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Motivating factors and perceived barriers to participating in continuing professional development: a national survey of veterinary surgeons
  1. V. H. M. Dale, BSc, MSc, FHEA, PhD,
  2. S. E. Pierce, BSc, MSc, PhD and
  3. S. A. May, MA, VetMB, PhD, DVR, DEO, FRCVS, Dipl. ECVS
  1. The LIVE Centre, Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, The Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA, UK
  1. E-mail for correspondence: smay{at}rvc.ac.uk

Abstract

Although continuing professional development (CPD) is regarded as mandatory by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, it is not yet a statutory requirement. To understand what motivates veterinary surgeons to engage in CPD and perceived barriers to participation, a national survey was administered to a sample of the profession. The study sought to report overall opinion and to compare the views of different groups in terms of decade of graduation, gender, employment status, area of employment and position in the workplace. The results of the study are encouraging in that recent graduates would like to engage in more CPD, compared with their predecessors, and are the most intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. However, significant barriers to participation exist, including personal barriers, a lack of workplace support and a lack of CPD activities at a suitable time, location or level. Part-time workers reported higher barriers than full-time workers. Although the majority (90 per cent) of respondents receive all or part of their CPD funding from employers, a significant proportion (41 per cent) are required to fund at least part of their CPD. First-opinion practitioners reported significantly less access to a professional library, which has implications for lifelong learning and the practice of evidence-based veterinary medicine.

  • Veterinary profession
  • Continuing Professional Development
  • Motivation
  • Barriers
  • Attitudes to learning
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Introduction

Although considered mandatory by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) (2012), Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is not currently a statutory requirement. Given the increasingly complex demands on the profession, a new Veterinary Surgeons or Veterinary Services Act is likely to make CPD a legal requirement (RCVS 2010), following developments in other professions such as medicine (Mahmood 2010) and dentistry (Hancocks 2011). In the meantime, to encourage full participation, it is necessary to find out what motivates different groups of veterinary surgeons to engage in CPD, and what perceived barriers might limit their participation.

There has already been some published work on motivators and barriers to participation in veterinary CPD in the USA and Canada. A series of focus groups with veterinary practitioners in California by Moore and others (2000) revealed that they were most motivated to participate in CPD to interact and socialise with colleagues, and secondly by the need to improve their skill-set and identify weaknesses, with other reasons including keeping practice life fresh and ­overcoming feelings of isolation. Barriers related to the timing of events, distance, money, solo practice, stage of career and family demands; with time, distance and money being the biggest obstacles. A recent study of the continuing education needs of veterinarians in Alberta, Canada by Delver (2008) also concluded that workload and distance were barriers to CPD attendance, but paradoxically found that respondents in remote locations and solo practitioners expressed a preference for face-to-face programmes over distance learning, due to a desire to mix with colleagues and engage in practical training, and their relative inexperience with distance learning technologies.

The study published here documents the findings of a survey distributed to a random sample of veterinary surgeons across the UK, to establish the profession's current thinking on CPD. As far as we are aware, this is the most comprehensive research undertaken to date into veterinary surgeons' attitudes towards, and experiences of, CPD, with the aim of understanding how engagement in CPD is influenced not only by demographics, but also underlying motivations, perceived barriers and learning preferences. An earlier paper (Dale and others 2010) detailed the relationship between learning preferences within the veterinary profession (reconceptualised as a preference for complexity versus a preference for simplicity) with motivating factors and perceived barriers to participation in lifelong learning. Here, this data is further explored with respect to views and experiences of CPD.

Methods

Questionnaire

A paper-based questionnaire was designed to assess the UK veterinary profession's attitude towards CPD. Although questionnaires are straightforward to administer and can be designed to gather large amounts of generalisable data at relatively low cost in a short amount of time, methodological challenges include respondent subjectivity, social desirability response bias, misinterpretation of questions and low response rates (Robson 2002). To alleviate possible biases, the questionnaire was piloted during development with eight clinicians (six at the Royal Veterinary College, one practitioner and another recently retired practitioner), and a focus group was conducted with nine RVC clinicians (with small, equine or farm animal expertise), to ensure that questions were comprehensive but also straightforward and easy to read, to reduce the possibility of misinterpretation. Suggestions arising from the piloting phase and focus group discussion were used to refine the questionnaire, in terms of reducing the length of the survey, modifying instructions and wording throughout, changing some response options, and allowing participants to clarify their role as employer versus employee.

