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Achieving CPD targets
  1. Claire Millington


The range of roles and experience within the veterinary profession means that a one-size-fits-all approach to continuing professional development is not feasible. Claire Millington of the RCVS's communications department suggests a variety of ways in which vets can meet their CPD obligations

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‘THE guidance is that vets need to plan, keep records and carry out at least 105 hours of CPD as averaged over any three-year period,’ says Freda Andrews, head of education at the RCVS. ‘Ultimately, what individual vets need to learn and how they choose to learn it is up to them, as long as they keep within the guidance.’ Professional development is viewed in a broad sense and includes the obvious, such as clinical skills; however, depending on a vet's role, it could also include teaching skills, research, business management or related professional activities.

Essentially, CPD is a recurring cycle in which individuals consider what they need to learn, then plan and undertake the learning, and then record and reflect on what they have learned. It starts when a vet takes his or her first veterinary job and enters the professional development phase (PDP), which, if done properly, counts for the first year's CPD, and continues throughout their working life.

Vets need to record their learning plans and activities and keep documentary evidence of their participation in courses and other events. The RCVS produces a CPD card annually for vets to record the hours and types of CPD they have undertaken; these records are required during RCVS Practice Standards Scheme inspections, and can be requested should the RCVS receive a complaint against a veterinary surgeon. Plans are also in hand to develop an online recording system, starting with Day 1 skills learned pregraduation, through EMS, including the PDP, and continuing on to annual CPD.


‘Vets undertake a wide variety of CPD activities,’ says Freda, noting that the 2010 Survey of the Veterinary Professions ( found that typical vets responding to the survey reported undertaking an average of 72 hours of CPD over the past 12 months – over twice the minimum required.

The most popular form of CPD undertaken, typically 30 hours, was reading books, journals and articles. Freda sounds a note of caution: ‘Undocumented private studies can only account for up to 10 hours per year,’ she says, ‘Vets can currently incorporate more than 10 hours of self-directed private learning, but it must be documented; for example, by keeping a personal record through a learning and reading diary.’

Increasingly, there are opportunities to take part in online assessment, and other ‘mediated’ distance learning involving online tutors and learning groups, which, like private study, are flexible and can be inexpensive, and for which there is no restriction on the number of hours that may be counted towards your CPD.

There are so many ways of doing CPD – some suggestions are given in the box on p ii – but deciding what to do can be difficult. Courses are an obvious choice and can be useful for hands-on practical skills, but they may also be expensive and don't necessarily cover what you need to learn.

Elena Barrio Fernandez, who works for the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon, says that she and her colleagues discuss together the CPD they would like. ‘If we find that there's a general gap in our knowledge – or in CPD provision – then we may arrange for someone to come in and give CPD in-house.’ For example, the practice arranged for Nora Mathews to visit and share her expertise on anaesthesia. Vets also undertake external courses and seek feedback from other vets to help decide which courses will be worthwhile.

‘Workplace activities such as case conferences can also count as CPD activity if you systematically reflect on what you have learned and apply that new learning,’ says Freda. ‘Similarly, research and clinical audit activities can also be recognised as adding to professional development if you can account for how they have contributed to your personal development.’

Christopher McGaugie, who is shortly to start up a Companion Care practice at Bishopbriggs, near Glasgow, advises that if funds are tight to look carefully at the business case as well as professional development before approaching the boss with CPD requests. ‘I look through my caseload at what has gone well and what hasn't to decide what CPD I need,’ he says.

Stuck for ideas? You could do any of the following:

■Study for a qualification, or part of one – such as individual modules of the CertAVP.

■Shadow or mentor a vet at your own practice or elsewhere.

■Take part in a ‘learning set’ – an informal network of colleagues who learn together, for example, by comparing and discussing case reports.

■Participate in in-house training.

■Attend a course, lecture or seminar.

■Go on secondment to another practice.

