Thanks to a mix of superb technology and responsive educational institutions, the choices for rural vets of continuing professional development options are greater than ever before. Chris Sheedy reports
Dr David Golland has recently returned from an Australian Veterinary Association conference in Hobart, and another of his colleagues is also just back from a conference in Sydney, organised by the Centre for Veterinary Education at the University of Sydney. The vet, who owns the Wagga Wagga Veterinary Hospital in rural NSW, is no stranger to travel thanks to the fact that most major continuing professional development (CPD) options take place in major cities rather than rural centres. But surprisingly, Dr Golland’s problem is not a lack of choice of CPD options. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
“To be brutally honest, at times I wonder whether there is actually too much choice, particularly on the webinar front,” Dr Golland says. “There are a lot of private providers involved, as well as a few major educational institutions and, of course, the AVA. Many of the smaller groups run webinars as do some of the specialty vets.”
Having been in the industry for 40 years, Dr Golland says he differs from recent graduates in that he is still more likely to seek answers from a book or a journal, rather than from the internet. But despite his leaning away from such technology, he recognises that the web plays an increasingly important role in the ongoing education of vets.
Webinars, for instance, have not traditionally been used to their best advantage, Dr Golland says. “If you have to go to Hobart for a conference then that is your focus,” he explains. “But if you have to sit down to a webinar at 7pm after a long day at work, you may not be in the mood for it. And webinars in the middle of the day can be problematic, particularly in a mixed practice situation where you can’t always control the timeslots. I still think webinars are valuable, but I don’t see them replacing face-to-face situations.”
The educational arena has recognised these problems and acted quickly to iron out the kinks. For several years, for instance, vet-webinar.com has allowed flexible viewing times for its archived webinars. And Dr Hugh White, director of the Centre for Veterinary Education (CVE), says earlier this year his organisation launched a new and improved version of webinars called ‘PodcastPLUS’.
Marketed as ‘… more than just another webinar’, a PodcastPLUS allows you to watch the pre-recorded video at a time of your choice then, any time within two days of the original screening of the PodcastPLUS, you can enter a discussion forum with the presenter and send emails and messages, to have questions answered and to further explore the topic.
“We were always copping flack about webinars never being on at the right time,” Dr White says. “The PodcastPLUS solves that issue while not losing the interactivity with the presenter. After viewing, users can also sit a multiple-choice quiz that entitles them, once they get it correct, to one CPD point. In the past we could see that somebody had registered and had been online, and we tried to monitor how long they were online. But there was no rigour about it. We have had some very positive feedback about the new system.”
It is a great example of the way education providers are keeping up with the times and, along the way, helping to serve vets not located in major metropolitan centres.
Flo Herold, managing director of Improve International Australia, is one of these providers. He says there are few alternatives, when it comes to surgical learning, to taking your lessons in a laboratory. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to travel for your surgery course, though. Private operators are making their own processes more mobile.
“Right now I am talking with a group of people near Chinchilla in Queensland,” Herold says. “They want to do an equine workshop and for us to come to them. I’m trying to work it out, but it needs to be financially viable. As long as it is a big enough practice, or they can organise for a few other vets from the surrounding areas to take part, then we can set it up.
“In general, I’d recommend that rural vets spend money on going places to do something practical, to do the workshops that require face-to-face interaction, then do all of the theory courses online.”
So, what is available exactly? The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) organises face-to-face CPD via division conferences and meetings, branch meetings, special interest group webinars, meetings and conferences and division roadshows that travel from state to state (see a calendar of events online at www.ava.com.au/calendar).
The CVE runs distance education courses that run for periods of up to 10 months, events ranging from week-long conferences to intensive hands-on workshops, short courses delivered wholly online and the aforementioned PodcastPLUS webinars (see a summary here: cve.edu.au/education).
Private educators such as Improve International (improveinternational.com/au) run a wide range of courses, from one-day surgical workshops to modular programs that run for two years, and VetPrac’s workshops focus strongly on practical skills for vets as well as nurses (see upcoming courses here: vetprac.com.au/our-workshops). Of course specialist vets, also drug and medical equipment companies, run workshops and events.
So, how does Dr Golland navigate his way through the generous supply of CPD options? “We sit down at the beginning of each year and look at various courses being run by the AVA, CVE and various other bodies and we figure out who in our practice should attend which courses that year,” he says. “Our vets get a week of study leave every year and there are five or six of us in the practice so we are looking for continued education to take up five to six weeks each year.”
And as Dr White says, such courses are about more than education, particularly in rural areas. “I have rural vets who say to me that in the first year of somebody working for them, they send them to a conference because it is uplifting for the young vets. If they stay a second year they enrol them in a distance education program. That is roughly a $5000 investment and it creates a fair chance that the staff member will stay on for longer.
“One of the biggest issues in rural practices is turnover of young vets. Many work for one or two years then go to England then come back and go to the city. But if you invest in your young people, they are going to be more likely to stay. Practice owners should be budgeting for CPD for all of their people. Don’t just give them the week off—that is simply an entitlement. If you really want to show that you value them then invest in them.”