The final version of the survey comprised five main sections:

  1. Demographics: Demographic information (largely replicating categories used by the RCVS (2006) survey of the profession) was sought to allow for the comparison of different groups, for example, by gender, decade of graduation, employment status, area of employment and position in the workplace.

  2. Views and experience of CPD: Respondents were asked to document the number of hours in the last 12 months spent giving and receiving CPD, as well as indicating their level of agreement with general statements regarding CPD on a 5-point Likert scale, where 1=Completely disagree and 5=Completely agree. Respondents were also asked to indicate their preference for different methods, based on a description of a CPD Preference Inventory by Sadler-Smith and others (2000), where 1=Never used, 2=Not at all useful, 3=Not very useful, 4=Useful and 5=Extremely useful. Respondents were also asked when they realised the importance of continuing education, and which types of learning resources they had access to.

  3. Motivating factors for participating: Respondents were asked to rate 17 statements representing reasons for participation in CPD, adapted from those used in a study of nurses' reasons for participating in continuing education in human medicine (DeSilets 1995), on a 1–4 Likert scale, where 1=Never, 2=Occasionally, 3=Often, and 4=Always (feel this way/do this), and to provide additional comments regarding reasons for participation.

  4. Perceived barriers to participation: Respondents were asked to rate 13 barriers to participation in veterinary CPD extrapolated from the results of a focus group study by Moore and others (2000) on a 1–4 Likert scale, where 1=Never, 2=Occasionally, 3=Often, and 4=Always (feel this way/do this), and to provide additional comments regarding barriers, including how a disability might impact on an individual's ability to engage in CPD.

  5. Approaches to learning: To allow exploration of the relationship between learning preferences and engagement in CPD, respondents were also asked to rate a number of statements adapted from published inventories regarding their approach to learning. Items were extracted from the Approaches to Study inventory (Tait and others 1997), the need for cognition questionnaire (Cacioppo and others 1984) and the conceptions of knowledge scale (Vermunt and van Rijswijk 1988, cited in Richardson and Edmunds 2007). The impact of veterinary practitioners' approaches to learning on their motivation to engage in CPD, and their perceptions of barriers, has been published separately (Dale and others 2010). The study revealed that individuals with a preference for complexity (deep approach to study, high need for cognition and construction and use of knowledge) were more motivated to engage in CPD and less deterred by barriers, while individuals with a preference for simplicity (surface approach to study, low need for cognition and intake of knowledge) were less motivated and more deterred by barriers.

Sustained efforts were made to maximise the response rate. A letter was published in The Veterinary Record and The Veterinary Times in August 2008 to draw readers' attention to the forthcoming survey. The questionnaire, assigned an anonymous identifier, was subsequently mailed to potential participants in August 2008 with a personally addressed cover letter outlining the importance and relevance of the study to the veterinary profession. The survey was also made available online to give potential participants flexibility in how they might respond. A personal reminder letter was mailed to individuals in October 2008, and a letter thanking respondents and requesting non-respondents to participate were subsequently published in The Veterinary Record and The Veterinary Times in November 2008.

Sampling

Two thousand veterinary surgeons (approximately 10 per cent of the workforce) were randomly selected from the RCVS database of home-practising UK graduates across four decades (1968–2008), from six UK veterinary schools. The selection was performed independently by the RCVS who supplied the dataset of potential respondents. The random sample comprised 39 graduates from the 1960s (2 per cent), 305 graduates from the 1970s (15 per cent), 419 graduates from the 1980s (21 per cent), 407 graduates from the 1990s (20 per cent) and 830 graduates from the 2000s (42 per cent).

