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CPD: getting the best bang for your buck

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is just one of those elements required to build up confidence; having vets properly trained and supervised is key to instilling and maintaining the public’s trust in veterinary competence. If undertaken correctly, CPD can help a whole practice team.

The point is made by David Babington, managing director of Improve International, who believes CPD should be about helping everyone in practice: “For CPD to be truly effective at a practice level, training should be aligned to the overall strategy of the practice as a business.”

He says many vets and nurses, having learned new skills and techniques, take this knowledge back into the practice and discuss their experiences with colleagues. In this way it is possible to facilitate “up-skilling” throughout the practice team.

Regulation

Another driver in the importance of CPD is the element of compulsion and the need to keep the RCVS satisfied.

In November 2014, the RCVS released a notice outlining its first audit of CPD for the profession. It spoke of the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct, introduced in 2012, that expects veterinary surgeons to undertake 105 hours of CPD over a rolling three-year period to demonstrate they are maintaining and advancing their knowledge and skills.

Registered veterinary nurses (RVNs) are now required to do 45 hours over the same period.

The notice made the point “it’s also a good time to remind members of the profession of the importance of CPD and that it’s not just a tick-box exercise, but vital for everyday practice.”

The RCVS considers engaging in CPD is a “personal obligation for all vets and demonstrates to both the profession and public they are continually advancing their capability and competence.”

Learning beyond education

But there are other reasons to undertake CPD, not least of which is the profession is in a state of flux and needs to keep up with developments. This is something those in the profession are united on.

Jill Maddison is director of professional development at the RVC and is of the view that because knowledge is constantly evolving, what was true yesterday may not be true tomorrow. “CPD is essential for veterinarians to keep up to date, refresh their knowledge and understanding, learn new skills and practise old skills,” she says.

Harvey Locke, chairman of the BVA CPD group, notes CPD is important because, as a self-regulated profession, there is a legal obligation to ensure vets maintain their fitness to practise. He said: “As veterinary science advances and new technologies and treatments become available, it is just not possible to rely on what we were taught at university.”

But looking in a different direction, UK vets need to prepare for the competitive onslaught from European veterinary schools, according to David. He adds the marketplace is changing too: “The rise of corporate practices and the increased competition this brings to owner-managed practices also plays a part [in the need for CPD]. The need to differentiate a practice by acquiring additional skills and qualifications has to be a good move.”

There are also financial benefits new skills bring to a practice and the individual – a postgraduate qualification is a stepping stone to a higher award and enhanced career prospects.

What makes good CPD?

Director of education at the RCVS Freda Andrews says the RCVS is not prescriptive on what constitutes CPD: “We don’t say only x subject can count as CPD – it is all about how it fits in with the individual’s learning needs. So, for example, if you are a vet who is doing lots of management or personal accounting, then undertaking a managerial or bookkeeping course would probably be valid – it’s not just about clinical skills.”

Of course, there is always going to be a debate over the mix between online or traditional methods of undertaking CPD and it goes without saying there is no one size fits all solution. However, many vets now enjoy the convenience of online material as they can study at their own pace, 24/7.

Yet for the highly practical subjects, such as surgery, David feels good CPD must incorporate hands-on training sessions in a wet lab environment where delegates can start putting their new theoretical knowledge into practice. “Good learning will involve relevant face-to-face contact, additional online content and ongoing support from tutors and peers to help the individual get the most from their studies,” he adds.

This view is echoed by Freda: “If, for example, the individual is interested in cardiology and plans to do a Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice in this area, then listening to a webinar, engaging in reading or attending a course would be ‘good CPD’ for them.”

Online learning can be a rich and powerful tool and, in certain formats, enables a deeper and more reflective engagement with the learning process.

Jill says: “Online can allow very positive interaction between participants spread around the world, and the convenience of not having to travel for CPD is huge. That said, online does not suit everyone’s learning styles and is not suitable for some types of learning.”

