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Establishing a new body

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PROPOSALS on the future of the RCVS fellowship, which were issued for consultation by the RCVS last week, may have started life as part of the College's review of postgraduate specialisation, but have since moved to a different level. The proposals stem from a recommendation in a report from a working party on specialisation, which was adopted by the RCVS Council in 2012. This included a whole package of recommendations aimed at clarifying and simplifying specialisation (see VR, May 3, 2014, vol 174, p 436); however, as far as the fellowship is concerned, it suggested that the RCVS should actively promote this as the highest award issued by the College, that it should develop additional routes to the fellowship to make it more accessible to practising clinicians, and that the fellowship should continue to be one of the routes via which clinicians could gain specialist status. The proposals on the future of the fellowship set out in the consultation document, which have been developed by another working group set up by the College to help take the original recommendations forward, clearly aim to do that, but are also much more ambitious. As the consultation document explains, ‘Although initially it set out to follow up the recommendations from the Specialisation Working Party, after discussion it was agreed that it should look further into ideas for developing the fellowship along the lines of a “learned society”, as this was perceived to have more value than merely adding routes to the existing model’. In this respect, the consultation document is as much if not more concerned with setting up a learned society as it is with specialisation, and needs to be considered in that light.

Under the proposals, the current route to fellowship by thesis would be discontinued, as would the appointment of honorary fellows, and fellows would instead be appointed for meritorious contribution in one of three areas: to the veterinary profession, to knowledge and to clinical practice. The aim is to increase the size of the fellowship to about 5 per cent of the RCVS's practising membership, ‘particularly by providing a route to the fellowship for practising clinicians’, and, the College says, should ensure recognition of sustained achievement by veterinary surgeons. All existing fellows would remain as such, although honorary fellows could opt simply to use the title ‘fellow’ instead, and the route to fellowship by thesis would remain open to those who are already enrolled.

Fellows would be appointed by panels covering each of the three areas, according to criteria set out in the consultation document. Each panel would have its own chair, who would coordinate teams to consider applications, which would be drawn from a pool of 30 election panel members. Each panel chair would sit on a fellowship governance board, which would also include its own chair, a vice-chair from the RCVS Operational Board, a vice-chair from the fellowship and a lay observer. Once this board is established, the fellowship is intended to be self-governing. However, in the first instance, the chair, election panel chairs and election panel members would be appointed by a separate committee which would subsequently be dissolved. This committee would be made up of the chair of the current RCVS fellowship subcommittee, the RCVS President, a senior member of the veterinary profession and a lay observer, and would be chaired by veterinary peer Lord Trees.

Those seeking election to the fellowship would be expected to lead their own applications and would have to be supported by two sponsors. Applications would be reviewed by a panel made up of at least five panel members. There would be no application fee but, once appointed, new fellows would be expected to pay a joining fee and an annual fellowship fee. Existing fellows would not have to pay the new fees. Once successfully elected, there would be no re-review, but fellows would be removed from the fellowship for non-payment of fees or on ceasing to be on the RCVS Register.

Fellows will not necessarily or automatically be specialists under the proposals, nor will specialists necessarily or automatically be fellows. However, the consultation document points out, ‘the specialist level of recognition is likely to be a significant component for many who apply to become a fellow’.

The main objective of the fellowship body, which is modelled on learned societies in other fields, will be ‘to advance veterinary standards by providing a resource of independent knowledge for the benefit of the veterinary profession’. As the consultation document explains, ‘The fellowship as a collective body will be strategic and not reactive. The fellowship will not seek to be representative of the veterinary profession, nor would it normally respond to consultations. The fellowship will aim to promulgate and be a source of scientific fact, not opinion. It is proposed that the fellowship will play a role in knowledge transfer and will undertake reviews, and establish lecture and seminar series, possibly under the auspices of RCVS Knowledge.’

The activities of fellows will probably be based on: ‘advancing veterinary standards by undertaking independent scientific reviews to establish scientific fact; being a source of evidence-based fact and promulgating these findings; promoting excellence in the veterinary profession and communicating this to the public; and nurturing the next generation of veterinary professionals’. The new fellowship, the consultation document explains, would be ‘quite distinct from other professional groups, such as the BVA specialist divisions and other subject associations, in that it would neither represent the profession nor any specialist group’. That said, the College anticipates that many members of these specialist groups and associations will contribute significantly as individuals to the composition and running of the fellowship.

Moves to set up a new body along these lines could be seen as a significant step for the veterinary profession, as ambitious, in some respects, as those which led to the RCVS itself being established 170 years ago. The veterinary profession, like everything else, must continue to evolve. The question today, as the RCVS consults on the proposals, is whether such an additional body is now needed to help advance the profession and, if so, whether it should be constituted on these lines.

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