Data analysis

Quantitative analyses were conducted in a number of stages using SPSS V.16-20. Frequency tables, simple descriptive statistics and bar charts were generated as a means of initially exploring the data. As detailed by Dale and others (2010), principal components analysis and Cronbach's α were performed to assess the internal consistency of the different scales (preference for complexity vs simplicity; intrinsic, extrinsic and social motivation; and barriers). Between-group statistical comparisons were conducted using Fishers or χ2 tests for nominal data, the Mann-Whitney U test or Kruskal-Wallis analysis of variance (ANOVA) for ordinal data, and an independent samples t-test or ANOVA for continuous data, depending on whether there were two or more groups compared, respectively. Posthoc tests were conducted where significant differences were observed in one-way ANOVAs in which decades were compared. To reduce the possibility of a Type I error, the Bonferroni correction was applied such that the acceptable level of significance was 0.05 divided by the number of posthoc tests. The percentages reported in this paper are the valid percentages excluding missing values, and have been rounded to the nearest integer; where the value was 0.5, this has been rounded up, and thus, percentages may exceed 100 in the frequency tables.

Results

Of the 2000 questionnaires, 810 were returned. After excluding incomplete and duplicate submissions, the total number of valid responses was 803 (40.2 per cent). Responses from retired/semiretired participants were also excluded; therefore, the total number of returns analysed was 775 (38.8 per cent), comprising seven graduates from the 1960s (1 per cent), 116 graduates from the 1970s (15 per cent), 180 graduates from the 1980s (23 per cent), 149 graduates from the 1990s (19 per cent) and 323 graduates from the 2000s (42 per cent). Overall, 92 per cent of male respondents were in full-time employment versus part-time, while 78 per cent of female respondents were full-time versus part-time. In the 2000s, there was less of a gap, with 95 per cent men and 93 per cent women in full-time employment. The breakdown of respondents in relation to other demographic variables is shown in Table 1.

TABLE 1:

​Demographic breakdown of respondents

Views and experience of CPD

The overwhelming majority (97 per cent) of respondents agreed that ‘CPD is important for my professional development’, while there was a varied response as to whether ‘Mandatory CPD will make members of the profession more effective’ (50 per cent agreement). Nevertheless, a comparison of graduates from different decades revealed that attitudes towards CPD have become more positive, not only in relation to personal development (P<0.001), but the effectiveness of the whole profession (P<0.001) (Table 2). Women agreed more than men that mandatory CPD would make the profession more effective (P<0.001) but there was no difference regarding their own development. Comparing men and women who graduated in the 2000s only, there was no difference regarding impact on the profession, but women agreed more than men that CPD would benefit their own development (P=0.042). There were significant differences between different positions in the workplace and whether mandatory CPD would benefit their own development (P=0.022) and whether it would benefit the profession (P<0.001), with researchers being most positive in both respects, locums being least positive in relation to their own development, and partners least positive in relation to the effectiveness of the profession.

TABLE 2:

​Participation in – and attitudes to – CPD, comparing decade of graduation

Respondents recognised the importance of continuing education at various stages: during the undergraduate course (32 per cent), two to five years after graduation (21 per cent), at graduation (15 per cent), one year after graduation (15 per cent), and more than five years after graduation (10 per cent). Only a minority claimed to have realised its importance during school (5 per cent). Recent graduates realised the importance of CPD significantly earlier than their predecessors (P<0.001), with more graduates from the 2000s (51 per cent) recognising the importance of CPD during their undergraduate course (Table 3). Women recognised the value of CPD earlier than men (P=0.012); the difference was still significant when comparing male and female graduates from the 2000s only (P=0.010). There was also a significant difference between different areas of employment, modal responses ranging from during the veterinary course to more than five years after graduation (P=0.002).

TABLE 3:

When respondents realised the importance of CPD, comparing decade of graduation (P<0.001)

Preference for different teaching and learning methods

The most popular methods of CPD, ranked in order of the percentage of respondents who had used them and rated them as ‘useful’ or ‘extremely useful’ were lectures (day meeting and conferences, 98 per cent) and practical ‘hands-on’ workshops (98 per cent), informal discussion with colleagues (97 per cent), books/journals/articles (95 per cent), seminars/discussions (96 per cent), and formal seminars by senior/invited speakers (93 per cent). Less popular were the use of videos/DVDs (69 per cent), distance learning (66 per cent) and visits from representatives of equipment/pharmaceutical companies (62 per cent). Distance learning was the least used method; 32 per cent of respondents had not used this method.

