Summary of presentations from the education stream at AVA 2013

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I attended the majority of these sessions and used my notes and the conference proceedings to summarise my take-away messages from each speaker.

1.       Education forum – retaining vets in rural and remote areas

The session was moderated by Scott Parry from Coonamble Veterinary Clinic, which hosts students from CSU.

Issues highlighted were:

  • Social and physical isolation
  • Changing attitudes towards careers – more focus on work/life balance and trend towards changing jobs relatively frequently
  • Inadequate financial rewards,
  • Frequent after hours duty
  • Lack of career path,
  • Challenges of maintaining CPD
  • Finding a spouse
  • Employment for spouse

Some felt they weren’t experiencing a significant problem in attracting and retaining vets. They expect a certain turnover and have not had a problem recruiting new vets when needed, although the audience was definitely not representative of the rural veterinary population as private practitioners in the room were all involved in extramural training of vet students. They felt that recruitment of new vets to their clinics was a major bonus of hosting students.

Finding a spouse and employment for spouses emerged from the discussion as perhaps the most significant issues. Scott Parry avoided this one by marrying a vet who also works at the clinic but others spoke about partners having to leave their jobs and not always being able to get work in the rural area to which they moved. Ilana Mendels jokingly suggested the AVA start a dating agency as a solution!

To outline the potential ways CPD could be delivered to rural and remote veterinarians, Shaun Sinclair and Jeff Santamaria from Central Queensland University, which has a very high percentage of students studying off-campus, joined the session by video link to talk about technology they use to engage their students, including flipped classroom teaching, web conferencing using tools such as Blackboard, blogging and social media.

  1. Postgraduate programs at the University of Melbourne

Dairy resident training – Dr Michael Pyman (University of Melbourne)

This project was implemented to address concerns that a significant percentage of young vets were leaving dairy practice after 2-3 years. One reason for this trend was that there was no long-term availability for a career path with further training. Those who become recognised as experts in a field are more likely to stay in the field and there has been a lack of opportunity for that transition.

Major objectives of this project are:

–          To encourage young vets to remain in the dairy industry by offering them advanced training through study for a combined MVS and MVSc (Clin)

–          To consolidate and expand veterinary input into the dairy industry

Four vets with a particular interest in dairy practice are employed by the University of Melbourne for three years and embedded in dairy practices in Victoria. They complete projects and units of study for the combined degrees.

Anticipated outcomes include:

–          Increased availability of experienced dairy vets

–          Adequate numbers of competent graduates into dairy practice

–          Discovery of knowledge relevant to the dairy industry

Emergency animal diseases professional development (CE) study options online – Dr Simon Firestone (University of Melbourne)

In 2012 the University of Melbourne commenced teaching a new online Masters of Veterinary Public Health. The objective is to train vets, animal scientists and animal health workers to respond in emergency animal disease outbreaks and includes clinical skills and leadership and risk communication. Any of the 14 modules can be taken as a single module without enrolling in the full degree.

2. New graduate support

Perfect veterinary world for graduates. What does it look like? – Dr Brian McErlean (OneLife Suicide Prevention Community Co-ordinator AVA)

Brian, a suicide prevention co-ordinator for the AVA, approached this topic with the mental health of the new graduates as the central concern. He emphasised that early career support from the employing practice and appropriate mentors from outside the practice are vital to graduates making a successful transition to practice. Ensuring manageable working hours, a reasonable salary, opportunities for technical skill development and training in management practices all help reassure the new graduate.

Mentoring programs for new graduates – do they work?  Dr Paul Davey (Grantham St Veterinary Clinic)

Several states have new graduate mentor programs, with WA having the longest standing at 17 years. There is little direct evidence on whether such schemes are successful but anecdotal evidence is that they can make a difference.

The main reasons for graduates seeking assistance from their mentors fell into the following broad categories:

  • Employment related issues (pay rates, working hours, employer expectations)
  • Veterinary case related issues (general medical, surgical or animal welfare questions)
  • Interpersonal issues (communication failings, personality clashes, relationship issues)
  • Career and/or job choice issues (doubts about overall career choice and/or particular aspects of current job)

The AVA- commissioned Tavener report into new graduate issues suggested that mentoring should begin during student years and Murdoch University has integrated the mentors into its ‘Veterinary professional life’ stream in final year.

Challenges in the future may include not only supporting those new vets in practice but also the increasing number unable to find veterinary work as the number of graduates across the country increases at a rapid rate.

 3. Extramural clinical training and its assessment

Practice-based clinical training – Dr Bill Morgan (The Vet Group)

The Vet Group, a large multi-clinic practice with a strong dairy focus, hosts students throughout the year in large numbers throughout the year, which brings both rewards and challenges. The former includes a flow of new knowledge and enthusiasm and a great way to attract and assess potential new staff, while the latter includes time, space and ensuring adequate support for some structured learning opportunities for students, generally provided by a tutor embedded in the practice.

