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In-house diploma training for veterinary nurses
  1. Helen Farrant

Abstract

Goddard Veterinary Group has set up its own college to help its student nurses achieve the diploma in veterinary nursing. As the first group settles in, Helen Farrant, the group's training manager, explains why it feels the effort is worthwhile

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SETTING up our own in-house college has been a big step and has taken a great deal of effort and investment but, as our first cohort settle into their training, it's great to see their enthusiasm and watch them bond as a team.

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The Goddard Veterinary Group (GVG) is a large multicentre practice, encompassing three hospitals and 46 branches in and around London. We employ around 80 registered veterinary nurses (RVNs), 35 student nurses and 70 nursing assistants within the group – a number that has grown significantly over the past 10 years, partly through practice acquisition, but also through a commitment to training within the management team.

The training department is responsible for providing a wide range of training to our staff, including induction training, client care courses, seminars on anaesthesia, correspondence courses on topics such as radiography, and revision courses for VN students. We have delivered the veterinary care assistant (VCA) qualification for a number of years, and branch visits help to provide bespoke training and improve standards consistently.

When the VN qualification was an NVQ, GVG was a veterinary nurse approved centre (VNAC), which meant that we were responsible for our students' practical training and the completion of their portfolios. At that time, we outsourced the academic teaching on a day-release basis to several colleges. This worked well, but when the qualification became a diploma in 2010, our nurse training had to be outsourced to a variety of further education colleges.

This was not ideal for us. For a start, because of our wide geographical spread, we had to use many colleges, and each had its own systems and approach to training. This meant that training across the group was disjointed and difficult to manage. We also found that it was sometimes hard to secure the information we needed to track students' progress and that the college days for our students did not always fit in with the needs of the practice. Some branches with nurses in training had to make staffing adjustments that affected their business.

As an experienced RVN and trainer, I was finding it increasingly frustrating that we were losing control of this key aspect of our students' development – and that our students were being split up. We felt strongly that we wanted to offer them a coherent, consistent training experience that would give them the opportunity to learn together and bond as a team, while being trained to the high standards that we insist on across the practice. So, when Central Qualifications (CQ) was approved as an awarding body and started to offer the VN diploma, we saw an opportunity not just to address the problems with our existing training, but also to raise the bar on the training that we offer to our students.

Setting up the college was a challenge, but with support from the helpful team at CQ, who worked with us to ensure that the action plan has been met, we got there. We employed a fourth member on the training team and invested in new equipment and facilities, such as additional anatomical models, more laboratory and surgical equipment to use as teaching aids and more laptops. We also set up a virtual learning environment for our students.

Most of this was relatively plain-sailing for me as I'd already run the in-house VNAC and the VCA course. My experience of running these two aspects of training has been combined in setting up and running the VN diploma, and the training team has been busy updating teaching materials to the VN syllabus.

Six months on, it was exciting to see our first cohort of 10 students take their seats in the lecture room in January. We expect numbers to build over the next few years, with 13 as our maximum. As head of centre for the VN diploma college, I'm involved as a tutor and in the quality assurance process.

The students are a great bunch and are already asking the types of questions that keep us on our toes. We're enjoying watching their progress and can already see the benefit of them working together and training in an environment where we are all colleagues and working towards the same goals and standards. The small class size is a bonus as it gives students more individual time with tutors.

We currently deliver the diploma in veterinary nursing to employees of the GVG, but there is the possibility that we will open up the opportunity to train at the college to other practices in due course.

The process of setting up the VN diploma at GVG College has been an amazing opportunity in my career and I feel very fortunate to have the support of the senior management team in this and all aspects of training within the group.

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