Reflections on AVA 2012 part 1

It was a chilly morning in Canberra for the first full day of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) annual conference at the National Convention Centre.  It is the major national veterinary conference for the year and during the week there were approximately 1000 delegates.

The theme for this year’s conference was sustainablility – for the profession, its practices and the education of its future colleagues. As well as a daily plenary session, there were several parallel streams and a large trade display.

I attended the conference for two days. The purpose my blog (which will be divided in to three or four posts) is twofold – to enable some backchannel learning for those interested but unable to attend and as a vehicle for me to reflect on the experience for my own learning. This post covers my highlights and reflections of Monday 21st May. It is by no means intended as a complete review of the content of the sessions.

How the Australian Veterinary Journal (AVJ) reviews scientific papers for publication – Dr Anne Jackson, Editor-in-chief, AVJ

The AVJ, published by Wiley-Blackwell, is Australia’s foremost veterinary science journal and receives many submissions each year, many of which do not meet the requirements for publication. Some criteria for initial assessment and review were outlined and common problems discussed. A highlight was the mention of two unusual papers used to illustrate important points;  Sand-Jensen’s advice on how to bore the socks off your audience (Kaj Sand-Jensen, How to write consistently boring scientific literature. Oikos 2007;116: 723 -727, 2007) and the beautifully constructed article of a spoof case-series published on April Fool’s Day 1972 detailing the treatment of ‘Brunus edwardii’, better known as the teddy bear. (Blackmore DK, Owen DG, Young CM. Some observations on the diseases of Brunus edwardii (Species nova). Vet Rec 1972;90:382-385). The cleverness lies not only that it is an example of everything a case series should be (e.g., it notes the lack of previous literature, clearly explains the methodology and has significant clinical findings) but it is also beautifully written. The sentence ‘Acute traumatic conditions, characterised by loss of appendages, are often the result of disputed ownership,’ has had me chuckling ever since. The illustrations are also wonderful but unfortunately not mine to publish here.

Plenary session

The plenary session included an address by Emeritus Professor Malcolm Nairn, in which he highlighted the importance of achievements of veterinarians who had moved out of veterinary science, and

Dr John Webster, the ’father’ of the 5 Freedoms of animal welfare. He’s a great speaker and his passion for his subject really shone through.

Education forum

The day’s major focus for me was the continuing education (CE) forum, which was expertly facilitated by Dr Ross Cutler.  The topic was the changing CE needs of vets through their careers as they move from being new graduates to more senior vets then perhaps to practice owners or to other pursuits. Many notes were taken of the session for later review and these comments are my interpretation and opinion of the proceedings only and in no way official.

A third year graduate spoke of her very difficult experiences in her first few weeks of practice and what sort of support would have helped her during that time, both from inside and outside her practice. From this rose one of the hot topics of the session – mentoring of new graduates. Some state branches of the AVA have mentoring schemes but there was clearly a desire for more consistent and structured support in the first few years of practice. There was general consensus that mentoring support was of more use to recent graduates than formal CE covering technical knowledge. The AVA is currently conducting some research into exactly what support recent graduate members would like and will respond to these needs.

Graduates 5-15 years into their careers and working in practice were likely to seek CE focused on keeping up to speed with changes such as new drugs and techniques. The discussion of this career stage moved from the needs of vets in practice to those of vets who have been out of practice for a while, most commonly women who have taken time off to have children but also those that may have been working in a different area wishing to transition back into practice. There is currently no CE available to update their skills and knowledge.  Julie Hood, CEO at the New Zealand Veterinary Association, is about to introduce a scheme in New Zealand, which I plan to investigate further. After the session I posted on the NOVICE discussion forum to find out how other countries manage this issue. I learnt that both the UK and Germany have workshops to help update skills, about which I intend to research. The AVA is aware of the need for resources for this group and Dr Debbie Neutze is currently working on a website to be launched at ASAVA in August with information and links to resources. This will be followed by an in-depth assessment of needs and further resources will be developed based on the results. I was very impressed at the follow-up from Dr Julia Nicholls and Dr Debbie Neutze after the session on this issue and big improvements are clearly in the pipeline.

The next stage of the CE discussion revolved around the type of education or support vets moving from being senior associates into practice management may need. The comments were that the best way to ease this transition was to give all vets in the practice some say and experience in making decisions before they became partners and to be role models to them both in a management sense and also in the enjoyment and satisfaction of being a partner, which can help to make them feel that their expectations will be met if they take on a leadership role.

The other aspect covered in this session was of the format of CE required for practising vets and how best to deliver it. Linda Hort, an educationalist from the Australian National University, asked the forum what type of educational experiences had been particularly inspiring and discussed the difference between pedagogy, which is technically the teaching of children, (ped derived from the Greek word for boy and – the etymology geek in me couldn’t resist the derivation) and andragogy, the teaching of adults, who often bring more experience and self-direction to their learning. Case-based or experiential learning as well as the inspiration and empowerment that come from great teaching were nominated as the best ways to learn.

I found this an extremely valuable forum and I certainly came away with many insights. I did feel (and commented at the time) that it was focused on vets in practice more than on the profession as a whole and that there could be more information and perhaps CE on skills for careers other than practice, particularly for vets in the 5-10 years after graduation bracket, some of whom find that practice is not their long term goal. By chance I had discussed this idea with a friend a few weeks before and we felt from our own experiences that students are very often focused on becoming practitioners but a few years down the track may be looking for new directions.

In summing up the session, a couple of comments stayed with me. One was that people who complete veterinary science have often been working towards the goal for many years and once they graduate find the lack of concrete goals, such a certificates etc, demotivating and therefore perhaps there should be more emphasis on that aspect of CE. Another was that veterinarians need to continue to be inspired by their profession, education and colleagues – a highly worthy aim.


About rebekahmcbrown

I am a veterinarian with a special interest in instructional design and developing eLearning in the veterinary and medical areas. I write teaching materials for both face-to-face and online learning as well as writing and editing articles.
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