Three groups of VNs have now successfully completed the Royal Veterinary College's (RVC's) graduate diploma in professional and clinical veterinary nursing. Course director Perdi Welsh explains how this online course offers working VNs the chance to study for a university qualification
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THE RVC's graduate diploma is aimed at qualified VNs who want to advance their skills as professionals and practitioners, and improve animal health and welfare. The course offers them the chance to develop their critical thinking, using the real-life situations that they have encountered as a basis for analysis and discussion. Our aspiration is that these graduates will be among those who go on to progress the veterinary nursing profession and influence the provision of healthcare as a whole, as well as becoming successful lifelong learners.
Students come from a wide range of backgrounds, having qualified through a variety of routes (such as the RCVS certificate in veterinary nursing, the BSc and the foundation degree (FdSc) in veterinary nursing, and so on) and, in some cases, from outside the UK. They also have interests across the spectrum of veterinary nursing, from emergency and critical care nursing to surgery and diagnostic imaging. This diversity is taken into account in the application requirement but, as a minimum, students should hold the RCVS certificate in veterinary nursing (or a recognised overseas qualification) as well as being on the current RCVS Register of Veterinary Nurses. Applicants also need to have completed at least one year's clinical experience since qualifying.
Students generally work in practices that are RCVS Tier 2 or above, as they need to spend time working in a directly relevant clinical environment. If this is not the case, they will need to have access to a placement in a suitable veterinary clinical environment. Whatever the circumstances, it is important that they have the support of the veterinary practice which is employing or supervising them, as they will need time for training and practical opportunities to be made available. Last, and certainly not least, as it is a distance learning course, students need to have easy and regular access to a computer and the internet.
How long is the course?
Time is at a premium for many of us juggling work alongside other commitments and interests. The approach to the course recognises this, being both part-time and online, and it is designed to be completed over a period of 20 to 36 months. On average, students need to commit around 15 hours per week to study; this may not seem much on paper, but can seem a big chunk of time when other commitments are taken into account.
The course comprises of a number of short modules that vary between seven and 14 weeks in length. Each module is broken into manageable chunks using a variety of learning and assessment techniques, from directed reading, discussion forums and peer review to the submission of extended patient care reports.
Three core modules must be completed in the first year, followed by three elective modules.
Although the course is distance learning-based, it begins with an orientation week, which is held at the RVC's Hawkshead Campus in Hertfordshire. This allows students to meet the staff, tutors, coordinators and fellow students face to face. It also allows them to get to grips with the college's virtual learning environment and to discover how to access learning materials and make the most of online discussion groups and forums. Previous ‘grad dippers’, as well as current students, have found the week invaluable, not just from a practical perspective, but in engendering a course identity, getting a feel for the RVC, becoming familiar with working in an online environment and, importantly, being able to share questions and concerns with others. The only other time students need to come to the RVC is for practical and written exams after the first year and second year modules.
When does the course run?
The course begins in May and applications must be submitted in late March. Those starting this year should complete the course in 2015.
The modules run in blocks and take account of the major holiday periods, Christmas and Easter, and a there is a break from study in late July and August.
What might the diploma lead to?
Critically, on successful completion of the course, participants will have gained 120 credits at level six on the higher education framework and gained a university qualification.
But what else can it mean for their career? One of the aims of the course is that students are inspired to become lifelong learners, and we hope that some will go on to influence the veterinary nursing profession. Now that three cohorts have completed the course we are beginning to see how this aspiration is working out in practice. Even while undertaking their studies, a number of students have published articles in peer-reviewed journals, which is both exciting and an incentive to others.
Graduates of the course have also had articles published, thus inputting to the continued development of nursing practice. More broadly, many graduates have gone on to take more responsibility at work or moved into specialist nursing roles. Other students have gone on to do further university courses and one student moved into a teaching role. The graduate diploma is proving to be a springboard for broadening professional horizons.
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