Money and time allocated for CPD

On average, employers provided £906 and five days off to employees in the previous year for CPD. This was congruent with what employees stated (£835 and five days off), there being no significant difference between the two groups. Additionally, 90 per cent of employees received all or part funding from their employers, 41 per cent funded all or part of their own CPD, and less than 3 per cent of employees received funding from grants and other sources. For those who were allocated funding, the most commonly expressed amounts were £500 and £1000, but a significant number claimed to provide/receive £750 or £1500 towards CPD. In exceptional cases, this rose to £3000 (received by employees) and £5000 (provided by employers). Regarding employees' choice of CPD, 94 per cent of employees stated that they often or always had a choice in which courses they attended, compared with 98 per cent of employers whose employees were often or always able to select their CPD, there being no significant difference between the groups.

Time spent undertaking CPD

On average, respondents spent 31.5 hours in the previous 12 months receiving CPD, but this varied greatly. Approximately, a quarter (23 per cent) of respondents claimed to have received less than the 35 hours recommended by the RCVS (105 hours on average over three years), including 6 per cent who had not undertaken any CPD. The majority (78 per cent) were not engaged in providing CPD, but the remaining 22 per cent offered between 1 and 100 hours (averaging 2.6 hours). With regards to filling out their RCVS CPD record card, 29 per cent fully recorded their CPD, 40 per cent recorded some activities, and 31 per cent did not keep a record. The majority of participants were either satisfied with the amount of CPD they undertook (38 per cent) or would like to do more (61 per cent). Only 2 per cent would have preferred to do less CPD.

The proportion of respondents from different decades who would like to engage in more CPD than they do has significantly increased over time (P<0.001, Table 2), although there was no significant difference between the groups in terms of participation in CPD. Overall, men receive significantly more CPD than women (P=0.003), although the difference was not significant when graduates from the 2000s were examined on their own. Overall, women would like to engage in more CPD than they currently do (P<0.001); however, there was no significant difference when genders were compared for graduates of the 2000s alone. Full-time workers receive significantly more CPD than part-time workers (P=0.008), a significantly greater proportion of whom would like to engage in more CPD than they currently do (P=0.014). There was a significant difference between respondents employed in different areas of the profession (P<0.001), with those in UK government receiving most CPD (mean 49 hours) and those in first-opinion mixed practice receiving least (mean 25 hours). Other first-opinion practice roles also scored less than the recommended amount, on average. However, there was no significant difference between the groups in terms of the amount of CPD they would like to do. There was a significant difference in the hours of CPD received by respondents in different positions (P<0.001); lecturer/professors and consultants represent the most active groups (mean 46 and 37 hours, respectively) while assistants and locums fared less well (mean 28 and 27 hours, respectively). There was also a significant difference between respondents in different positions (P<0.001); looking at just the clinical roles, principals and partners were roughly split 50:50 in terms of wanting to do more CPD or being satisfied with the amount of CPD they undertake, while the majority of assistants, locums and consultants would like to undertake more CPD.

Access to resources

The majority of respondents had regular access to the internet at home (89 per cent) and work (83 per cent), personal journal subscriptions (83 per cent) and a personal library (77 per cent). Regular access to electronic journals (32 per cent) and a professional library (19 per cent) was more limited.

