RCVS Council approves comprehensive new project to enhance veterinary clinical career pathways

Enhanced clinical career pathways for veterinary surgeons are now on the horizon after the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) Council approved an ambitious new project to expand and diversify the career options available to the profession, including new training programmes and statuses.

The project, approved by Council at its meeting on Thursday 9 November, encompasses three highly progressive workstreams which will lead to new career routes and roles in the future for veterinary surgeons in general practice. The workstreams are:

  • The development of a veterinary specialty training programme in primary care: over the next two years, this will see the development of a comprehensive plan for the delivery of a new training programme for veterinary general practitioners that will, in turn, lead to a new ‘Specialist in Primary Care’ status. The workstream encompasses the development of a new curriculum, including appropriate teaching and assessment methods, and an implementation plan for this training. The training will be comprehensive, and five years’ duration, in line with that for specialist training in other clinical areas.
  • The definition of veterinary clinical roles: this will see the RCVS develop clear guidance for the profession and wider public on the different clinical career statuses available to veterinary surgeons and what the focus and responsibilities of those statuses typically entail. This will include consideration of a new name for the current ‘Advanced Practitioner’ (AP) status for vets and the role that this status may prepare people to take.
  • The development of flexible and accessible routes for specialist training: under this workstream, the RCVS will identify different ways in which vets can access the teaching and learning opportunities, clinical experience/cases, supervision and support that is required for them to complete specialist training and obtain RCVS Specialist status. This will include looking at how access to specialist training can be widened beyond the typical internship/residency model, to include training models more accessible from primary care practice, and for those at different career and life stages.

The project grew out of research carried out as part of the review of AP status, which forms part of the College’s current strategic plan. The research showed there was a considerable amount of confusion within the profession regarding what AP status was, and how this is distinct from a Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice. This also tied into the wider considerations of the workforce shortage, as identified in the College’s Workforce Action Plan, and some of the factors contributing to high attrition rates in the profession. Stakeholders have reported frustration with the lack of career development opportunities, particularly in general practice. These issues showed that a comprehensive and holistic rethink of veterinary career pathways was needed. This process culminated with a Clinical Careers Pathways Stakeholder Event that took place at the Royal College of Surgeons in December 2022 to discuss the direction of travel for career pathways, following which these detailed proposals were developed.

Dr Kate Richards MRCVS, Chair of the RCVS Education Committee, said: “These exciting and progressive proposals are visionary as far as the career and development structure of the veterinary clinical profession is concerned.

“It means there will be new prospects for those in general practice and those who want to achieve Specialist status by different means, as well as a more defined career structure for the profession that will be clearer to the profession and general public alike. With around 75-80% of veterinary professionals working in clinical practice this project will deliver a substantial positive impact. 

“These are the early pages of a very exciting new chapter for veterinary clinical careers, and we will be asking for your help to write it, as we will be holding a number of consultations in the coming years, including on the programme for Specialist in Primary Care and the definition of clinical roles.

“Thank you to my fellow Council members for approving this project plan, and I look forward to continuing to update the profession on its progress.”

RCVS President Dr Sue Paterson FRCVS added: “I wholeheartedly welcome this excellent project and thank Kate, the Education Committee, and the RCVS Education Team for getting this massively ambitious plan in place in the space of less than a year.

“There are two aspects of the project that I particularly welcome. First is the impact this could have on both recruitment and retention as vets are offered additional, and more diversified, career options and expanded roles in a variety of clinical settings. Second, as a specialist dermatologist myself, I really value the fact that we will be looking at ways to widen participation and increase accessibility to specialist training from primary care practice, as the residency/internship route is very intensive and not necessarily suitable for everyone.

“I greatly look forward to seeing how the project develops during my presidential year and beyond.”

A similar process to develop and enhance clinical career pathways for veterinary nurses is now also being considered, this would include the development of an ‘Advanced Veterinary Nurse’ status and clearer information on the veterinary nursing role and what it entails.

The full project plan for vets can be found in the papers for the November 2023 meeting of RCVS Council.

For further context, a report of the Clinical Career Pathways Stakeholder Event is available to download from the RCVS Publications page at www.rcvs.org.uk/publications

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