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No time to lose on VN training

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THE arrangements for work-based veterinary nurse training could change dramatically from next autumn, but by just how much has still to be determined.

The changes have been proposed by the RCVS Awarding Body, which is responsible for delivering VN qualifications in the UK, in anticipation of changes to the system of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs). Among other things, they could result in a reduction in practice-based assessment, as the requirement for students to complete an NVQ portfolio recording their practical experience is phased out, and in the introduction of an initial year of full-time college study, during which students would not need to be employed in a Training Practice as at present. They could also result in the introduction of compulsory farm animal and equine work experience during the first year of study, and the phasing out of a separate qualification in equine veterinary nursing (VR, October 10, 2009, vol 165, pp 419, 421).

The awarding body has made the proposals with a view to reducing bureaucracy for those involved with VN training, improving access to training and increasing the number of practices involved, with the ultimate aim of increasing the number of qualified VNs. In October, it issued a consultation document seeking comments, and is currently considering the responses received. The BVA, after consulting its divisions and the British Veterinary Nursing Association, has responded to its request and sees both advantages and disadvantages in the system proposed

The BVA’s response endorses the principles behind the proposals and supports the proposed reduction in bureaucracy. It notes that the suggested abandonment of ‘the laborious box ticking of the portfolio requirement’ was widely welcomed by those it consulted but concern was expressed that its complete removal could be ‘a backwards step for the qualification’.

In a ‘question and answer’ document on the RCVS website, the awarding body states that there will be no ‘dumbing down’ of the qualification; on the contrary, it says, the educational element of the training would be increased. While the portfolio as such would go, students would still need to be supervised in clinical practice and log their experience. This would be achieved electronically, in much the same way as new veterinary graduates log their experiences during the Professional Development Phase.

The qualification in equine veterinary nursing is highly valued, and the BVA believes it should remain an option for students who wish to pursue it. It also believes that the proposed equine training for all students could be unworkable and suggests that a compulsory practical farm animal component might discourage potential students who only want to enter small animal practice, and could waste time and resources. Regarding the equine qualification, the awarding body has indicated a broaderbased primary qualification would be more sustainable economically, and that students could specialise at a later stage. As for the inclusion of farm animal experience, it wants to ensure that all VNs have an awareness of normal husbandry and basic animal handling across species; it has pointed out that many practices deal with a mixed caseload, and that it is important to introduce students to this wider type of work, which may spark their interest in different areas of practice.

The BVA’s response includes numerous other comments on the proposals, concerning issues such as the staffing implications for practices; delivery by colleges and training providers; and widening access to VN training to help meet the current skills shortage. It accepts that there is a need to address the shortage of VNs but points out that, while the proposed arrangements might encourage more students to enter training, they could also lead to more students dropping out of training once in practice unless their suitability is properly assessed beforehand. It notes, too, that this is not just a matter of dealing with the supply side, commenting, ‘the retention of experienced nurses also needs to be addressed rather than simply flooding the market with newly qualified VNs’.

Despite the fact that only four weeks were available for the awarding body’s consultation, its proposals have aroused a great deal of interest: it was reported at a meeting of RCVS Council last week that 400 replies had been received. The pace of the debate is being driven by the changes to the NVQ system, and government plans to introduce a new Qualifications and Credit Framework from summer next year. There will be a lot to sort out in the time available.

The RCVS consultation document and question and answer paper is available at www.rcvs.org.uk/consultations The BVA’s response is available at activity_and_advice/Consultation_responses.aspx www.bva.co.uk/activity_and_advice/Consultation_responses.aspx

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