The professional development phase (PDP) was introduced three years ago to help support veterinary graduates as they begin their careers in clinical practice. Julian Wells, one of the scheme's postgraduate deans, assesses progress so far
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THE professional development phase (PDP) was established by the RCVS Education Strategy Steering Group (ESSG) and fully developed for the veterinary graduates of 2007. It was designed to fulfil the perceived need to support new graduates with a structured approach to their first year or so in practice.⇓
The scheme remains voluntary under the current Veterinary Surgeons Act, but has become a professional obligation for anyone qualifying in the UK after 2007. These graduates must have completed their PDP before enrolling for an RCVS postgraduate certificate. Working towards completion of the PDP satisfies both the new graduate's and the practice's obligations for the provision of CPD.
What does the PDP involve?
The PDP involves keeping a record of skills acquired, using an electronic log, which can be accessed through the RCVS website. Individual logs are password-protected; however, an example can be previewed by visiting http://pdp.rcvs.org.uk/sample/index.html. The list of competences specified was selected following discussions with the specialist divisions of the BVA, and should not be interpreted as anything more than a representative range of skills, which may need modifying in light of the experience gained in monitoring new graduates. The PDP was quite specifically not designed to be just a box-ticking exercise; the notes section of the electronic log is regarded as particularly important for recording self-reflections on progress, difficulties and areas where further experience or tuition (such as CPD) might be required.
Julian Wells was a member of the RCVS Education Strategy Steering Group from its inception in 2000, and is one of four postgraduate deans for the PDP
How does PDP link in with university education and extramural studies?
The university veterinary degree course aims to equip new graduates with ‘Day 1′ competences in three interlinked areas: general professional skills and attributes, underpinning knowledge and understanding, and practical competences. The PDP was intended to build on these Day 1 skills during the immediate postgraduation period in clinical veterinary practice until the new graduate had attained ‘Year 1’ competences. The ESSG defined these as: being able to perform a range of common clinical procedures, or manage them without close supervision, in a reasonable period of time, and with a high probability of a successful outcome. It was anticipated most graduates would need in the region of a year to achieve this level across a range of skills, but this period was not set in stone, with some completing within this time and others taking longer.
Self-directed learning, the maintenance of portfolios and a continuum of professional development are well established, and it is anticipated that an EMS experience log may soon be developed for undergraduates, following the model of the PDP. For many years, practitioners have willingly given their time to support undergraduates through EMS with variable, often minimal, direction from the educational establishments or the student.
How does PDP work in practice?
The graduate registers with the RCVS education department by e-mail and is provided with a password to access the PDP site. It is anticipated that the PDP will be discussed during the employment interview, and that a senior member of clinical staff will be allocated to the new employee joining the practice.
The experience log, notes and diary sections of the website then become the focus for regular appraisals or discussions until each section has been satisfactorily completed, with a reasonable number of procedures having been performed. A note applied to each section should indicate when that point is reached – there are no prizes for administering the most vaccines!
A typical note appended to a skills log might be: ‘I have not recorded every pain management case here, but suffice to say I now feel competent in the use of both non-steroidal and opioid medication. I will not be recording any more numbers.’
When the individual considers that competence has been achieved across a wide enough range of skills to equip the graduate to offer a competent professional service in a named area of practice (small animal, farm animal, equine or mixed practice), the declaration should be signed, together with the supporting signature of the practice mentor, and submitted to the RCVS.
Who checks the declarations?
Graduates registering for the PDP are allocated to one of four postgraduate deans, who will generally send an introductory e-mail. The dean keeps a watching brief on his/her tutor group and contacts individuals by e-mail if unusual entries appear on the portfolio, or if no entries appear at all. An automatic flagging system should pick up the latter group, generating an e-mail from the RCVS.
Graduates are at liberty to contact their dean at any time for advice and guidance. This is generally limited to issues surrounding the portfolio, but the deans may also point individuals in an appropriate direction for advice, particularly relating to employment matters or personal issues.
There has been a steady trickle of these inquiries rather than a flood, but, nevertheless, for those taking advantage of the assistance, the PDP offers another source of guidance in an increasingly stressful working environment. The deans see themselves as providing support, encouragement and advice rather than criticism or censure.⇓
How well is it working?
To date, over 90 per cent of 2007/8 and 2008/9 UK graduates have signed up for the PDP, with over half of the initial cohort signed off. The 2009/10 figures are following the same pattern as previous years. Various reasons for the 7 to 8 per cent drop-out of graduates have been proposed, including returning home to their country of origin, working overseas, alternative career paths and temporary unemployment.
Benefits for practices and graduates
It has long been accepted that new graduates are ‘omnipotential’ rather than omnicompetent, even if it is only in recent years that the establishment has labelled initial competences as ‘Day 1 skills’. To develop the full potential of any new employee, contemporary businesses have training schemes in place that include mentoring (whether or not it is given that title in our jargon-averse profession!).
Graduates benefit from formal and informal mentoring, and the PDP offers a structured focus for discussion of competence and clinical outcome. Of course, it involves an investment of time, but provided reasonably fast internet access is available, the portfolio should only add minutes per week to an established mentoring process. The major benefit is that the support or mentoring process will have a defined structure.
One senior member of veterinary staff commented: ‘I feel that the PDP process has been very useful, particularly in enabling us to discuss cases and follow up outcomes. To get the most out of PDP we found that a significant amount of time does need to be put aside for these discussions, otherwise it can become a process of merely ticking boxes, which is of little help to the new graduate.’
Are there any problems?
The general impression is that the PDP is working well, although it is not universally popular! A minority of practices, and therefore inevitably their graduate employees, regard it as a waste of time or an imposition. Despite efforts by the deans to explain the requirements, a number of graduates fail to append supportive notes, which compromises and delays assessment. Most notably, the penultimate section on population medicine includes issues of biosecurity, zoonosis, import/export and certification. These are rarely completed in anything like the detail apparent in most other sections.
What of the future?
There will be further development of the website and skills portfolio based on experience to date and feedback from deans, graduates and practice mentors. A properly structured approach to EMS and the PDP will become more relevant, as the ability to provide hands-on clinical experience during undergraduate training remains a significant challenge.
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