Some think CPD means expensive courses and time away from the practice; however, there has been a shift towards the free provision of CPD – this year’s RCVS Surveys of the Professions found online learning has accounted for much of this. Even so, there is a time and a place for classroom learning and this is where the BVA uses a slightly different approach called blended learning. Here, course delegates are asked in advance what their learning objectives are to enable the content to be tailored to meet these. After the course has taken place, the BVA facilitates an online discussion between the delegates and the speaker to continue the learning process.

But CPD should not be thought of as a chore; it’s designed to demonstrate the individual is dedicated to continuous progression of his or her capability and competence and expansion of his or her knowledge: “This is something that can clearly benefit the veterinary surgeon’s and RVN’s clients, as they stay up-to-date with all the latest clinical and practice developments and, therefore, their business,” says Freda.

Beyond the core of an individual’s job

Naturally, CPD should help an individual to develop and become a more rounded professional. “So-called ‘soft’ skills, such as communication, are vital to a general practising vet, although the immediate return on the training investment, compared to learning a new surgical technique, may not be so easy to quantify,” says David.

But there’s more to CPD than just training – done well it can encourage self-development and fulfilment.

Mark Johnston, managing director of Vetstream, reckons this is often one reason why someone would stay with a practice – he or she “can learn new skills (clinical and professional) to broaden his or her role within the practice so he or she can take on new responsibilities to benefit the business. Life should not just be ‘work, work, work’”.

Measuring the effort and results

Under the codes of professional conduct, the RCVS can request to see an individual’s CPD records to see whether he or she is compliant with the CPD requirement.

One of the easiest ways of logging CPD is to use the online professional development record (PDR), which also allows users to set up a personal development plan with intended objectives, write up reflective notes and comments on what they have learned, and also upload supporting documents such as certificates.

Vets can sign up to the PDR at www.rcvs-pdr.org.uk, while RVNs can do so at www.vnpdr.org.uk

Recording CPD is not just a bureaucratic exercise, but helps the individual to think carefully about what his or her development plans are and what they have learned. And in terms of monitoring, as noted earlier, from 2014 the RCVS has been carrying out CPD audits for vets on an annual basis to check compliance and see what types of CPD they are undertaking.

Every audit will include a random sample of vets drawn from across all postcode areas as well as an audit of those who did not confirm compliance when renewing their registration and those who have not replied to previous correspondence to monitor their CPD.

Interestingly, RVNs have had their CPD records audited on an annual basis since 2010.

Recording and monitoring is one thing, but the real test for CPD is the self-evaluation by the participant – how valuable was the experience for them?

Jill says: “If they learned nothing new or didn’t gain a deeper understanding about something or didn’t have their current knowledge and understanding reinforced and validated then it probably wasn’t very valuable.” That’s where planning comes into play.

What do you want out of it?

Time is money and money, clearly, is money. This is why when practices buy in CPD they need to take care and plan. David believes practices should consider CPD for the coming 12 to 18 months and try to align the training with both the needs of the practice and those of individual staff members by asking the question “what do we want to get out of this CPD?”

Next, he says, is to make sure the CPD is fit for purpose. Will it deliver on the stated aims and objectives? Is the learning blend right for the individuals concerned?

With our busy lives, modular training programmes delivered over one or two years can help delegates to improve their skills and expertise, but they represent a significant investment in personal or staff development.

Before buying in any CPD it can be wise to speak to fellow vets, practice managers or nurses who have undertaken similar training. By doing this, individuals and practices can obtain the reassurance and confidence they need to make that investment.

Lastly, practices should look for group deals and a training platform that can provide training and progress updates for all of your team. Most importantly, make sure your staff are completing the CPD.

Seeking CPD relevant to individual staff, and also to the practice as a whole, is one key aspect to the process. But, from a practice point of view, enhancing a skill set of a team member then needs the opportunity for him or her to use that skill for the benefit of the practice.