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Experiences with the CertAVP: the importance and value of student support

by
01 May 2010, at 1:00am

PAUL MANNING believes it’s important for veterinary surgeons to maintain their status as students.

THE RCVS has reported there are over 500 postgraduate vets now enrolled for the RCVS CertAVP. There are a number of choices that students can make with respect to their interests in professional practice, including species preferences, clinical disciplines, and management subjects.  

An important choice for students is the level and type of support they need to help them through the studies and work to achieve their goals. For many students, the choice of being a postgraduate vet and a student is quite an interesting concept because there is a feeling that “I qualified in x year, and I have some experience so why do I need to become a student again?”  

For many vets, continuing professional development (CPD) means attending courses for a day or two, or perhaps a week combined with some fun activity, and this will refresh them in learning what they were taught before, or add a new concept or two from developments in veterinary medicine after they qualified, but it’s not really like being a student again. 

The problem with stopping being a student is that it might be good to consider that the vet is in no need of further development, because after all that would be admitting we might make a mistake because we lack a piece of essential knowledge, and clients might feel that if we are still students we can’t be professional practitioners: they might even want to see someone else who is properly qualified! 

There is a possibility for vets who consider they are “only mere general practitioners” to think about working towards becoming specialised in a particular area or clinical discipline, and for them this may be an acceptable concept because they feel they are advancing their knowledge and career.

Is specialisation in general practice an oxymoron? 

This has been asked in the veterinary profession, and it has slowly been receiving more widely held appreciation that the general practitioner vet has a unique skill set which can indeed be developed to an advanced level. The medics have had a Royal College of General Practitioners(RCGP) for quite a number of years. 

The skills and competencies that an advanced practitioner needs are encompassed in the RCVS CertAVP (see RCVS website under modular certificates). These skills have challenged quite a number of vets who have now been through the whole process in obtaining their certificates, and many who are currently engaged in the process.  

Part of the process is to really focus on the real skills that are required of the practitioner, including key clinical and key professional skills. For many students, the thought of having to write essays about their professional practice has been daunting at first, but this does help to develop their thinking about the real issues (ethical, clinical, management) in their daily working practice.  

At a recent conference, a management guru was asked by a delegate vet: “How do you deal with the ethical and other complex issues being faced daily which cause frustration and perhaps a feeling of helplessness or even a loss of power to do anything about it?”  

The answer was: “Write it down and work at it; the process of writing it down and thinking about it helps to find solutions.” 

For some reason, vets quite often seem to withdraw from this process in their normal daily practice, but even if the issue that comes up appears to be an irritating client, there are often lessons to be learned which can improve the way we practice and simultaneously our performance and job satisfaction rise, whereas our frustration and feeling powerless falls. 

Studying in a small group can be very helpful, supportive, stimulating, fun, and the sharing of ideas and experiences can be an invaluable resource as well as getting to know a group of new friends. 

Having an experienced facilitator for the group study is also a useful resource to encourage and direct the work.

For many students, the concepts in the CertAVP are quite new, and they can be challenging to the point that students find it difficult to get started or they can get stuck in a rut some months into their studies. 

Having an experienced assessor and adviser can be very helpful at this stage because that experienced pair of eyes can help in the developmental process where the student is forming his or her ideas, writing case studies, and developing a style of writing to present the material effectively.  

Feedback from experienced assessors can certainly help students to appreciate the good work they have done at this stage, and to find ways of improving and raising their level of work both in the Certificate work itself but importantly in their own professional practice which is inextricably linked.  

After a process of formative assessment whereby the student can present his or her work at a fairly advanced stage, the feedback here can help the student to hone those case studies and really focus on the learning outcomes that he or she needs to achieve and clearly present for the final assessment. 

Having got to the stage of the final summative assessment, the students have been through quite a significant amount of development and significant learning. The final portfolio represents a considerable amount of work, and I am delighted to say that in the work I have been involved in developing and assessing, the standards have often been very high, but the learning process and the growth in confidence, improvement in professional practice, and the benefits to the students, the clients, the patients and the practice have been very rewarding to see really happening. 

Improvements demonstrated by students have included: better uptake of clinical services; better financial performance which has helped to pay for equipment; better team work and happier teams; happier vets who can now see their way to working enjoyably and more profitably rather than thinking of retiring early through being miserable and unprofitable; better client and patient care including better implementation of clinical medicine (preventive and therapeutic); and there are more personal journeys which have demonstrated other benefits