BSAVA President reflects on ways of learning

A key change in recent years is that there is now much less reliance on lecture-based teaching. Self-directed learning is something we’ve all always done, but it is now a structured part of the undergraduate’s experience – and whilst this can be a little scary at first, even for the brightest, veterinary students always impress me with their readiness to learn – an attitude we need to retain throughout our careers.  

Clearly, with such huge volumes of information to take in, it is not reasonable to expect undergraduates to learn everything they need to know from book-learning and lectures alone. They simply can’t read about every possible case in every single species by the time they graduate, and even if they had it would be impossible to commit all that to memory.  So at vet school we are teaching them how to discover information, how to assess it, and problem-solve from first principles. Some of this takes place in university buddy systems, and though peer-to-peer teaching and assessment.

Of course, whilst these techniques exist within a teaching structure for undergraduates, in clinical practice peer-to-peer teaching happens all the time; during those conversations over coffee certainly, but also more formally when a practice organises rounds or journal clubs.

No matter what your position in the practice you can learn from others and they can learn from you - a newer graduate can get a huge boost in confident when they realise that they are bringing new knowledge and ideas to the practice, too often they often worry that they are constantly relying on others for their learning. So please don’t forget to tell people when you have learnt something from them – whoever they are or whatever role they have in your team.

 

Learning for life

We all know as vets and vet nurses that we are continually learning - and that this is an aspect of the job that is most satisfying for me. Obviously, RCVS has a requirement that we carry out CPD - 105 hours over three years. As Head of the Vet School at the University of Liverpool I sit on RCVS Council and RCVS Education Committee – the latter of which I will Chair this year. In these roles I have had the opportunity to be involved in discussions around CPD and recently it has been interesting to explore what happens in other professions.

We now understand that sustained learning results from a focus on improving student outcomes, and when there are repeated and continued opportunities to embed learning in practice.

Many other professions are now recording CPD in an outcomes based way rather than input - so rather than simply recording the number of hours you do, it is based on what impact the learning has had on what you do. This may be a slightly different way of looking at CPD, but will not necessarily completely change what you do – just how we approach it and how we use it.

I had an elderly aunt who was fond of telling me to take time to smell the roses - in some ways this is how I like to think of outcomes-based CPD. In our breakneck paced working lives - stopping to consider what would be beneficial for our CPD. This approach may fit in with clinical governance too - planning what you want learn, considering what you want to change about how you do things - and after the learning experience reflecting on what you learnt and how it has changed what you do.

A great benefit of reflection on what you have learnt is that you realise you have learnt a lot. Without reflecting afterwards it is easy to focus on the things you still need to learn rather than what you have achieved. It also gives time for the experience to make an impression – otherwise it is too easy to focus on ‘what’s next’ and what you still don’t know.

As part of our wellbeing it is good to appreciate that we are developing and improving and not let us fall into the trap of worrying that there is still more to learn - because there always will be – in life, in work, in our relationships.

 

Living to learn

I have a suspicion that doing a degree in philosophy and learning to play the oboe will remain on my bucket list rather than moving to the ‘achieved list’, but there are plenty of veterinary based CPD opportunities – not least of all resulting from my BSAVA membership, that allow me to get the unique satisfaction from learning something new. It’s probably the only downside of being BSAVA President – I am unlikely to get to any lectures at Congress this year!

I would encourage all BSAVA members to make sure you are getting the most from the CPD resources available through your Association – many of them completely free of charge, such as the PDP programme – a really great example of learning across multiple platforms with its videos, webinars and written material. This really is not just for our new graduate members – it is a member benefit for everyone, and a great confidence builder for anyone in practice. And confidence is really what CPD is about – I like the unattributed quote – the road to confidence is paved with daily accomplishments.