One of the most exciting things about working in the veterinary field is how quickly things change. We’re privileged enough to be living at a time when revolutionary steps in technology, medicine, surgery, and even our society as a whole are happening almost every day.

As a case in point… I recently ran across a copy of the syllabus from a veterinary course from not that many years ago (details concealed to protect the relevant institution!). It stated that, while digital X-ray systems did exist, they were unlikely ever to be use used in veterinary practice. Now, barely ten years later the vast majority of UK practices are fully digital, and even those who are still using conventional film have automatic processors – the horrible dip-tanks I remember are a thing of the past!

Some drugs that even when I was training were commonplace are now barely used (for example, the anaesthetic halothane, completely replaced with the newer isoflurane, and in many practices, now by the even newer sevoflurane) or have been withdrawn (anyone remember “Saffan” – the anaesthetic that gave cats big fat puffy heads and paws?).

At the same time, there’s a plethora of new drugs and new diagnostic techniques. When I started training, there were basically 2 flea products for cats and 3 for dogs. Now there are dozens, with fifteen or twenty different active ingredients. Meanwhile, techniques such as MRI and CT are no longer exciting and cutting edge, but are widely available in referral hospitals, while newer imaging systems like PET scans are starting to become available.

Of course, this is great for pets and their owners – and for us, as we can diagnose more quickly and more accurately, and treat more effectively, than ever before. However, it does pose a real problem – how do we, as professionals, keep up to date?

The Legal Requirement

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is our regulator, they set the minimum requirements for any vet (or vet nurse, for that matter) to practice. To remain registered, vets are required to carry out a minimum of 105 hours, averaged over 3 years, of “CPD”, or Continuing Professional Development. In reality, of course, the vast majority do a lot more than 35 hours a year, but this is the bare minimum. This has to be recorded; traditionalists still use a paper record card, but more and more vets are now moving to an online logging system run by the RCVS.

Each year, the RCVS calls in a sample of the records (digital or paper) – typically, those vets who have had complaints or concerns raised against them, and a random selection of others. Those who are not up to date will face an unpleasant grilling unless they can demonstrate a good reason; and failure to come up to speed within an agreed timeframe may result in being struck off. If a vet is facing disciplinary action, a poor and out of date CPD record may be considered an exacerbating condition – in other words, they will be treated more harshly by the Disciplinary Committee.

What counts?

The RCVS state that “any activities you undertake in order to further your professional competence as part of a planned development programme”. In other words, it doesn’t just have to be going on courses (which is fortunate because they’re often REALLY expensive!).

The most widely used CPD routes are probably the following:

  • Reading Journals. There are a huge range of professional journals publishing up-to-date or even cutting-edge research and analysis. These range from the ubiquitous Veterinary Record to the more specialist, such as the Journal of Small Animal Practice (“JSAP”) or Equine Veterinary Education (“EVE”). Until recently, you could claim a certain number of hours per year just from reading the journals; however, this has recently changed, and now we have to log what we’ve read in much more detail, for example, what articles and what the key points were.
  • Attending conferences and talks. There are very few better ways to learn that from your peers and experts in the field. Every veterinary professional association has its own conference, plus there are a number of general veterinary ones such as the London Vet Show. They are great opportunities to hear the latest research and new approaches, plus catch up with colleagues and see what they’re doing.
  • Completing formal courses. Many vets have a specialist interest in some area, and want to improve themselves; and most practice owners are more than willing to support them. As a result, a great range of courses and qualifications (which usually give us extra “letters” after our names) are available. Probably the most popular is the Certificate of Advanced Veterinary Practice (CertAVP), which can be achieved in general practice, but people who want to specialise in a field and become RCVS Registered Specialists will also go on and do Diplomas or even higher degrees in a particular field. It’s not just clinical courses either – I recently completed my PGCert VetEd, a course in Veterinary Education.
  • Conferences and formal courses are very expensive; however, there are increasingly large numbers of online training resources available, and these are invaluable to the busy vet who can’t take many days off for courses.
  • In-house training. So, if the practice buys a new machine and the manufacturers come in to teach people how to use it – that’s CPD. Likewise, a lot of practices run “lunch and learn” sessions, where representatives from drug or food companies come in (in fact, these are getting rarer – the drug companies have finally realised that while we’re happy to eat their M&S sandwiches, it doesn’t actually make much difference to whether we prescribe their drugs or not!).

It is important, though, that the whole balance of CPD carried out needs to reflect the vet’s work. For example, a vet was recently refused permission to re-register with the RCVS (and therefore be able to practice) because his CPD was so heavily limited to one particular area of practice.

What about veterinary nurses?

Yes, veterinary nurses need to do CPD too – however, the requirements are a little lower, at 45 hours in 3 years.

Towards Reflection

Although you might not have come across it, there is a quiet revolution underway in the veterinary CPD world. The RCVS used to just count hours, and leave it at that; however, they are now moving to a system that is intended to measure outcomes, not inputs. In other words, vets must reflect on their own knowledge, and actively seek learning that will fill any gaps they have identified. They will then need to record what they have learnt from any session, not just how long they’ve spent doing it. For example, I went to a talk by a zoo vet a few weeks back and I learnt that bank voles are the main source of cowpox in cats – and that many of the circular facial lesions we see on pet cats are in fact cowpox lesions, something I did not know before! (I also learned that Pallas’ Cat is the only member of the cat family to suffer disease from Toxoplasma infections, but sadly as they only live in zoos and in the steppes of Central Asia, I don’t think that is going to greatly improve my clinical knowledge in the UK!).

The bottom line is that your vet spends many hundreds of pounds, and at least 35 hours, each year making sure they are as up to date as possible. With such a rapidly changing world, there’s no other way we can offer your animals the care they deserve.

If you’d like to know more, check out the RCVS’ page on CPD; or talk to your vet about what they’ve done recently!