Overall, men have slightly more access to most learning resources (internet at home and work, professional library, electronic journals and personal journal subscriptions) than women (P<0.015). However, when graduates from the 2000s are considered on their own, the significant differences were restricted to the internet at work (P=0.018) and electronic journals (P=0.049). Overall, part-time workers have significantly less access to the internet at work (P<0.001), a personal library (P=0.010) and electronic journals (P=0.015), but have significantly more access to the internet at home (P=0.001). There were also significant differences between different areas of employment with regards to home (P=0.022) and work (P=0.003) internet, professional (P<0.001) and personal (P<0.001) libraries and electronic journals (P<0.001), with those in zoo/wildlife/exotics, university (veterinary school), university (other) and industry generally faring better than their colleagues in first-opinion practice, referral/consultancy and UK government. First-opinion veterinary surgeons' access to a professional library ranged between 9 per cent and 23 per cent, compared with 39 per cent (industry) to 100 per cent (veterinary school). Those in specialist roles (zoo/wildlife/exotics and referral/consultancy) all had personal journal subscriptions.

Motivating factors for participation

As concluded by Dale and others (2010), principal components analysis of the data confirmed three types of motivation for engaging in CPD: intrinsic, social and extrinsic. Cronbach's reliability scores were 0.788, 0.762 and 0.641, respectively, indicating good internal consistency. Table 4 indicates that most respondents were often or always motivated intrinsically (mean 3.4), occasionally or often motivated socially (mean 2.4) and never or occasionally motivated extrinsically (mean 1.9). The exception to this was the extrinsic factor ‘increasing the likelihood of professional advancement’, which often motivated 34 per cent of respondents. In the free text comments, respondents made reference to a range of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators; the most commonly cited reasons included keeping up to date, the fact that it was compulsory, a love of learning, to develop greater understanding of a specific area of interest, to develop practical/technical/technological skills, working towards a qualification, and it being seen as an essential part of the job.

TABLE 4:

​Motivations to participate in CPD where 1=Never, 2=Occasionally, 3=Often, and 4=Always (feel this way/do this)

Comparing graduates from different decades, it appears that recent graduates are significantly more intrinsically (P<0.001) and extrinsically (P<0.001) motivated to participate in CPD than their predecessors (Table 5). Women are more intrinsically motivated than men (P<0.001) but less socially motivated (P<0.001). Full-time workers are more socially (P=0.002) and extrinsically (P<0.001) motivated to participate than part-time workers. There is also a significant difference between respondents in different areas of employment with regards to social motivation (P<0.001), with those in referral/consultancy and industry being most socially motivated and those in university (departments other than veterinary schools) and zoo/wildlife/exotics being least so. There were also significant differences between different positions with regards to intrinsic (P<0.001), social (P<0.001) and extrinsic (P<0.001) motivation; assistants are most intrinsically motivated while principals and partners are least so; researchers and lecturer/professors are most socially motivated and locums least so; and interns/resident and assistants are most extrinsically motivated while locums are again least so.

TABLE 5:

​Average motivation scores, comparing decade of graduation (P<0.001)

Perceived barriers to participation

As concluded by Dale and others (2010), principal components analysis of the data retrieved two main types of barriers: a lack of CPD activities at a convenient time/location/level (Cronbach's reliability=0.750), and a lack of workplace support (Cronbach's reliability=0.733). Two statements were not linked with either component, but combined with qualitative analysis of the respondents' comments, were indicative of a third type of barrier, principally personal barriers including personal attitudes and beliefs and family commitments. The responses regarding potential barriers are shown in Table 6. Personal barriers were the most significant in limiting participation in CPD (mean 2.6), followed by workplace barriers (mean 2.3) and institutional barriers (mean 2.1). In the free text comments, the most commonly cited barriers to participation in CPD included cost, family/home/pet commitments and childcare, not being able to get away from work, or lack of time due to work-life balance, lack of CPD at a convenient location, lack of CPD at a convenient time and lack of suitable CPD in the subject area.

TABLE 6:

Perceived barriers to participation where 1=Never, 2=Occasionally, 3=Often, and 4=Always (feel this way/do this)

There was a significant difference between full-time and part-time workers in relation to barriers to participation in CPD, with part-time workers faring less well (P=0.018); when specific barriers were examined, it appears that part-time workers experienced more barriers in relation to access to funds for CPD (P<0.001), workplace support (P<0.001) and availability of CPD activities in their area of interest (P=0.035). There was also a significant difference between respondents in different areas of employment with regards to barriers (P=0.031), with those in zoo/wildlife/exotics, followed by those in university (departments other than veterinary schools) experiencing the greatest barriers and those in referral/consultancy and industry experiencing the least barriers. A significant difference was also observed between different positions (P=0.005); locums experienced the greatest barriers to participation in CPD while assistants experienced the least barriers.

