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Getting back into practice...

by
01 December 2009, at 12:00am

NO matter why you may need to take time out of clinical practice – family responsibilities, ill health, pregnancy, career break or travel – making the transition back to work needs some careful planning. 

Whatever your circumstances, there is a wealth of general advice out there ranging from CV writing to what the rules are about flexible working. Both veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses, though, have a few extra things to factor into their plans.

Before stopping practice, think about what you want to do with your registration – or listing. If you know you are going to take time out, then you can consider coming off the respective Register or List. Vets also have the option of changing their registration category to “Non-practising”. 

“The options of removing your name from the Register of veterinary surgeons or changing to non-practising membership need to be thought about in advance and the financial implications of each considered,” says Christine Fraser, RCVS head of registration. 

“There may be no annual fee if you are not on the Register, but there is a restoration fee payable if you have removed your name, which has to be set against the cost of paying the reduced annual retention fee.

 Restoration fee

“For a veterinary nurse there are similar considerations. Whilst it costs nothing to come off the List or Register, there is a restoration fee for both vets and nurses and you may find it cheaper to maintain your listing or registration if you are only taking a short break.” 

Both veterinary surgeons and registered veterinary nurses (RVNs) also need to consider how they will fulfil their continuing professional development requirements when deciding whether or not to come off the Register. 

For a vet there are various fees and refunds due depending on whether you change your registration category or leave the Register entirely. Calculating the cheapest option is complex as it depends on exactly when you stop practising, how long for, if you intend to practise overseas and when you plan to return to practise in the UK. 

If you are planning not to practise at all for more than two years, it will normally be cheaper to remove yourself from the Register and pay the restoration fee than to stay on the Register as “Non-practising”, and vice versa.

If you have any flexibility over when you leave and return to practise, then you can check RCVS online or contact us for information so you can work out the best solution for your particular circumstances. And if you want to come off the Register, remember to tell us. It costs much more to be restored if we remove you for non-payment, so don’t just let your registration lapse. 

Whatever you decide to do regarding your registration or listing, vets and VNs cannot carry out the work they are permitted under the Veterinary Surgeons Act whilst they are off the respective Register or List – and neither can vets registered as “Non-practising”. 

Practising veterinary surgery or undertaking Schedule 3 work in the UK without being registered as a “Home-practising” vet – or listed or registered as a VN or RVN – is a criminal offence. A vet who allowed registration status to lapse while out of the country, but who returned to the UK to practise at times during the period in question, was recently suspended from the Register for three months. 

Keeping in touch

 Any period of practice while unregistered is illegal, no matter how short. So, if you are going on maternity leave, don’t get confused by the government’s “keeping in touch” days. 

Christine explains: “The government lets new mothers work a limited number of ‘keeping in touch’ days without this affecting their maternity benefits. Registration requirements for vets, though, are set down by law and are the same for women on maternity leave as they are for anyone else: if you are registered as ‘Non-practising’ you cannot practise.” 

What you can do during “keeping in touch” days is attend practice meetings, or undertake administrative tasks. Veterinary nurses should also make sure that they are registered or listed if they are carrying out Schedule 3 work on these days. It is illegal to undertake Schedule 3 work unless you are listed or registered, or a supervised student veterinary nurse. 

The bottom line is that if you want to practise during “keeping in touch” days, you need to be correctly registered.

RVNs who leave the Register for more than five years now need to complete a Period of Supervised Practice (PSP). This takes at least 17 weeks full-time – or 595 hours part-time – and generally means being employed in a Practice Standards Scheme General Practice or Hospital, or a Training Practice, to make sure that you see a sufficient number and variety of cases. 

Working under supervision 

If you are considering starting back in a practice that is not one of these, then it may still be possible to undertake the PSP; however, you should contact the RCVS for advice and may need to arrange visits or placements elsewhere.

“PSP essentially means working in clinical practice under the supervision of an experienced vet or veterinary nurse whilst you refresh your clinical skills,” says Libby Earle, head of veterinary nursing at the RCVS. “With their help you need to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, and put together a plan to bring yourself up to date.” 

