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CPD – why it matters

“Continuing professional development” – CPD – seems to be the phrase of the moment and if you look around you will see it is ubiquitous among professions, and is certainly extending its tentacles elsewhere. But, what is it and how can it help you with your work?

For many, the thought of studying post-university is quite unappealing. After all, you have your degree (or qualification) and anything else you need to know you can learn on the job – right?


The problem is “on the job” training can only take an individual so far – other developments, such as technological innovations, new medicines and treatments, management methods and general business principles, may be outside of the ambit of your day-to-day job. Without any external – and arguably forced – form of learning, your skills may atrophy or, at least, fall behind those of others who are learning.


In the highly technical and litigious world we live in, not maintaining or enhancing knowledge could be seen as tantamount to commercial and occupational suicide.

This is where CPD steps in, as it offers a platform for learning that ensures you continue to be competent in your profession and, by extension, your job.

Learning about developments will always be an ongoing process and, by definition, will continue throughout your working life. Indeed, this form of learning may not just help you, it may help protect your employer and your profession, as well as members of the public.


In some spheres of life CPD is not compulsory, but in others it is. The RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons, for example, makes it very clear vets and veterinary nurses have a responsibility to ensure they maintain and develop the knowledge and skills relevant to their professional practice and competence. The code also requires vets to provide the RCVS with their CPD records when requested.

As far as the RCVS is concerned, CPD is the personal obligation of all responsible vets and should be seen as the continuous progression of capability and competence. The recommended minimum amount of CPD is 105 hours over a rolling three-year period, with an average of 35 hours per year.

Looking at the subject from veterinary nurses’ point of view, the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses makes it just as clear all VNs are obliged to maintain and continue to develop their professional knowledge and skills.

CPD is mandatory for all registered veterinary nurses and should be seen as the continuous progression of capability and competence. The required minimum CPD is 45 hours in a three-year period, with an average of 15 hours per year.

Quality not quantity

While the RCVS details the amount of time individuals must spend undertaking CPD, individuals should still be concerned with the quality of the output – the actual learning.

CPD doesn’t have to be a drag; it can be entertaining and engaging. Learning can entail a multitude of activities, from reading the appropriate journals, to attending relevant courses or seminars the RCVS or other appropriate organisations approve. Alternatively, you may find it easier to learn online.

In terms of what the RCVS considers good CPD, it notes activities such as:

  • clinical audit
  • discussion groups
  • external lectures
  • project learning
  • research
  • external qualifications

Other opportunities

Workplace activities, such as case conferences, could also count as CPD activity, if you systematically reflect on what you have learned.

So, if you are considering some form of sideways move, a course on project or risk management may help, as could learning about business essentials, such as finance, sales or marketing.

The RCVS does not itself accredit any CPD courses, but its website points to various sources of information, such as the CPD events calendar, published in In Practice (although we would, of course, point to our own comprehensive list of available courses).

The various BVA specialist and regional divisions organise CPD events, as do universities and commercial CPD providers. There is also the RCVS Knowledge library, which can help you meet your CPD targets. The library holds more than 30,000 books, reports and conference proceedings, all available for postal loan on request.

Key steps

Whatever the method and the topic, the key element is to be able to point to something learned and retained from the CPD undertaken. This is one reason the RCVS uses a record card system. These only need to be submitted with applications for the RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice, diplomas and for advanced practitioner and specialist status. By definition, the online record system never needs to be submitted.

In terms of actual learning, there are five key steps:

  • Plan – you need to scope out what it is you want to achieve, what is to be learned and how it will be achieved.
  • Do – the action of investing time, while learning.
  • Record – it is important to note it is quality and not quantity that counts, so the benefits of what has been learned should be recorded.
  • Reflect – think about what has been learned in terms of how it benefits you, clients and the practice. Here you see how to harness the learning.
  • Submit – the action of declaring the learning.

The importance of learning via CPD should not be underestimated – it is a lifelong part of working.