Who does not like soft skills? - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Who does not like soft skills?

GRAHAM DUNCANSON
calls on the RCVS not to remove
the ‘soft’ element of the current
certificates and urges the
module providers to do more to
stimulate candidates

IT is no longer confidential that the education committee of the RCVS is considering altering the new certificates. Veterinary surgeons are no different from any other group in that we tend to resist change. There was certainly resistance when the RCVS dropped the old certificates in 2008 and replaced them with the current format. Many felt that not only would they be easier to obtain but also that they would, therefore, be of less value. Were those opinions correct? Certainly the new certificates are more obtainable for practitioners, provided the candidates are given guidance on how the certificates are to be approached. This approach is vital, particularly for the completion of the ‘A’ modules. These models are non-clinical and therefore seem irrelevant to candidates in academia. They also, I suspect, seem irrelevant to the modular providers who are based in veterinary schools. This is very understandable as postgraduate studies at veterinary schools concentrate on research, teaching and clinical excellence. These goals are achieved to an extremely high standard by the seven veterinary schools in the UK.

Focusing on reflection

It is perhaps because of this high standard that the modular providers at veterinary schools have difficulties guiding the candidates with the completion of the ‘A’ modules which are focused on an individual’s reflection on improvement of service and, therefore, performance. There is a marvellous drive within
the profession, led by the RCVS and the veterinary schools, to improve clinical performance. This has been taken on board by
practitioners, particularly the less experienced. The evidence for this is seen in the keenness of clinicians in attending CPD courses.
What is not quite so evident to clinicians is the gap, which can be very large, between clinical excellence and provision of service. Completion of the ‘A’ module in the new certificate can help to bridge that gap. “Can” is the operative word in that sentence. If
the candidates are forced to follow strict protocols when they complete the ‘A’ module, the value of this module is lost. The ‘A’ module requires evidence of post-graduate learning. Is this achieved by making the candidates write essays on prescribed subjects, e.g. “Describe an incident where your relationship with a client was compromised on a welfare issue”? I think this is unlikely and as a candidate I would find writing these essays extremely irksome. It is hardly evidencing postgraduate learning. The spin-off from this is that the veterinary school providers are having difficulties recruiting candidates to enrol on these certificates. One answer is to lower the value of the ‘A’ module. A better answer would be to change the manner in which the ‘A’ module has to be completed. The guidelines for this module issued by the RCVS are very broad. If candidates can choose their own “areas of learning” (AOLs) they are much more likely to enjoy completing them. This is important but what is much more important is that the candidates will learn from not only completing the essay but also completing the task. This type of learning requires reflection. All professionals, not just veterinary practitioners, need to reflect on their provision of service.

Worthwhile reflection

A useful AOL for an equine surgeon would be reflection on the success rates of individual surgical tasks, e.g. the medication of a specific joint. A worthwhile AOL for a cattle practitioner would be reflection on the value of specific targets in a herd health plan, e.g. the control of mastitis. An excellent AOL for a small animal practitioner would be reflection on improved client compliance by altering the length of the consultation. It might well be argued that these AOLs are too clinical. The counter argument would be that unless practitioners can improve on their provision of service they are not improving their practice. Another difficulty experienced by the modular certificate providers with the ‘A’ modules is the assessment of the candidate on completion of the module. It is very much easier to set rigid essays and then assess those essays than to have the candidate’s individual choice of titles. Each candidate is going to produce between five and 10 AOLs. Assessors need to be well trained to assess the reflection demonstrated by the candidate in such a variety of work. The profession and the RCVS need to move forward on the educational needs and requirements of practitioners. It must be remembered that the Certificates are directed towards practitioners who form the bulk of the membership of the RCVS. Practitioners in the main do not like learning about soft skills.

Choice of subject

Anyone who provides CPD for area divisions of the BVA will know that if there is a top clinical speaker there will be many more attendees than if a speaker is recruited to talk on the difficulties of bereavement counselling. If I reflect on my own work as a large animal and equine practitioner, I destroy on average 70 horses a year. I only attend three foaling cases a year and have never carried out a caesarean section in a mare. Yet I happily attend lectures on foaling and caesarean section and do not attend lectures on bereavement counselling. If, however, I were sitting a certificate, I would find writing an AOL on my reflections on the improved relationships with my clients when I destroy a horse much more interesting than being forced to write an AOL on my concerns regarding my ethical standards when destroying a horse.

Importance of soft skills

Practitioners have to face the fact that soft skills are important. I suspect very few practitioners reflect on a daily basis how important those soft skills have been to their delivery of service. One of the requirements for the ‘A’ module is that the candidate shows evidence of keeping a learning diary. Such a diary leads to good reflection not only on soft skills but also clinical skills. I suspect that many opponents to the ‘A’ module have difficulty completing their CPD record for the RCVS, let alone keeping a learning diary. It is very much more important to record what the individual actually learnt from each piece of CPD. It is also important to plan ahead for further CPD which will benefit the clinician’s delivery of service. The ‘A’ model requires candidates to carry out a SWOT analysis on themselves. If such an analysis is carried out honestly, the benefits well outweigh the short length of time taken to complete such an analysis. Another requirement of the ‘A’ module is to write a CV. This is a very illuminating experience for older members of the profession. Reflection on a CV may well urge writers to progress further in their careers. This drive for progress will also be enhanced by the requirement to complete a job description. Successful practitioners plan their lives and how they live them. Poor practitioners are just reactive rather than proactive. In conclusion, I would urge the policy makers on the education committee of the RCVS not to remove the vital soft skills element of their certificates. I would urge the modular providers to fashion their approach to guidance on soft skill reflection to stimulate candidates to produce post-graduate work. Value certificate holders I would urge veterinary surgeons to enrol to complete a certificate in their chosen field of interest and not be deterred by the requirement to carry out reflection on areas of their learning. Lastly I would urge employers, whether in practice, academia, commerce or any field of veterinary work, to value holders of certificates. It is the modern custom for authors at the end of a paper to declare any conflict of interest. Therefore I must declare that I am one of the directors of VetLearning which is a modular provider through Middlesex University. However, the views given in this article are entirely my own and are not necessarily those of VetLearning.

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