due to increasing evidence that the long-established and most commonly used CPD activities, such as conferences, lectures and symposia, undertaken in isolation, have a limited effect on improving professional competence and performance, and no significant effect on patient health outcomes.

“In contrast, CPD activities, which are interactive encourage reflection on practice, provide opportunities to practise skills, involve multiple exposures, help professionals identify between current performance and a standard, and are focused on outcomes, are the most effective at improving practice and patient health outcomes.”

This direction of travel will bring vets and VNs into line with other professions when it comes to CPD, but, according to Dr Coughlan, while a more outcome-based approach makes sense, the college should be careful not to create confusion.

She said: “The proposal seems to make sense. However, I do think many vets and nurses are doing this anyway. When a vet chooses a specific practical course, for example, he or she has already identified an area to develop, and an outcome he or she wants to attain. Vets attend the course, reflect on what they’ve learned and how they can apply it in practice. The same applies with an online course in a specific subject area.

“Changes to the CPD system would need to be introduced in a structured manner, as recording would be quite different. The danger would be vets and nurses understand the current system and are used to complying with it. A drastic change might lower compliance and deter the less dedicated from taking part in CPD.”