The RCVS Charitable Trust is undertaking a project that aims to make a range of online resources available to support new graduates as they make the move from veterinary school to practice. Clare Boulton, the project's manager and Librarian at the trust, and Jennifer McIntyre, the project's coordinator, explain the thinking behind the initiative
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CAN you remember finding and starting your first job? It is widely recognised that the immediate period after graduating can be a stressful and highly challenging experience. The veterinary profession as a whole is devoting more attention to supporting new graduates during this phase, especially when they have begun their first jobs and are trying to develop their year 1 competences.
A new project, led by the RCVS Charitable Trust with key partner organisations from across the profession (see box, right) is looking at exactly this area and aims to provide practitioners with access to a wide range of online resources that have previously been restricted mostly to veterinary students while at university.
Funded by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the partners aim to identify valuable, free, ‘open educational resources’ (OERs) from all partner institutions and beyond, with a view to sharing them with practitioners, in particular recent graduates. For example, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has developed a package on financial planning for new graduates, which will be opened up to graduates from all of the UK veterinary schools.
In addition to helping graduates work through their Professional Development Phase (PDP) and develop their key competences, the project will provide material for employers taking on recent graduates who require additional support as they develop their confidence and clinical abilities.
Why is this work needed?
Research studies and anecdotal evidence support the idea that the transition between leaving veterinary school and becoming a competent veterinary surgeon, as well as a confident member of the profession, can be difficult (Routly and others 2002).
The significant number of graduates leaving the veterinary career path is a concern not only to their employers, who may have invested a great deal of time and money into the new graduate, but also for the veterinary profession as a whole (Routly and others 2002). Without adequate support, graduates' career aspirations might be shattered and they may find it difficult to settle into a new practice or an alternative career.
The collaboration has been established to try to identify the current concerns and needs affecting new graduates in practice today, and to source relevant OERs to help allay these concerns.
What is an OER?
An OER is something that is ‘freely available online through open licences such as Creative Commons’ (HEA 2012). The resource can be in almost any format, from simple text documents uploaded to the internet to complex interactive clinical cases. We hope to discover a range of styles of OER that will convey information in different forms, and effectively address the needs of recent graduates.
So, for example, a lack of confidence when dealing with clients might be met by an interactive OER, such as the RVC's ‘Pitfalls in Practice’ (RVC 2012), which is described in the box on p 442. This is a resource exploring veterinary jurisprudence, presenting a number of case studies on good professional practice. What is especially relevant about this particular resource is its ability to encourage critical thinking by the practitioner on topics covered within the RCVS's Code of Professional Conduct for Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS 2012a) and in so doing assist the practitioner in making correct, legal decisions for the example cases.
The project involves the following organisations:
■ RCVS Charitable Trust
■ Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
■ Royal Veterinary College
■ Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons
■ University of Bristol
■ Veterinary Benevolent Fund
More information about the project can be found at www.rcvstrust.org.uk/graduateoer
Other material, including videos, podcasts, PowerPoints, e-lectures, text documents and leaflets are already being considered as potential OERs for the project. Further examples of OERs can be found at www.rcvstrust.org.uk/oer
How will the OERs be found?
The project partners will collect together any OERs they currently have available within their various organisations. In addition, other interested parties may submit or suggest OERs for use in the project. Once a list of needs and OERs has been produced, we will review the relevance and usefulness of each resource and compile a document, and ultimately a website, matching the needs/concerns of new veterinary graduates to the relevant OERs.
Story so far
After reviewing preliminary data gathered by the project partners, a literature search was performed looking for new graduate needs previously documented by others. The main concerns suggested by our initial data are mirrored in the wealth of published information on the subject, which spans continents and decades (Hill 1993, Knottenbelt 1998, Mellanby and Herrtage 2004, Heath 2005, Gilling and Parkinson 2009).
OERs at a glance – ‘Pitfalls in Practice’
How does the RVC's ‘Pitfalls in Practice’ resource qualify as an OER?
An OER can be anything so long as it is:
(1) ‘Open’ – anyone may access it. This RVC resource is openly available to anyone at www.rvc.ac.uk/review.The resource should have a Creative Commons licence or equivalent. In order to license a work this way, you must hold the copyright. The RVC has put its licence at the bottom of its ‘showcase’ page where you can link to the resource.
(2) ‘Educational’ – it should impart information to other users in an accessible format. This RVC resource acts to inform veterinary surgeons about the right choices to make according to the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct.
(3) Allowed to be distributed to sites other than the creators' own. This RVC resource can be distributed to and used by anyone so long as it is not used commercially or changed in any way. This information is all contained within the licence shown on the webpage.
Should this be a surprise? Possibly – yet it would seem that certain concerns remain even after the new graduate has ‘gained a few grey hairs’ (Heath 2007), suggesting that some of the problems encountered are not solely because of the relative inexperience of the new graduate. What is unsettling is that, despite decades of research and the increased availability of services such as ‘Vetlife’ (www.vetlife.org.uk) (covering the VetHelpline, Veterinary Surgeons Health Support Scheme and the Veterinary Benevolent Fund), these problems still exist.
Anything to add?
If you or your practice have any materials that you would like to contribute – from pictures and videos to documents, guidelines or veterinary tips – please e-mail the Project Coordinator, Jennifer McIntyre, at email@example.com. Alternatively, if you have a website you feel would be particularly useful, or know of one you have found helpful during the course of your career, please let us know, as links to these sites can be incredibly useful to new graduates.
We are currently gathering further data via an online survey, which will provide additional information on the concerns felt by new graduates, as well as identifying the types of OER that they feel would be best placed to meet their needs.
Our intention is that the OERs gathered will be presented in one unrestricted online area, with the option for adding new OER material in future. Future OERs could link with the PDP – the first phase of continuing professional development for new graduates set out by the RCVS (RCVS 2012b), which provides a structure for new graduates to assess their level of professional and clinical competency and recognise their limitations. The PDP is designed to encourage new graduates' confidence to grow at a steady rate and to facilitate appraisal and discussion of their experience with their employer. Certainly, several of the needs so far identified by this project can be placed under the three PDP headings of ‘General professional skills and attributes’, ‘Underpinning knowledge and understanding’ and ‘Practical competences’ (RCVS 2012b).
The experiences of the transition period, explored further during the course of the project, will provide a useful resource for universities and their final-year students as they prepare for graduation. The resources gathered will also be available to employers, to assist them in developing their new employees' professional awareness and attributes to facilitate a happy and productive career within the veterinary profession (Rhind and others 2011). It could also enhance the support employers are able to give new graduates, particularly if they have limited experience of teaching, coaching and mentoring.
So far, the project has received excellent support and encouragement from many sectors of the veterinary profession. The resources will be collated in a central accessible area, for example, via the RCVS Charitable Trust website, so that all may access them in the future. We hope this work and future projects will truly enhance the learning experience of graduates and employers as they set out together on the journey that crosses the divide between university and practice life.
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