Having been introduced to CPD in her first job in practice, Frances Barr now sits on the other side of the academic fence as the BSAVA's academic director, where she uses the skills she gained teaching at Bristol veterinary school to develop the association's postgraduate certificates
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I GRADUATED from Cambridge in 1979, and was lucky enough to be offered a job straight away in a large, progressive mixed practice in Kent. It was an ideal place to begin – other young assistants to share experiences and ideas, and experienced partners willing to train and support. It was very busy mind. I well remember that first summer when canine parvovirus hit with a vengeance; clients queued out of the door and there were dogs on drips everywhere. As well as gaining invaluable clinical experience, my first practice also introduced me to the concept of continuing professional development. Assistants were all encouraged to study for one of the RCVS certificates, and I chose radiology. With the help of my supervisor Arlene Coulson, as well as support from the practice, I was delighted to gain the CertVR in 1982.
By this time I was intrigued by radiology and wanted to continue my studies towards the diploma. A few job applications came to nothing, but then I was offered the post of veterinary surgeon at Bristol Zoo (based in the surgery department at Bristol veterinary school). I spent mornings at the zoo, and afternoons working in the x-ray team at Bristol under the guidance of Christine Gibbs. It was a fantastic opportunity to gain experience and to study (I gained my diploma in 1985), while continuing to broaden my clinical experience with less familiar species.
In 1987, I left the zoo to undertake clinical research into the emerging technology of diagnostic ultrasound in the surgery department at Bristol, funded for three years by the RCVS Alison Alston Canine Award. It was a perfect role for me at that time, allowing me to continue clinical diagnostic imaging for first-opinion and referred patients of all species while learning how to work with the new technology and how to carry out clinical research. In 1989 I gained my PhD in the use of ultrasound for abdominal disease in the dog. What a general title that sounds now!
Over the following 20 years, as our family grew up, I remained at Bristol as a clinician and teacher in the field of diagnostic imaging. I always enjoyed teaching in the informal small group setting of clinics, and particularly loved watching the progression in confidence and competence of each and every student through the final year. It's hard being a student, and teachers need to remember that – there's a lot to learn and absorb, and the holy grail of ‘experience’ seems a long way off at times. Of course much changed over that period of 20 years; increased student numbers, busier clinics, new technologies/procedures/therapies. However, the underlying skills required in order to deal with animals and their owners, and to teach those skills to the current crop of students, remained largely unchanged. Furthermore, there is nothing like teaching for stimulating the teacher to keep up-to-date and to understand why and how they take each step. An inevitable companion to teaching is assessment, and trying to minimise the accompanying stress for students while still being fair and consistent.
Postgraduate radiology teaching was also important at Bristol, and for many years we welcomed practitioners once a month to film reading days, supporting those who were interested in studying for the RCVS certificate in veterinary radiology.
During this period, I was also active within BSAVA as a volunteer. I began as a new recruit to its education committee, contributing to the planning of the association's CPD courses, and moved from there to membership (and then chair) of the BSAVA congress scientific programme committee. I spent nine years as editor of the Journal of Small Animal Practice; a time that strengthened and broadened my clinical knowledge and my understanding of clinical research. From 2005 to 2009 I was fortunate also to be one of the BSAVA's officer team, and to appreciate the contributions of permanent employees and volunteers alike.
And so to today, and my current role of BSAVA academic director. This role was created by the BSAVA in 2010 with the express purpose of developing and implementing its new postgraduate certificates. The exciting prospect of being involved from the beginning with a project I wholeheartedly believed in was sufficient to entice me from the security and familiarity of Bristol, although not without a few butterflies. The past three years have been a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but the certificates in small animal medicine and in small animal surgery are now launched, and in 2014 we will have more than 200 students in the first, second or third year of their studies.
Reaching that stage has involved designing each course from scratch – aims and intended learning outcomes, content, structure, assessment – and putting in place all the required academic strategies, policies and procedures. Approval of all aspects by Nottingham Trent university was essential to ensure the formal academic credit value of the qualifications. The job now entails heading a small team which ensures the delivery of the day courses and online activities, liaises with teachers, and provides support for students. There are ongoing quality assurance processes in place.
The knowledge and experience I gained at Bristol of course design, delivery and assessment have been invaluable. At the same time, I appreciate the importance of making postgraduate study accessible to and relevant from first-opinion practice. I've worked in first-opinion practice, and I remember . . . but I am equally aware of the need to seek ongoing input from current first-opinion practitioners. I have the unusual (but not unique) perspective of seeing how the BSAVA works from both a volunteer perspective and now as an employee. Most important for me is that I am still involved every day with teaching, and talk to one or more students on a regular basis. That's the bit I love.
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