■Read and critique relevant articles in veterinary journals and other relevant publications, keeping a learning diary and/or notes (without the diary and/or notes, no more than 10 hours of self-directed study can be counted).

■Research, including preparation for giving lectures/seminars/presentations (if you're repeating the same lecture, you can only count preparing and delivering it once).

Keep a separate file with any certificates of attendance, learning diaries, CPD plans, assessment results, or other documents that serve as evidence of your involvement in CPD.

As a soon-to-be partner, Christopher is keen on value for money, and also has the needs of his one-year-old son to factor into his responsibilities. He likes online ‘webinars’: ‘These are often free and are usually archived, so if I miss any of it I can view it later, which is not possible with traditional seminars, although typing questions in isn't the same as discussion.’

He is also undertaking the professional key skills module of the RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice (CertAVP). ‘Business CPD is not top of the list for many vets but I think that it should be, especially if practices want to survive and grow out of the recession,’ he says.

If you want to get the last drop of value out of CPD – paid-for or not – simple things like sharing notes or timetabling discussion in practice meetings can help you evaluate what you've learned and make it stick. ‘We have a regular slot at our Monday morning meetings for sharing what we've learned on CPD,’ says Elena. ‘Vets bring a few essential points and it means we can sometimes introduce changes within the practice. For example, we've improved one of the forms for doing pre-op checks as a result of some CPD one of our vets did recently.’

New graduates and CPD

Assessing the areas where vets need to develop should become easier as their careers progress; however, new graduates need support to make sure that their first year in practice doesn't leave gaps in their development. This rationale lies behind the PDP, which all new graduates are required to complete.

‘Being part of a cohort on the PDP made me aware of the things I was doing more or less of,’ says Caroline Clark, who completed her PDP in 2009. PDP also helped her to identify the areas where she would need more preparation before starting CertAVP assessments. She is enthusiastic about the support she receives from other vets at her practice, and in particular the monthly mentoring session she has with her manager.

Elena Barrio Fernandez and her colleagues at the Donkey Sanctuary discuss the CPD they would like to do before approaching their managers

Approaching partnership, Christopher McGaugie has business as well as personal interests to factor into CPD provision

Caroline Clark of Kessock Equine Clinic, Inverness, feels that the PDP helped her to identify areas where she would need more preparation before starting CertAVP assessments

Low-cost CPD

Mentoring and work shadowing are flexible, low-cost CPD options for practices, as is arranging to share CPD with other local practices. At the Donkey Sanctuary, the in-house CPD is attended by vets from a practice that provides out-of-hours emergency cover. Similarly, the Sanctuary's VNs attend presentations to clients arranged by the emergency cover practice (registered VNs must carry out 45 hours of CPD in each three-year period).

Preparing and delivering talks and lectures can also be used for CPD, as Christopher did with a rabbit dental talk he gave for owners last year, as part of Rabbit Awareness Week. ‘This also brought some new clients into the practice and existing clients liked it too.’

With all these options, and many vets doing more than the minimum required, how do you fit it all in? ‘I have fitted some study in during gaps at work and at the evening and weekends,’ says Christopher, who admits to handing over paternal duties on some Saturday afternoons to sit down with an essay. ‘I also like evening lectures, as you can discuss the subject with other vets and evaluate what the speaker is saying.’ He finds that living in central Scotland offers plenty of opportunity to undertake CPD locally, although he does a lot online too.

Caroline says that when she started in practice, the local new graduate networks (as part of the BVA's recent graduate support scheme) were useful sources of convenient and appropriate CPD. ‘I was doing small animal and equine work, and particularly remember a useful talk on exotics,’ she says, noting that the networks were also a good way of meeting other new vets. Getting involved in an online ‘learning set’ is another way for vets with similar interests to discuss what they are studying at a time that is convenient, even when they are spread out geographically.

For further information, and to download the RCVS Continuing Professional Development Record Card and Guidance Notes, visit

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