Veterinary students must become professional problem-solvers

Liz Armitage-Chan of the Royal Veterinary College explains why professional identity building is important for an increasingly complex discipline
cows mooring on grassland
The Royal Veterinary College offers two programmes by distance learning
Being a vet involves complex decisions, which incorporate the client's needs and those of the business, on top of the veterinarian's priorities relating to animal welfare

Careers in the veterinary world go far beyond caring for animals or assisting with conservation.

Most veterinary jobs require vital skills that are often overlooked, such as the ability to make complex decisions or to cope in challenging environments.

With many veterinarians facing financial limitations, tough workloads, and emotional clients on a daily basis, it's important that their grounding makes them feel confident in professional problem-solving, says the Royal Veterinary College (RVC).

Liz Armitage-Chan, Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Education at the RVC, recently presented on 'What are the Professional Competencies?' at the latest European Association of Establishments for Veterinary Education (EAEVE) Educational Symposium, which was held at the RVC for the first time.

Her presentation highlighted the competencies required of current-day veterinary graduates, as well as the teaching and assessment strategies that have been put in place at the RVC to support these aims.

Professional identities for vets

In 2013, Armitage-Chan re-joined the RVC as part of LIVE (Lifelong, Independent Veterinary Education), a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL).

It was at this stage she became more active in researching the veterinary professional skills and identities of both experienced and inexperienced veterinarians.

She found that veterinary roles involve increasingly difficult sets of priorities and identity-defining skills.

"Being a vet involves complex decisions, which incorporate the client's needs and those of the business on top of the veterinarian's priorities relating to animal welfare and the treatment of disease", she said.

"What we did not expect to find was that those vets who can shape their notions of career success on these elements of the veterinary identity appear to demonstrate better mental wellbeing, and cope better with the demands and stresses of veterinary life."

This informed the decision to evolve the institution's professional skills programme into a professional identity programme which would enable students to feel 'confident and competent' at professional problem-solving.

Managing expectations

Helping students understand that not everyone can be satisfied by every outcome appears to be one of the key things that is generating a more positive sense of identity surrounding jobs in the discipline.

"Our students are often reluctant to see that there is not a solution that is perfect for all", says Armitage-Chan.

"Most importantly, by guiding the students to contextualise the taught course during their extra-mural studies, they are encouraged to see the veterinary identity in this way, such that career goals of successfully diagnosing and treating their patients are coupled with valuing occasions in which they have helped a client through a difficult decision", she added.

The ability for graduates to manage the client and colleague relationship could lead to greater career satisfaction, she believes, and a stronger sense of success for early-career veterinarians.

Source: Royal Veterinary College

RVC provides academic direction on two postgraduate programmes in veterinary sciences available by distance learning: the MSc in Livestock Health and Production, and the MSc in Veterinary Epidemiology and Public Health. Find out more.