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Building a certificate block by block
  1. Claire Millington


The RCVS recently enrolled the 500th vet on its new modular certificate. Claire Millington of the Royal College's communications department explains how flexibility is a key feature of the new system

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FEBRUARY can seem like an onslaught of ‘must do's’, ‘ought to do's’ and still paying off those Christmas bills, so starting a postgraduate qualification might seem like a resolution to defer for a while. However, the annual RCVS CPD card will shortly come through the letterbox, so why not take a look at some of the individual modules from the RCVS postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice (CertAVP). Completing a module or two might fit the CPD bill – and enrolling with the RCVS first could be a relatively painless way of embarking on a future postgraduate qualification.

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‘The CertAVP works by building up module credits,’ says Freda Andrews, the RCVS head of education. ‘To make a start, you need to enrol with the RCVS and with the university of your choice, and then you can bank credits for any CertAVP modules in which you are assessed, and put these credits towards a CertAVP. ’

The qualification replaced the old postgraduate certificates in November 2007 (although for candidates enrolled on the old-style certificate exams will continue to be held until 2012 – or they can transfer to the modular certificate). Once a vet has enrolled with the RCVS, they have up to 10 years – twice as long as under the old system – to complete the certificate. Enrolling costs £53 in the first year and you need to renew annually at a cost of £27.

How certificate study has changed

Unlike the old-style certificates, the module assessments are carried out by approved universities, rather than by the RCVS. This means more choice for candidates, and that assessment methods may vary between the assessing institutions. Universities must also offer candidates an assessment-only option, irrespective of any associated courses they may run. Does this flexibility – a key feature of this qualification – come at the expense of standards?

‘The CertAVP works by building up module credits’

‘Not at all,’ says Freda. ‘The RCVS draws up the syllabuses for the modules and the universities have to be accredited by the RCVS for each module assessment they offer.

‘Giving individuals a choice over how they learn and demonstrate what they have learned is one of the strengths of the new qualification. There are different – and equally effective – ways of carrying out assessments, so, although the RCVS suggests how a module may be assessed, universities are able to seek accreditation to use a different assessment method.’

The module syllabuses, plus advice about the likely amount of preparation needed by vets with varying levels of experience, are available free of charge from the RCVS website at

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As candidates can choose to be assessed against the module syllabus, this makes it possible to attempt the whole certificate through self-study, although the College recommends that those who want to go it alone in this way seek a suitable mentor or adviser.

A wide range of courses and study support are offered by the assessing institutions, involving a variety of online methods, study materials and workshops that the examining institutions have put together. Details are available directly from the universities and other CPD providers. Vets enrolled with the RCVS can also opt to share their details with other vets taking the same modules – at whichever institution – making it possible for them to study together or to set up learning sets.

This flexibility appeals to Christopher Jordan, the 500th vet to enrol on the modular certificate, who thinks that the qualification ‘looks well structured’. Christopher intends to take the small animal surgery modules as his options for the advanced veterinary practice certificate, and says that the syllabus ‘seems to cover everything you are likely to see in first-opinion practice.’ He also considers that the qualification should serve him well, whether he continues as a general practitioner or takes up a more surgery-focused role.

Since the RCVS introduced the modular certificate, accreditation for 85 modules has been sought and obtained, and many modules are available through more than one university. The University of Bristol has joined the other RCVS-approved veterinary schools, along with the universities of the West of England (through Hartpury College) and Middlesex, in offering module assessments. Last November the University of Glasgow obtained RCVS accreditation to assess four further modules (which means that all six of the modules of their Masters in Veterinary Public Health can now also be counted towards the RCVS CertAVP).

Useful websites

The following websites of RCVS-accredited universities provide further information on assessments and courses






Middlesex (through Vet Learning)

Royal Veterinary

West of England (through Hartpury College)

Compulsory modules

There are two compulsory modules – professional key skills (A-PKS.1) and clinical key skills (B-CKS.0) – which must be achieved. Candidates can then choose from among a range of 101 ‘optional’ modules (see box above), including at least one more of the broad-based skills (‘B’) modules, and any combination of the more narrowly focused (‘C’) modules and/or further ‘B’ modules to gain sufficient credits. A list of all the individual modules can be found on the RCVS website.

Freda Andrews, the head of education at the RCVS: ‘Giving individuals a choice over how they learn and demonstrate what they have learned is one of the strengths of the new qualifications’

All the modules passed are listed on the certificate itself – making it clear which areas have been covered – and it is still possible to pursue a ‘designated’ certificate by selecting a specified combination of modules and then undertaking an overarching ‘synoptic’ assessment.

Unlike the old certificates, though, if a vet initially embarks on a designated route and then finds that their interests or circumstances change, they can take modules to suit their revised situation, and still complete a full CertAVP. You are no longer forced to choose between continuing with an unsuited qualification or dropping out.

The CertAVP is designed to follow on from the professional development phase (PDP), which means that all vets who have qualified since 2007 must have completed the PDP before they can enrol, and all vets must have at least a year's experience in practice before they enrol.

Like the previous certificates, the certi-ficate provides the foundation for vets who wish to continue their professional develop-ment through higher-level postgraduate studies, such as the RCVS and European diplomas. Further information, including a list of which universities are accredited to offer which module assessments, along with relevant contact details, is available at

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