Clinical training of students in rural practice – Dr Scott Parry (Coonamble Veterinary Clinic)

Coonamble Veterinary Clinic also hosts many students throughout the year, although only one student at a time as it is a much smaller, more remote practice. Despite the differences in the practices, many of the pros and cons of having students are similar to those of The Vet Group. Perhaps because of the more isolated location of Coonamble, other social, educational and culinary advantages come from student involvement in the practice – I would love to go to a Coonamble Vet Clinic cookoff dinner – just a description was making my mouth water!

Workplace-based clinical education – adapting the human nursing Bondy scale – Meg Dietze and Rebekah Brown (NMIT)

This presentation is covered in detail in a previous post.

Membership research on new graduates/AVA new graduate plan – Dr Debbie Neutze (AVA)

The AVA has put a lot of time and effort in the last 12 months into understanding the concerns and needs of recent graduates. Among the key findings from the Taverner Research group report of August 2012 were that graduates often found it difficult to either find a job or, if they do succeed, to adjust to veterinary practice and struggle with self-confidence, that they don’t always perceive AVA membership as good value for money and that, although they see the AVA as approachable, they see it as traditional rather than modern and innovative.

The overarching principal of the plan is easing the transition to professional life and caring for recent graduates.

The Key Elements of the recent graduate membership offering are:

  • Recent Graduate Membership Fee Concessions
  • AVA Recent Graduate CAREer Support Centre
  • Recent Graduate Gap Insurance Offer
  • Recent Graduate Engagement Strategy
  • Division and Branch Based Programs

Transition to Practice Seminars in final year of study at all campuses

Recent Graduate Forums or “Think-Tanks”

Mentoring Programs

Networking Opportunities

  • Special Interest Group Based Programs

Young Member Programs

4. Overseas-trained veterinarians in Australia

National Veterinary Examination (NVE) – rationale, format and future development – Professor Leo Jeffcott, Dr Malcolm McLennan and Mrs Dianne Kennedy (Australasian Veterinary Boards Council)

The NVE is required for overseas veterinarians whose qualifications do not entitle them to automatic accreditation in Australia.

The number of successful NVE candidates admitted to the profession on a yearly basis is fewer than10 per annum but is important because the profession has a responsibility to migrants to ensure that there is a pathway for them to continue their profession in their new home.

The Board of Examiners (BoE) for the NVE advises the AVBC (Australasian Veterinary Boards Council) develops and oversees NVE examination which consists of three sections: 1) an English test for candidates whose native language is not English; 2) a Preliminary Examination on basic and applied veterinary knowledge in a Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) format; and 3) a Final Examination of 12 sections in clinical veterinary medicine and surgery.

Over the past 8 years the success rate has been approximately 30%. The BoE is considering ways to ensure candidates are better prepared before sitting the examination.

 5. Undergraduate studies

Effect of a core research course on student perceptions of research as a career – Dr Chris Riley (University of Adelaide, Massey University)

There is a need for more veterinarians in science-based fields such as comparative medical research, emerging infectious disease control and public health. A number of institutions have trialled measures to try to increase the numbers of graduates choosing to enter these fields. Adelaide University has developed a Clinical Research Project (CRP) within its first year DCM course   Each student has a budget of $500 and must identify a project and supervisor. They are allowed one teaching day per week and must present a scientific poster and oral presentation at the conclusion.

To attempt to quantify the relationship of the course to student attitudes, students were surveyed about their attitudes to research and current career aspirations before and after undertaking their project. Three notable results from the surveys were:

–           Significantly more students felt confident that they had experience in research before the course than after completion;

–          only one student had changed their perception of research as a career option, despite an high level of agreement both before and after the project on the importance of research in academic veterinary science;

–          the question with the lowest agreement was ‘Research has importance as part of industry veterinary practice’.

A blended approach to veterinary anatomy teaching – Dr Corinna Klupiec (University of Sydney)

Two major changes that have occurred in both veterinary and medical anatomy teaching on recent years are the decrease of time and resources for traditional cadaver dissection and the increased availability of digital/eLearning resources such as OVAM (Online Veterinary Anatomy Museum) and Animal 360. These new resources are being integrated with the traditional instruction and still vitally important dissection sessions to create a blended learning environment.

Strengths of blended learning:

–           increase in student engagement and deep learning both due to enjoyment of interacting with digital resources and the flexibility of time and place in which learning can take place.

–          The potential of eLearning materials to improve effective cognitive load through techniques such as dynamic visualisation (eg manipulation of images), signalling to attract or direct the learner’s attention and learner control.

–          Improved ability to integrate anatomy with other closely related disciplines eg diagnostic imaging, which are also well suited to the digital platform. Sectional techniques such as CT and MRI allow to capacity to study 3D anatomy, use of which is particularly useful for student understanding.

