CPD: delivering lifelong learning in the here and now

8 February 2018 – News

With the profession changing at such a rapid pace, it has never been more important to ensure your clinical staff get the CPD they need to stay up to date. Improve International’s David Babington looks at the mix of options open to practices …

DAVID BABINGTON qualified from the RVC in 1986 and built a career in practice that culminated with running three small animal clinics in Swindon. In 1998 he helped establish Improve International, which provides CPD to veterinary professionals, working in partnership with the European School of Veterinary Postgraduate Studies and Harper Adams University. Following the acquisition of Improve International in 2015 by Benchmark Holdings, David remained as business development director.

CPD IS A mandatory RCVS requirement for both vets and VNs, and with medical knowledge expanding so rapidly, most veterinary professionals we work with are enthusiastic about further study.

This has been helped by the transformation in the delivery of CPD in the past few years and by a growth in the variety of training on offer. The opportunity is stronger than ever for veterinary professionals willing to embrace the principle of lifelong learning to view CPD as part of a long-term plan to carve out a career path that is satisfying and rewarding.

But what factors should you be thinking about when you consider your training plans for 2018 and beyond, and what factors should practice owners take into account when thinking about the training needs of their team?


Choosing a method that works

The difficulty of spending time away from practice is, of course, a familiar obstacle to CPD – especially among sole practitioners. They might manage the odd face-to-face session, if it’s local, or watch a few webinars. The notion of signing up for a more significant CPD programme, however – such as a postgraduate certificate that is more demanding both in terms of time spent attending sessions and in private study – can be daunting.

Increasingly, though, practical solutions to this problem are being developed – although I should say no CPD programme worth its salt is undemanding in terms of time or stretching your knowledge and skills.Technology is the key contributor to this increased flexibility. The rise in “blended learning” – which includes face-to-face and online elements – offers veterinary professionals in even the most remote locations the opportunity to undertake CPD that is more substantive and career advancing.

Improve International’s certificate and diploma programmes are already blended, giving delegates the opportunity to undertake part of their study online and at a time convenient to them.

Meanwhile, we’re already making some exciting developments in this area, and with the emerging use of both virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Both systems are similar in the goal of immersing the user, though do this in different ways.

With VR, the user is isolated from the real world, while immersed in a world that is completely fabricated. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world, while interacting with virtual objects around them.

Expect more developments in this area in the coming 18 months.

Online learning still has its limits, however, and the importance of practical teaching is obvious in many disciplines. Feedback has suggested delegates really appreciate hands-on training in small groups with direct tutor support. Access to a wet lab has been a real issue for many of those wanting to undertake practical training, but the number of these facilities is now increasing. We recently opened a state-of-the-art practical training centre in Sheffield to meet growing demand.


The rise in ‘blended learning’ offers veterinary professionals in even the most remote locations the opportunity to undertake CPD that is more substantive and career advancing

Don’t just focus on clinical

“Corporatisation” is affecting every aspect of the veterinary profession, and CPD is no exception. We’re already working with corporate practices to provide their clinical training needs, but these fast-growing companies also need to equip the current and future leaders of their business with the leadership and management skills they need to lead successful teams, often across a large number of individual practices. As a result, the market is seeing increasing demand for non-clinical training on topics such as leadership, management and communications.

With mental health such an issue in the profession, training individual veterinary professionals and practice teams in techniques to reduce stress and burnout, and to spot danger signs early, is also on the rise. Considering the needs of “the whole vet” – not just the new clinical skills he or she needs to learn – is a priority going forward and our partner, the European School of Postgraduate Veterinary Studies, has added two support sites to its website to help vets manage their own mental health and that of others.

We expect the variety of training on offer in non-clinical areas to grow rapidly in the next year, offering additional opportunities to vets and nurses who see their long-term career developing outside the consulting room.


The notion of signing up for a more significant CPD programme – such as a postgraduate certificate that is more demanding both in terms of time spent attending sessions and in private study – can be daunting. Increasingly, though,practical solutions to this problem are being developed.


It’s impossible to write any article on future trends without mentioning the B word, and there’s no doubt the likely shortage of veterinarians post-Brexit is another factor shaping the CPD sector.

We have already seen a reduction in the number of overseas vets applying skills to work in the UK and uncertainty among those already here. The recent announcement by Harper Adams and Keele Universities that they will be collaborating in the opening of a veterinary school in 2019 further demonstrates the likelihood of an increased demand for vets in the UK.

For individual vets and nurses, an upside exists. They will be in high demand and, therefore, able to be selective in the roles they choose. They may also be in a better position to ask for the type of CPD they want, rather than what the practice would like them to do.

A steady growth has occurred in “practice builder” programmes – surgery is a good example, but courses on imaging, diagnostics, ultrasound and endoscopy are other examples of courses that are popular because they can be applied and deliver results immediately in practice.

We are also likely to see many more vets and nurses working on a locum basis. These vets will be able to afford the CPD that interests them, but will be even more focused on ensuring their hard-earned cash delivers the outcome they want. Even on a higher locum rate of pay, however, we suspect nurses will find it more difficult to pay for their own CPD, so may lean towards free CPD provided by the pharmaceutical companies and corporates.

From a practice perspective, whether independent or corporate, the challenge of staff retention in a competitive market will become even more acute post-Brexit, putting more pressure on practices to ensure they are working at optimal profitability – that is, providing the highest standard of clinical care and, ideally, undertaking cases in-house that would previously have had to be referred.

However, they will also need to invest in their staff, motivate them and take good care of them. As a result, we believe CPD – both clinical and non-clinical – is set to become an even more important element of their offer.

Spin-off benefit

Incidentally, a shortage of vets could yield spin-off benefits for veterinary nurses or technicians. We’re already seeing moves to introduce additional training in niche areas that could enable them to take on some procedures carried out by vets – subject to legislative changes, of course.

We are also likely to need to significantly increase our resources for Official Veterinarian export certification, so this is another area where we may start to see the involvement of trained “paraprofessionals” going forward.

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