Twenty respondents (3 per cent) stated that they had a disability or medical condition that restricted their participation in CPD. These included back problems, muscular injuries and illnesses, as well as less obvious disabilities such as hearing impairment and mental health issues.

Attitudes to learning

As concluded by Dale and others (2010), two overarching attitudes to learning were evidenced: a preference for complexity (comprising a deep approach to study, high need for cognition and conceptions of knowledge focused on construction and applied use) versus a preference for simplicity (comprising a surface approach to study, low need for cognition and conceptions of knowledge focused on intake). Cronbach's reliability for the complexity and simplicity scales was 0.835 and 0.585, respectively, indicating high to acceptable internal consistency. Respondents' overall average preference for complexity (mean 2.7) was higher than their overall preference for simplicity (mean 2.1). There were no significant differences between graduates from different decades or between full-time versus part-time workers in relation to preferences for complexity or simplicity. Men exhibited a significantly higher preference for complexity than women (P=0.003, still significant when graduates from the 2000s only were compared, P=0.014) but there was no difference regarding preference for simplicity. There were significant differences between respondents in different areas of employment with regards to preferences for complexity (P<0.001) and simplicity (P<0.001), with those in university (veterinary school) and referral/consultancy work exhibiting the highest preference for complexity, and those in referral/consultancy expressing the lowest preference for simplicity. There was also a ­significant difference between different positions with regards to preference for complexity (P<0.001); researchers exhibited the highest average score, closely followed by lecturer/professors.

Discussion

Although lower than that observed in most health education studies, this study had an acceptable response rate (40.2 per cent) for this particular professional group; surveys by the RCVS in 2002 and 2006 generated response rates of 29 per cent and 47 per cent, respectively (RCVS 2006). There is always the danger of self-selecting (volunteer) bias with questionnaires (Cohen and others 2000); however, the fact that the percentage response rates from graduates from each decade were almost identical to the percentage of recipients within the original random sample from each decade suggests that our results are as representative of the veterinary profession in the UK as previous studies.

Engagement in CPD

The results are encouraging in the sense that they depict a trend towards more positive attitudes to CPD over time, in terms of its perceived value in relation to veterinary surgeons' personal development and the effectiveness of the profession as a whole. A higher proportion of recent graduates wanted to participate in more CPD than their predecessors, and they also perceived continuing education to be important at an earlier stage of their education. Graduates from the 2000s were also most intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to participate in CPD—for altruistic reasons and for the possibility of promotion and increased salary, respectively. This is to be expected; young professionals have further to go than their predecessors in terms of developing expertise, establishing their professional reputation and increasing their financial wealth.

Barriers to CPD

Despite increasing interest in CPD, significant barriers to participation still exist. Around a quarter of respondents were not engaging in the minimum 35 hours recommended by the RCVS. One of the barriers was cost and financial support from employers. The survey revealed that a significant proportion (41 per cent) of employees funded at least part of their own CPD, a situation in contrast with other health professions. The UK General Medical Council (2012, p.2) has clear expectations of employers that they will ‘maintain and develop the skills of all their medical staff’ and that they will ‘facilitate access to the resources (including the time to learn) that will support this’. Additionally, much of the cost of continuing medical education in the UK is borne by commercial sponsorship, albeit with the inevitable questioning of its impartiality (Alfredo 2008). Cost was seen to be a barrier for part-time workers especially, whose colleagues were also regarded as less supportive of their participation in CPD. Locums received, on average, the least amount of CPD compared to other roles in this study, perhaps due to their comparatively high average barrier score, so it is not surprising that they were least in agreement that CPD would benefit their own development, although the majority wanted to participate in more CPD. This group was also least socially and extrinsically motivated; as a significant proportion of locums are part-time (54 per cent), they may feel they have enough of a life outside work, and thus, do not perceive such a high need to connect with colleagues socially, nor might they be as motivated by money or status. Assistants, who were the most intrinsically motivated to participate in CPD, received the second least amount of CPD on average after locums, although they had the lowest average barrier score. Like locums and consultants, assistants would like to engage in more CPD than they currently do. Since conducting this study in 2008, the UK has been through a period of relative austerity and, therefore, cost may be an even greater hurdle today. Nonetheless, those with a preference for complexity will be less deterred by such a barrier (Dale and others 2010); this highlights the need to encourage a preference for complexity in future members of the veterinary profession from an early age.

