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All change on VN training?

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THE path students will have to follow to obtain a veterinary nursing qualification while working in practice could change dramatically next year if proposals being put forward by the RCVS Awarding Body responsible for these qualifications are adopted. The changes are being proposed in anticipation of changes to the system of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs), on which the current work-based veterinary nursing qualifications are based, and will clearly have implications for colleges and practices involved in veterinary nurse (VN) training, as well as for VNs themselves. Among other things, they could lead to a reduction in practice-based assessment, as the requirement for students to complete an NVQ portfolio recording their practical experience is phased out. They could also see the end of a separate qualification in equine veterinary nursing, just a decade after this qualification was introduced.

The review of the veterinary nursing qualification was prompted by government plans to introduce a new Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) from summer next year, which effectively scraps NVQs in their current form. The RCVS Awarding Body sees this as an opportunity to reconsider work-based training for VNs with a view to improving its effectiveness and efficiency. After an initial review undertaken over the summer, it has now issued draft proposals for wider consultation (see p 421 of this issue). It has asked for comments by the end of this month, noting that the timeframe of the QCF is setting the pace and that colleges and training providers need to develop new training structures for delivery in 2010/11.

Under the proposals, the current four veterinary nursing awards would be replaced by a single level 3 qualification, encompassing both theoretical and practical education and training. Training would normally take place over two years. The first year would be undertaken as a full-time course in further education, entailing two days per week of college attendance and 25 days of mandatory work experience, including equine and farm animal work. Students undertaking the first year programme would not need to be employed in a practice. Those who did have a job in practice would be able to undertake the first year programme part time over two years and maintain their employment.

The second year programme would be weighted towards clinical work experience in a training practice. Students would be employed during this year, which would be seen to be a training position (internship) not necessarily leading to ongoing employment in the training practice. An online log of practical experience, similar to the one used by new veterinary graduates during their Professional Development Phase, would replace the current portfolio, and there would be a more comprehensive end-of-year practical exam. There would no longer be a requirement for practice-based assessors, although students would still need to be supported by an experienced clinical mentor.

The proposals apply only to work-based training; honours and foundation degree courses will be largely unaffected.

The awarding body's proposals aim to reduce bureaucracy for those involved with VN training, improve access to training and increase the number of practices involved, and, ultimately, to increase the number of trained VNs available to the veterinary profession. At the same time, they aim to retain and strengthen the current rigour of training so that the quality of nurses entering the VN Register is not compromised. If they can do all that, to everyone's satisfaction, they will achieve a great deal. However, while it would be difficult to argue that the current arrangements have ever been considered entirely satisfactory, or would not benefit from being simplified, some aspects of the proposals could prove controversial, and the proposal to drop the separate qualification in equine veterinary nursing will disappoint those who pressed for its introduction in the first place. Some might question whether some of the suggested benefits of the proposed arrangements, such as that student interns might be paid less than the national minimum wage and possibly replace some unqualified staff positions, will necessarily benefit the development of veterinary nursing, or indeed veterinary practice, in the longer term. In the meantime, as the consultation document points out, what form of public funding will be available under the Government's new arrangements for work-based learning still needs to be clarified.

The RCVS Awarding Body's consultation document includes useful recognition of some of the problems with the current arrangements for VN training, and will be required reading for VNs, training providers and employers alike. There will be much to consider, and much to discuss, in the short time available for the consultation.

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