My first BSAVA Congress was in 2006 as a new graduate, and I remember being blown away by the experience. At the time, it was not just the biggest but the only national small animal veterinary conference in the UK. For me it was not just a place to get CPD, but a place to meet old friends and remind myself how large and diverse our profession really is. Even then I remember finding it difficult to know which lectures to attend to get the most out of my experience, often realising I was, perhaps, stuck in a lecture that didn’t really float my boat! I also suffered terribly (and, embarrassingly, I still do) from “lecture narcolepsy”; if I chose the wrong lecture for me, the session would be wholly unproductive and only exist in my memory until supper time at best!
This year marks a significant milestone for BSAVA Congress; aside from the excitement of returning to a face-to-face learning experience after two years, there’s a new venue – Manchester Central – and, for the first time, the event will be a hybrid one. As programme chair, with the dubious honour of having the opportunity to completely restructure congress due to the move to Manchester, I suddenly had the phenomenal chance to break the mould of 30 years at the ICC in Birmingham. Along with this opportunity came the vastly underestimated (on my behalf) challenge of living up to my personal goals for congress. These were to provide CPD in a way that is accessible to different learning styles, and to do so in a way that has not previously been considered at veterinary conferences and is recognisably different to what BSAVA has provided in the past.
I feel incredibly privileged to have spent the first few years of my career in first opinion practice, and, since the end of my internal medicine residency (scarily seven years ago now!), I have worked in private referral hospitals which have all had busy on-site first opinion teams working alongside referrals. Along with the invaluable input from my amazing programme committee made up of vets and nurses from across all walks of our profession, I hope that this background has allowed us to maintain an awareness of what first opinion practitioners want and need when planning the CPD programme. Instead of trying to show off the prowess of our speakers by demonstrating things that are not achievable by us mere mortals, we are looking for all our sessions to show delegates how the content of the lectures can apply to everyday veterinary work and inspire delegates to develop their knowledge in a pragmatic and practical way.
In reality, it took only a small amount of reflection to realise it is impossible to give every member of the profession the exact learning opportunity they need. To provide a medicine programme that is suitable for new graduates, experienced first opinion vets, advanced practitioners and even referral vets is impossible. Despite the apparent size of the congress, with 90 hours of available lecture space over three days, each major discipline only really gets five hours maximum. This is only enough time to scratch the surface of a large topic, such as gastrointestinal medicine, or to do a deep dive into a very small subsection, eg chronic diarrhoea.
I wouldn’t expect myself to remain alert through five hours of continuous lectures, particularly if the content wasn’t really what I was expecting!
Once you get your head around the limitations of how much information you can actually get across in the time allowed, you realise how important it is to balance the method of educational delivery. I wouldn’t expect myself to remain alert through five hours of continuous lectures, particularly if the content wasn’t really what I was expecting! So, we couldn’t possibly ask our delegates to do this either.
At BSAVA 2022 the delegates will find lecture halls no longer represent the location of a particular module; instead they represent the type of education style. With dedicated “debate and discussion”, “interactive”, “standard lecture” and “practical” zones, each module will move between locations, ensuring that each subject involves a variety of learning styles. So, delegates can choose their experience by learning style or by subject matter, even if they are attending virtually.
I am truly excited about the debates and ethical discussions. We have 18 timetabled over the three days, but I feel terribly nervous knowing that these sorts of sessions only really go well when there is active interaction from the audience. I hope that by creating a dedicated space for these discussions, our delegates this year, and in the future, will be brave enough to engage and make these sessions as stimulating and productive as they can be.
I hope that by creating a dedicated space for these discussions, our delegates this year, and in the future, will be brave enough to engage and make these sessions as stimulating and productive as they can be
Finally, and this is where I really am standing on the firing step, we wanted to look for a new type of learning experience dedicated to the integration of para-professional skills with clinical work. These “day-in-the-life-of” dramas will be a hybrid of pre-recorded scenarios, live on-stage client actors and supporting scientific CPD. Using scenarios to focus on financial discussions, time management, compassion fatigue and mental health gives us an opportunity to bring CPD into close contact with the realities of clinical practice. If it goes well it could be truly ground-breaking. If it doesn’t go to plan… well, I am sure you will tell me afterwards!
So, like any programme chair, I am hoping that the delegates are truly inspired by the experience, but, given the high visibility of BSAVA 2022, I certainly feel like my head, and shoulders, are well above the parapet for now!