On the road to a higher qualification - Veterinary Practice
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On the road to a higher qualification

David Babington of Improve International looks at the options available and reviews the factors that vets seeking higher qualifications should consider before deciding what course of action to take.

AS a vet, achieving a higher
qualification, especially on top
of a full-time job and family
commitments, is no mean feat. It
can also be expensive. So why are
more and more vets opting to take
this route, despite the additional
pressures it will inevitably impose?
And, for those
considering it,
what factors
should they
take into
account when
the right

One reason that many more vets
are choosing to develop their skills is
that the landscape of the profession
is changing. They face increased
competition from European vets,
with the prospect of this situation
worsening once new UK veterinary
schools start to unleash their graduates
into the world.

The rise of corporate practices and
the increased threats that this can
bring to owner-managed practices also
plays a part. Against this backdrop,
differentiating yourself by acquiring
additional skills and qualifications has
to be a good move.

But the motivation to seek additional
qualifications doesn’t stem purely from
a desire to stand out from the crowd.
Feedback from our delegates shows
that many have a genuine desire to
increase their skills, knowledge and
confidence, enabling them to practice
at a higher level.

Many also highlight the financial
benefits their new skills will bring to
their practice. Some, of course, see a
postgraduate qualification as a stepping
stone to a higher award and enhanced
career prospects.

Various organisations now offer
a route to a postgraduate certificate
(PgC), including many veterinary
schools that support learning towards
the RCVS Certificate of Advanced
Veterinary Practice (CertAVP); the BSAVA which works with Nottingham
Trent University and Improve
International, which partners with
the European School of Veterinary
Postgraduate Studies (ESVPS) and
Harper Adams University. Most of the
main veterinary species and discipline
subjects are available, together with accompanying learning programmes
often running over one or two years.

From 1st September this year,
vets in the UK will also be able to
apply to the RCVS for a new “middle
tier” professional status called
the “Advanced
Practitioner”. (The
higher tier will remain
as RCVS specialist

Vets achieving
a recognised
qualification at PgC
level (so 60 credits
at Masters Level 7)
will be eligible to
apply for this status.
There will be an
ongoing requirement
for practitioners
to undertake
additional CPD in the
designated area plus,
in some cases, CPD
covering foundation
veterinary skills. There will be a
revalidation process every ve years
during which CPD compliance must be

Meanwhile, a new organisation,
VetCEE, has applied for powers of
accreditation and intends to establish
programme standards leading to a
consistent “middle tier” qualification
for vets across Europe and we
expect further bodies and groups to
offer routes to additional veterinary
qualifications which meet this middle
tier criteria over time.

As the variety of routes to a higher
qualification grows, so too does
the potential for confusion among
employers and vets.

When it comes to employers, many
want staff with additional skills so that
they can offer an enhanced service to
clients but, when it comes to selecting
candidates, we hear that practical
ability can still rate higher than actual

For the sake of those committing to
a postgraduate qualification, it’s time employers started valuing postgraduate
qualifications more highly as they can
bring real positives to the practice.

For employers who want staff
to progress their learning further,
it’s important that the qualification
undertaken has the required
recognition and portability. So any
study undertaken needs to be chosen
with the end result in mind.

It would be simpler if all PgCs
awarded by UK-recognised bodies
enabled vets to gain the RCVS
Advanced Practitioner status.

They all confer 60 academic credits
but it appears that vets will also need
to study for an additional 100 hours
in order to cover some of the core
foundations of veterinary practice if
this has not already been done within
their PgC.

This will require them to study
independently or to take the RCVS CertAVP ‘A’ module
in “Foundations of
Advanced Veterinary
Practice”. For some
more experienced
vets, it could be
argued that they
already have a good
grasp of these key

All training
providers need to
take steps to provide
the required facts
and information
to help vets make
up their mind as to
which qualification
will work for
them. At Improve International, for instance, we’re
producing short videos to explain how
the qualifications work and integrate
with higher awards and we’re trialling
open days where vets can attend
presentations and meet previous

So the whole area of postgraduate
qualifications for vets is at the same
time relevant but potentially confusing.

There’s a great choice of options but
which is the best one for the individual
concerned? There are a number of
issues a vet considering postgraduate
qualification should think about:

  • Remember the saying, “If you don’t
    know where you want to go, you’ll
    end up anywhere.” Think about your
    overall career path, your life in practice
    and your long-term goals because this
    will impact on the type of qualification
    you seek.
  • Think also about the resources you
    are able to commit both financially
    and in terms of your time availability.
    Talk to your practice head about the
    skills they are looking to bring into the
    practice. They might be willing to offer
    you some support.
  • Evaluate all the certificate options
    carefully. Consider how much of your
    teaching you want to be online or face-
    to-face and talk to others who have
    undertaken similar qualifications.
  • Make sure that the qualification
    you choose allows progression to the
    next level if this is a goal. This usually
    means that the final award will have
    been issued by a recognised awarding
    body such as a listed university, RCVS,
    etc. A recognised awarding body will
    issue academic credits and these are
    transferable to some extent across
    other institutions in Europe.
  • If you are considering a route to a
    full Master’s Degree, involving study at
    several different learning centres, create
    a training plan which covers at least
    the next five years of your professional
    life and which is flexible enough to
    allow for changes along the way. Life
    happens sometime!

When you’ve made your choice,
get on board and enjoy the ride. The
opportunity to use those little grey
cells again, to link up with like-minded
colleagues and to learn some new
skills and practical techniques is really
exciting. The whole learning process
re-energises those taking postgraduate
qualifications and kick-starts the
passion for the career that they love so

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