Whilst on PSP, veterinary nurses are not fully registered and have similar restrictions to student nurses in terms of Schedule 3 work, in that they must be supervised, and that the supervision must be direct, personal and continuous. Professional accountability lies with their supervisor.

This isn’t re-training, however, and there is no formal assessment at the end of the process – both the returning veterinary nurse and her or his supervisor are expected to satisfy themselves that the veterinary nurse is competent to carry out the responsibilities of an RVN as described in the RCVS Guide to Professional Conduct for Veterinary Nurses

This can be done entirely without paying for any courses; however, there is an optional RCVS Certificate in Current Veterinary Nursing Practice, which is designed to support experienced veterinary nurses returning to work after a substantial break.

“The Period of Supervised Practice and the qualification are also open to Listed veterinary nurses,” says Libby. “Although Listed VNs can go straight back into clinical practice, we encourage these VNs to consider voluntarily undertaking the PSP. This can also help you demonstrate to would-be employers that you are serious about keeping up to date.”

If you are a vet or VN returning to practice and think this all sounds rather difficult and costly, then make sure that you take a look at the CPD materials that are available online – some of which are free. The RCVS Trust is supporting the “wikivet” project, which is a source of peer-reviewed clinical information and is free for vets to access. Free for veterinary nurses is an RCVS Trust Library membership – for a vet an annual membership is £70 – which lets you read scholarly journals online wherever suits you. 

Another option is to do some work on a voluntary basis in a charitable clinic, as veterinary surgeon Hilary La Thrope did once her two children were approaching university age. 

“I wanted to get back into practice – I’m never happier than with a scalpel in my hand,” says Hilary. “Although I’d been keeping up with the journals,I did feel rusty.” 

Unpaid work

 She arranged to start back with some unpaid work for the Celia Hammond Animal Trust in Lewisham as “things like drug names and vaccination schedules change, and working in an open vaccination clinic there isn’t the time pressure there can be with consults in commercial practices”. 

Hilary says that after a week or so of health checks and vaccinations she was ready to get back into neutering, and then into bitch and cat spays. She also arranged to see practice at the Royal Veterinary College’s Queen Mother Hospital – an opportunity she very much appreciated.

Her efforts paid off, with a job offer from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust, and she is pursuing her surgery interests through a modular RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice. 

If you are thinking of volunteering, remember that to work as a veterinary surgeon or qualified veterinary nurse, even on an unpaid basis, you still need to be registered – and for a vet this also means being registered as “Home-practising”. 

Useful structure 

Vets who have taken substantial periods away from clinical practice – or who are moving to a new clinical area – might find signing up for the Professional Development Phase (PDP) useful. It’s free and, although designed primarily for new graduates, you can use the PDP as a tool for assessing where you may need to bring yourself up to date or what to cover if you are moving to a new area of clinical practice. 

The PDP website provides you with a useful structure to record and reflect on your progress and, if you wish, you can be linked online to a postgraduate 

dean. The records you make remain confidential to you and your dean.

One thing vets and RVNs do need to be aware of if they are planning to return part-time, is that there is no pro rata CPD requirement. Vets and VNs who work part-time have the same professional standing as their full-time colleagues, and clients expect them to be up to date. So the CPD requirement for full- and part-time vets is exactly the same.

“This is difficult,” says Nicky Shaw, who works for Pelyn Veterinary Group in Cornwall and found herself “with my two-year-old in the car on the way up to Harrogate for a course.”

Travel was a big issue for Nicky – and a deciding factor in choosing to refresh her knowledge by taking online modules from the RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice. “I’m studying with Edinburgh University and you can log on wherever and whenever you want,” she says, which can help when you are trying to live up to your family and professional responsibilities. CPD is averaged over three years so there is some flexibility to juggle your required hours this way too.

There is a lot of information about CPD courses available online on the websites of the veterinary schools, veterinary associations and commercial training providers, as well as that published through the veterinary press. If you’re thinking about taking a course, then don’t be afraid to ring up providers and make sure that the course is what you want – after all it’s your (or your practice’s) money you’re spending. 

If you are coming back to practice life – or planning some time out – and want to make sure you are clear about what the implications of the different options would be for you, then do get in touch with us on 0207 222 2001.