To become a Veterinary Surgeon, you must complete 5 years of an intensive academic course. Many people adore their years in university and the profession is continuing to promote veterinary medicine to a diverse range of students. However, it may surprise you to learn that after years of education, many Veterinary Surgeons go on to do many more years of further study.

Continued Professional Development

Veterinary Surgeons are required to complete mandatory Continued Professional Development (CPD) – 35 hours per year. They must also log all these with the RCVS and reflect on what they have learnt. CPD allows veterinary professionals, as with all medics in both human and veterinary medicine, to stay up to date and current; or to hone a particular passion or interest. Many General Practice (GP) Vets use CPD to invest more insight and knowledge into an area they are passionate about. And many are able to become heavily involved in specific fields within veterinary medicine.

Something that can also be achieved when vets gain a specific passion or become massively involved in a particular field, is Specialist status or Advanced Practitioner status. However, neither of these routes are easily achieved and take many additional hours and a huge amount of dedication to gain.

Specialist Status

Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RVCS) Specialist status is an unbelievable achievement. A veterinary surgeon must have achieved a postgraduate qualification at least at Diploma level. A specialist must additionally satisfy the RCVS that they make an active contribution to their specialty. There are a number of specialisms vets can gain – including cardiology, clinical nutrition, ophthalmology, orthopaedic surgery, dermatology… the list is nearly endless! The vet must also have national and international acclaim and publish widely in their chosen field. For example, in medical journals, and by conducting research that contributes to that field. 

The expectations don’t end there however, as an RCVS Specialist must also be available for referral by other veterinary colleagues. So, if a case is extremely complex, unusual or requires specialist equipment or insight, then other surgeons can refer to them.

Once a vet has the status then the status is also time-boun. They must continue to prove that they are meeting all criteria. The individual must reapply for recognition every five years, or earlier in certain cases, to maintain their name on the List of RCVS specialists.

Vets have to do 35 hours per year CPD – what about Specialists?

A Specialist during their period of accreditation must undertake a minimum of a whopping 250 hours of CPD over 5 years (whilst also complying with the formal RCVS requirement). That’s an extra 50 hours per year of additional learning – in veterinary medicine learning NEVER stops! As part of that CPD 125 hours should be in the Specialist’s chosen designated field. As you can imagine this CPD requirement on top of their often hectic and busy schedules, work life and personal time takes a huge amount of effort and dedication. 

Can anyone call themselves a specialist?

It should be noted that Specialists must be registered with the RCVS and included on the RCVS specialist list if they want to practice and use the title ‘specialist’ in the UK. This means that Vets can’t call themselves specialists if they are not on the RCVS specialist list.

For recognition as a Specialist by the RCVS, the vet must be in possession of an RCVS, or RCVS-approved diploma, or other relevant postgraduate qualification; have acknowledgment by peers (other veterinary professionals) in the area of their specialisation; maintain continuing professional development (CPD) through attending various activities or providing education within their specialised field; and be available for referral by other veterinary colleagues.

In fact, a vet or a vet nurse who refers to a vet as “a specialist” when they are not on the RCVS List is committing a form of professional misconduct and can face disciplinary action! That’s how seriously the Royal College takes this qualification.

So, how does this differ from an Advanced Practitioner? Another phenomenal achievement to obtain.

Advanced Practitioner

‘Advanced Practitioner’ is an official recognition of a veterinary surgeon’s particular knowledge and skills in a designated field of veterinary practice. These fields can be diverse.

What is expected of an advanced practitioner?

There are some similarities and differences between gaining specialist status and Advanced Practitioner status. An RCVS Advanced Practitioner status indicates to both other professionals and pet owners that those veterinary surgeons have demonstrated knowledge and experience in a particular area of veterinary practice, beyond their initial primary veterinary degree.

Vets who are Advanced Practitioners should demonstrate advanced problem-solving skills, advanced and current knowledge and understanding in their area of expertise, advanced professional skills and commitment to the continuing improvement of personal and professional practice and awareness of their own limitations in their designated areas, referring to Specialists where appropriate. They must also be involved with their subject/species community. 

What about their CPD?

The initial accreditation as an Advanced Practitioner is based on possession of an RCVS or other relevant postgraduate qualification. They must also maintain and provide acceptable documented CPD and be a current active practitioner within their selected field. 

As with Specialist status, prior to initial application for Advanced Practitioner status and once accepted on to the list, the vet must undertake a minimum of 250 hours of CPD over five years; whilst also complying with the formal RCVS requirement. Of this at least 125 hours must be in their chosen field. 10 Hours per year of this must be via engagement with other practitioners. Allowing the vet to contribute to, or learn from, other practitioners in that community.

The List of both RCVS Advanced Practitioners and RCVS Specialists are available online. Doesn’t sound easy, does it? But if your pet needs to be seen by one of these superbly qualified professionals, you can be confident that they are in excellent hands.

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