Article Text


Working together: researching interprofessional education
  1. Tierney Kinnison


As a research assistant, Tierney Kinnison worked on a variety of projects with the Royal Veterinary College's (RVC) LIVE team and is a core member of its haptics teaching team. She now is doing a PhD in interprofessional working and education

Statistics from

MY route to becoming a PhD student in veterinary education was rather meandering. I knew at secondary school that I wanted to work with or for animals, but wasn't sure that being a vet or a veterinary nurse were the right options for me. So I found a BSc course on animal behaviour at Anglia Ruskin university. I really enjoyed it, but at the end had no ultimate idea about a career. I decided that studying more might help me to make a decision.

I moved to the University of Exeter and undertook a Masters degree, again in animal behaviour. However, I still found it difficult to find the right path. I worked as a receptionist and kennel assistant at the Celia Hammond Animal Trust, a cat sanctuary and veterinary practice. I found the position enjoyable (eg, seeing rescued cats find loving homes) yet challenging. Dealing with the public regarding their pets, over the phone or face-to-face, can be difficult, especially without a veterinary background, and it forces you to ask for help and advice all the time, which requires a good and willing team. I was still searching for my ideal job and, in March 2008, it appeared, in the form of a position for a research assistant at the RVC, in the Lifelong Independent Veterinary Education (LIVE) centre. It was the idea of doing research that would help veterinary students and, ultimately, their clients and patients that appealed to me. Initially employed for one year, I ended up staying for four-and-a-half years thanks to grants won by the LIVE team. LIVE is a great place to work and I was fortunate in my colleagues, line manager (Sarah Baillie) and the director of LIVE (Stephen May); they made the job enjoyable and I learnt so much.

I was lucky to work on a range of projects, but the one that has really stuck with me and influenced my move to doing a PhD was researching interprofessional education (IPE). IPE can be defined as ‘two or more professions learning with, from and about each other to improve collaboration and the quality of care’ (CAIPE 2002).

Tierney playing the student in a photoshoot for the Haptic Cow along with its inventor, Sarah Baillie Photograph: Peter Nunn/RVC

An example screen from the new online tool showing one of the interactive features; this is a quiz about knowledge of veterinary team members, especially the legalities surrounding roles. The tool is accessed from

Within the veterinary field, this could potentially have an outward-looking stance towards One Health, but for me, it relates to an inward-looking stance towards veterinary surgeons working with veterinary nurses, practice managers, farriers, etc. This type of veterinary-specific IPE is an under-researched area, and is something that I and my colleagues are trying to address. It began with the veterinary Interprofessional Education resources (vIPEr) project funded by VETNET Lifelong Learning Network (2009/10) and involved members of LIVE and the RVC's veterinary nursing school (Rachel Lumbis, Hilary Orpet, Perdi Welsh, Sue Gregory) led by Sarah Baillie. Two IPE resources were developed, which I adapted from the medical field. These were the ‘talking walls’ activity and emergency case role play, which were well received and provided the impetus for me to want to research the area further. ‘Talking walls’ is an activity for small interprofessional groups. First, with members of their own profession, individuals think about the roles and responsibilities of other professional groups and write ideas on a flipchart. Once this is completed, the other professions are shown the flipchart relating to their group. They are then given the opportunity to amend, delete and add points to their profession's list. Finally the interprofessional group is reunited and is asked to discuss any misconceptions and to work towards a better understanding of team roles. Talking walls was first described in the medical field (Parsell and others 1998).

Online tool

As offering face-to-face IPE for veterinary students and students of other courses, such as veterinary nursing, physiotherapy and pet behaviour counselling, is not currently possible for all veterinary schools, it seemed like a good idea to develop an online tool to introduce IPE to veterinary-related professions and occupations, which could be freely accessible to students on any veterinary-related course. A collaborative project between myself at the RVC, Liz Mossop at Nottingham vet school and Sarah Baillie at Bristol, has created such a tool. The collaboration was established based on our shared interest in IPE. When the project started, Sarah and I had worked on vIPEr at the RVC, and Liz had introduced IPE initiatives at Nottingham. The tool was based largely on our vIPEr publications, which I believe were the first publications specifically regarding veterinary team IPE (Kinnison and others 2011, 2012).

Input was provided by two students who undertook IPE projects during their undergraduate courses – Georgina Tyrrell (veterinary nursing student, RVC) and Georgie Varley (veterinary student, Nottingham), as well as veterinary nurses in practice and university, and a specialist small animal chartered physiotherapist.

The IPE tool was created using the University of Nottingham's Xerte Online Toolkit, which allows individuals without programming skills to create computer-aided learning software. It includes information pages, diagrams and videos, as well as interactive aspects such as a quiz (pictured above), drag and drop task, and a hangman game.

The tool is now available online, which is incredibly exciting, partly due to the time it took to get to this stage. Reasons included changing jobs; Sarah moving to be the chair of veterinary education at Bristol and me starting my PhD. In addition, the content of the tool evolved, some originally ‘good’ ideas didn't work and new features were added, such as interactive games. We were all keen to see the tool finished, knowing its worth in introducing the concepts of interprofessional working, learning and education to students of veterinary-related courses.

The tool is free and can be found at One excellent aspect of this project is that it is interprofessional in itself, demonstrating the value of collaborative working across veterinary schools to progress areas of education. The project was funded from a National Teaching Fellowship Award (Sarah Baillie) and the RVC, while access to Xerte and support was provided through the University of Nottingham.

My PhD now seeks to explore the interprofessional relationships in practice and ultimately to make recommendations for further IPE initiatives grounded on the evidence base. I am located at the RVC (my supervisor is Professor May) and the Institute of Education (David Guile). I am over halfway through my three-year study, and am still not sure what I'll do at the end of it. But perhaps what I've learnt is that that's okay!

If you want to read more about my ‘Life as a Veterinary Educationalist’ my blog can be found on the Network of Veterinarians in Continuing Education website,


View Abstract

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.