On the road to a higher qualification

01 September 2016, at 1:00am

David Babington of Improve International looks at the options available and reviews the factors that vets seeking higher qualifications should consider before deciding what course of action to take.

AS a vet, achieving a higher qualification, especially on top of a full-time job and family commitments, is no mean feat. It can also be expensive. So why are more and more vets opting to take this route, despite the additional pressures it will inevitably impose? And, for those considering it, what factors should they take into account when selecting the right qualification?

One reason that many more vets are choosing to develop their skills is that the landscape of the profession is changing. They face increased competition from European vets, with the prospect of this situation worsening once new UK veterinary schools start to unleash their graduates into the world.

The rise of corporate practices and the increased threats that this can bring to owner-managed practices also plays a part. Against this backdrop, differentiating yourself by acquiring additional skills and qualifications has to be a good move.

But the motivation to seek additional qualifications doesn’t stem purely from a desire to stand out from the crowd. Feedback from our delegates shows that many have a genuine desire to increase their skills, knowledge and confidence, enabling them to practice at a higher level.

Many also highlight the financial benefits their new skills will bring to their practice. Some, of course, see a postgraduate qualification as a stepping stone to a higher award and enhanced career prospects.

Various organisations now offer a route to a postgraduate certificate (PgC), including many veterinary schools that support learning towards the RCVS Certificate of Advanced Veterinary Practice (CertAVP); the BSAVA which works with Nottingham Trent University and Improve International, which partners with the European School of Veterinary Postgraduate Studies (ESVPS) and Harper Adams University. Most of the main veterinary species and discipline subjects are available, together with accompanying learning programmes often running over one or two years.

From 1st September this year, vets in the UK will also be able to apply to the RCVS for a new “middle tier” professional status called the “Advanced Practitioner”. (The higher tier will remain as RCVS specialist status.)

Vets achieving a recognised qualification at PgC level (so 60 credits at Masters Level 7) will be eligible to apply for this status. There will be an ongoing requirement for practitioners to undertake additional CPD in the designated area plus, in some cases, CPD covering foundation veterinary skills. There will be a revalidation process every ve years during which CPD compliance must be demonstrated.

Meanwhile, a new organisation, VetCEE, has applied for powers of accreditation and intends to establish programme standards leading to a consistent “middle tier” qualification for vets across Europe and we expect further bodies and groups to offer routes to additional veterinary qualifications which meet this middle tier criteria over time.

As the variety of routes to a higher qualification grows, so too does the potential for confusion among employers and vets.

When it comes to employers, many want staff with additional skills so that they can offer an enhanced service to clients but, when it comes to selecting candidates, we hear that practical ability can still rate higher than actual qualifications.

For the sake of those committing to a postgraduate qualification, it’s time employers started valuing postgraduate qualifications more highly as they can bring real positives to the practice.

For employers who want staff to progress their learning further, it’s important that the qualification undertaken has the required recognition and portability. So any study undertaken needs to be chosen with the end result in mind.

It would be simpler if all PgCs awarded by UK-recognised bodies enabled vets to gain the RCVS Advanced Practitioner status.

They all confer 60 academic credits but it appears that vets will also need to study for an additional 100 hours in order to cover some of the core foundations of veterinary practice if this has not already been done within their PgC.

This will require them to study independently or to take the RCVS CertAVP ‘A’ module in “Foundations of Advanced Veterinary Practice”. For some more experienced vets, it could be argued that they already have a good grasp of these key skills.

All training providers need to take steps to provide the required facts and information to help vets make up their mind as to which qualification will work for them. At Improve International, for instance, we’re producing short videos to explain how the qualifications work and integrate with higher awards and we’re trialling open days where vets can attend presentations and meet previous delegates.

So the whole area of postgraduate qualifications for vets is at the same time relevant but potentially confusing. 

There’s a great choice of options but which is the best one for the individual concerned? There are a number of issues a vet considering postgraduate qualification should think about:

  • Remember the saying, “If you don’t know where you want to go, you’ll end up anywhere.” Think about your overall career path, your life in practice and your long-term goals because this will impact on the type of qualification you seek.
  • Think also about the resources you are able to commit both financially and in terms of your time availability. Talk to your practice head about the skills they are looking to bring into the practice. They might be willing to offer you some support.
  • Evaluate all the certificate options carefully. Consider how much of your teaching you want to be online or face- to-face and talk to others who have undertaken similar qualifications.
  • Make sure that the qualification you choose allows progression to the next level if this is a goal. This usually means that the final award will have been issued by a recognised awarding body such as a listed university, RCVS, etc. A recognised awarding body will issue academic credits and these are transferable to some extent across other institutions in Europe. 
  • If you are considering a route to a full Master’s Degree, involving study at several different learning centres, create a training plan which covers at least the next five years of your professional life and which is flexible enough to allow for changes along the way. Life happens sometime!

When you’ve made your choice, get on board and enjoy the ride. The opportunity to use those little grey cells again, to link up with like-minded colleagues and to learn some new skills and practical techniques is really exciting. The whole learning process re-energises those taking postgraduate qualifications and kick-starts the passion for the career that they love so much.