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Pressing ahead

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FOR the time being, the Government seems to have bigger issues on its mind than a new Veterinary Surgeons Act. However, the RCVS continues to consider what it would like to see in a new Act and, in practical terms, to move forward with measures aimed at fulfilling its vision of how veterinary activity should be regulated in the future. A new Practice Standards Scheme is now in place and the College plans to launch it to the general public early next year. Meanwhile, important decisions were made at RCVS Council last week when, following recommendations from the College’s Education Strategy Steering Group (ESSG), it was agreed that CPD should be promoted as mandatory and that a Professional Development Phase (PDP) should be introduced for all new veterinary graduates from 2006/07 (see p 606 of this issue). Compulsory CPD and the PDP are important elements of the College’s framework for lifelong education and training of veterinary surgeons, originally proposed by the ESSG in 2001 (VR, July 21, 2001, vol 149, p 65; June 22, 2002, vol 150, pp 761, 766), and will ultimately be linked to a licence to practise. Full implementation of its plans will depend on a new Veterinary Surgeons Act but the College believes that, while this is awaited, progress can still be made.

The PDP aims to assist in the training of new graduates, by providing a more structured framework under which they can develop their clinical skills during their first 12 months or so in practice. A veterinary degree equips new graduates with the ‘Day 1 competences’ they need to operate safely, but these need to be developed further. During the PDP, graduates will be expected to refine these skills and develop the ‘Year 1 competences’ considered necessary for them to perform confidently as fully qualified professionals in the workplace.

The PDP system agreed by the College last week will be based on self-assessment, with graduates maintaining a log of their clinical experiences on a web-based database on which Year 1 competences are listed. When graduates believe they have gained sufficient experience to meet the requirements – as evidenced by their clinical log – they will be invited to submit a declaration to this effect to the RCVS, countersigned by a senior colleague or mentor in the practice. The graduate’s online record of skills will then be reviewed by a postgraduate dean appointed by the College and, if it is confirmed that the balance of experience has been gained, the RCVS will issue a certificate of completion to the graduate.

The proposed arrangements have been developed on the basis of pilot studies involving new graduates. The ESSG’s paper reported that feedback from the trials was generally positive, although difficulties were encountered in maintaining contact with some of those taking part. It pointed out, however, that this was partly understandable, as there were no sanctions for non-compliance, and no tangible benefits for the participants. Under the recommendations agreed by RCVS Council, the College intends to make the PDP website available to all new graduates and registrants from 2006, and to require all graduates to use it from 2007.

Feedback from the pilot study highlighted the importance to graduates of having supportive employers who hold constructive discussions with new graduates about their performance. The ESSG believes that the use of staff appraisal systems and the support of colleagues in practice are key to developing a new graduate’s professional competence and confidence, and need to be encouraged. Another recommendation agreed by the Council last week was that standards for the Practice Standards Scheme should be amended to require all accredited practices that employ new veterinary graduates to provide suitable support structures, including appraisal systems, and to enable new graduates to complete their PDP records.

Looking to the longer term, the ESSG envisages that all new veterinary graduates should receive membership of the RCVS and a provisional licence to practise when they graduate, and then undertake their PDP in an RCVS-accredited practice before being given a full licence to practise. After receiving that licence, they would be professionally responsible for ensuring that they only practised within the bounds of their competence, undertaking CPD as appropriate if changing career direction. Full implementation of that vision will require new legislation. However, in deciding to move forward with the PDP, and in its decision to promote CPD as mandatory, the College is giving a clear indication of the direction it wants to take.

Last week’s Council meeting also heard of plans to introduce a new register, as well as a guide to professional conduct, for veterinary nurses. These will operate on a non-statutory basis, and tie in with the College’s plans for regulation of veterinary nurses and others providing veterinary services, if its plans for a new Veterinary Surgeons Act are realised. Quite when that might happen remains uncertain; in the meantime, no one could accuse the College of standing still.

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