Access to resources

Interestingly, only a minority of respondents working in clinical veterinary practice considered themselves to have access to a professional library, compared with those in specialist referral centres or universities, despite theoretically having access to the RCVS Charitable Trust Library. This has implications not only for engagement with lifelong learning, but also for the practice of evidence-based veterinary medicine (EBVM). Lack of access to current literature has been identified elsewhere as an obstacle to the practice of EBVM, potentially compromising the quality of patient care (Anonymous 2012).

Methods of CPD

It is unsurprising that the most favoured and used methods of CPD included traditional types of instruction such as lectures and practical classes; although it is clear that informal learning through discussion with colleagues, and self-directed learning through reading books and journals, also play an important complementary role to formal learning. Fewer participants have engaged in distance learning, and this is congruent with an earlier survey of the profession (RCVS 2006). Informal, online learning using Web 2.0 technologies is set to play a greater role in the continuing education of veterinary surgeons (Dale and others 2011), including webinars, considered to be enjoyable and educationally useful in a recent study of their use in undergraduate and continuing veterinary education (Koch and others 2012). This should help to alleviate some of the recognised barriers to participation in formal CPD such as cost, time and distance. Limitations of time and access to published science have also been compensated for through experiential learning in the field and discussions with associates resulting in ‘knowledge brokering’ (Proctor and others 2011). However, although considered by the RCVS (2012) to be an important part of CPD, informal learning is complementary to formal learning through organised CPD, and should not be viewed as a replacement.

Learning preferences

It is not surprising that those employed in university (veterinary school) and referral/consultancy exhibited the highest preference for complexity, the latter group also exhibiting the lowest preference for simplicity. It is to be anticipated that such individuals would enjoy tackling difficult problems and advancing the boundaries of their disciplines, particularly since they are faced with the most complex clinical problems. It is not clear if these individuals are drawn to careers in veterinary schools and referral/consultancy work because they have a high preference for complexity, or whether the demands of the job cultivate this preference for dealing with challenges.

Some results should be interpreted with caution. In terms of area of employment, zoo/wildlife vets' responses are often quite different from those in other areas. On average, they state that they want to engage in less CPD than they are required to, but also encounter barriers more frequently. They exclusively realised the importance of lifelong learning at an early age; however, they account for only a very small percentage of the respondents. Caution should also be exercised in interpreting the results of overall gender comparisons; some of these differences may be attributed to the ‘feminisation’ of the veterinary profession over time, while most part-time workers (who perceive higher barriers to CPD than full-time workers) are women.

In conclusion, the study is encouraging in that it highlights a growing interest in CPD among recent graduates, who recognised the importance of CPD at an early age, are highly motivated and want to engage in more CPD. Barriers to participation exist; those with a preference for complexity will overcome these more readily. To ensure widespread participation, it is necessary that all individuals are appropriately encouraged in the workplace and that suitable courses are available at accessible locations and times. A supportive professional environment is more likely to facilitate the RCVS's (2010, p.2) vision of a ‘universal CPD culture’ than an administrative approach enforcing compliance, but not necessarily guaranteeing learning.

Acknowledgments

We would like to acknowledge the Higher Education Academy's Subject Centre for Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Medicine for financial support, and the RCVS for providing us with contact details for potential participants. We are grateful to our colleagues at the RVC, and in veterinary practice, who helped in both the piloting and survey completion stages.

References

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Footnotes

  • Provenance: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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