–          Provision for instantaneous feedback in the digital environment compared with that in a dissection class with a large number of students

Weaknesses of blended learning:

–          The potential that the plethora of digital resources can overwhelm student already struggling with a high volume of learning materials. This can be mitigated by careful selection of resources to be integrated into the curriculum and explanation of the relevance of each chosen resource.

–          Finding a balance between cognitive load and engagement. At Sydney University students reported favouring a DVD of stifle dissection over an online interactive model. However, it is likely that the latter contributed to the perceived usefulness of the former.

–          Cost in time and finances of development of high class materials

Two major challenges for the future are developing an appropriate integration of ‘old’ and ‘new’ teaching methods to ensure that students develop the fundamental knowledge they will require and managing the sheer volume of digital information, which may require educators to take on the role of curators to guide students effectively through the maze of available learning materials.

The development of a laparotomy model for teaching basic surgical techniques –  Dr Glenn Edwards (Charles Sturt University)

Given the difficulty of access to cadavers and live animals for surgical training, a project was undertaken to develop a cost-effective yet valid model to teach basic tissue handling, asepsis and abdominal surgical techniques. Materials were chosen to replicate handling and mechanical properties of tissue layers encountered in a midline laparotomy approach and had to be widely available, in many cases from chain haberdashery stores. These included foam pads (rectus muscles), rip-proof nylon (rectus sheaths and linea alba), loosely woven material (subcutaneous tissues) which can include silicone tubes for ligation practice, and a polyurethane foam wound dressing (dermis and epidermis).The model can be incorporated into a mannequin to allow practice techniques such as patient preparation and draping.

Student evaluation of the model in parallel with cadaver materials was positive and allows early exposure to surgical skills training.

The future of veterinary education at James Cook University – Dr Wayne Hein (James Cook University)

With its four elements of strategic intent being tropical, rural, remote and indigenous, James Cook University (JCU) accepted its first students in 2006 and has had 147 graduates thus far. Personal and professional development, which includes issues such as communication, ethics and business management, feature strongly in the curriculum next to more traditional preclinical and clinical subjects.

As JCU is situated in an area with a smaller surrounding community than many other schools, clinical training is largely conducted within local practices with appropriate support. The in-house teaching hospital is run by a subsidiary of the university, JCU Univet, to which the school pays a placement fee each year for providing clinical training of final year students. This management arrangement was adopted to encourage a commercial focus on generating commercial, with some success. JCU has challenging in matching the equipment, infrastructure and human resources offered by specialist private practices and greater involvement with large private practices is likely in the future.

JCU is currently reviewing its undergraduate veterinary curriculum with the intention of introducing veterinary subjects earlier and achieving a more even distribution of workload in the later years of the course. In the longer term there are opportunities to engage more closely with tropical regions to Australia’s north and into under-represented areas such as aquaculture which are likely to be of increasing importance.

 6. Veterinary nursing in Australia

Looking towards national and international accreditations – Patricia Clarke

In human health, tightly integrated teamwork between doctors and highly trained nurses is becoming recognised as a cost-effective way to optimise patient care. Given the similarity of the professions, it is likely that the same findings would apply in the veterinary sphere. In the dental arena, dental hygienists, who have recently increased their professionalism through national registration, have been shown to have improved access to dental care and profitability of services. The veterinary profession could use the changes to delivery of dental services as a model of improved services and profitability which may flow from national registration and accreditation of veterinary nurses.

Currently the national qualification for veterinary nursing in Australia is the Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing, with currently only one higher degree option – the University of Queensland’s Bachelor of Applied Science (Veterinary Technology), A recent survey of 5000 AVA members indicated that more than half of the responding practices would favour nurses holding a Diploma of Veterinary Nursing in general practice if such a graduate were available. In comparison, 13 higher degrees are available in the UK, where the national qualification is the Diploma of Veterinary Nursing. Given the evidence that veterinary nursing is an emerging profession (with a profession being defined as an occupational group with a body of specialised knowledge based on research, autonomy in decision making, self-regulation and accountability to society), the availability of higher degrees and a registration and accreditation process would represent significant steps in this process.


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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3 Responses to Summary of presentations from the education stream at AVA 2013

  1. Previous rural employee says:

    Some good info here that needs to be debated as there are many views on these issues.
    It seems that the low hourly wages of rural practice (oversupply) are one of the biggest reasons for people leaving. It would be good if this could be addressed.
    Independent modelling of the above initiatives is important as evidence on their effectiveness for retention of employees beyond 5 years is uncertain.

  2. Thanks very much for leaving a comment. The wage issue is very important but unfortunately there is no quick, easy solution. It would be great to model some of the ideas.

  3. Pingback: Reflections on AVA 2013 | Rebekah Brown

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