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VetGDP 2: building new vet confidence

In this article, the second in our series from the RCVS, Linda Prescott-Clements (pictured) explains how the Veterinary Graduate Development Programme (VetGDP) will offer new vets the support of VetGDP advisers.

This article first appeared in the 7 May 2021 edition of the Vet Record and has been reproduced on the RCVS website with their kind permission.

Linda Prescott-ClementsWe know from our graduate outcomes research that the moment a newly qualified and registered vet steps into their first role, with those all-important letters ‘MRCVS’ after their name, it can be a very exciting but daunting time for them.

No matter how confident they may appear, or how knowledgeable they feel, all new graduates understandably need just that extra bit of time, support and guidance from more experienced colleagues to help them adjust to life in the workplace.

In fact, the first few months of being a vet may come to define the trajectory of the rest of their career and their attitudes towards veterinary work, so it is important for us, as the regulator, to help the profession get that support right.

Having the time, space and resources to build this fruitful relationship between the new graduate and their more experienced colleagues is crucial.

This is why I am personally so excited by the Veterinary Graduate Development Programme (VetGDP) because, through the help of VetGDP advisers – who will provide support and advice to newly qualified vets – it will help create a positive learning culture, and embed those one-to-one coaching relationships that the research has identified as being vital within all settings that employ new veterinary graduates.

It also provides a clear and all-encompassing structure to help new graduates establish themselves in the workplace and advance their knowledge, skills, confidence and professional identity.

How does the VetGDP benefit new graduates?

For me, the real advantage of the VetGDP is that it is a workplace-based programme that all stakeholders will engage with. The VetGDP advisers will have protected and committed time to support their new graduate employees in their learning and development. In 2021, all VetGDP advisers will have completed, or be in the process of completing, a programme of online learning developed by the RCVS, which draws upon the latest evidence in health professions education research, with involvement from colleagues who are international leaders in this field, to help them guide, plan and reflect on progress with the new graduate.

Building a supportive, trusting relationship between the new graduate and the VetGDP adviser is critical to the success of the programme, as will be the regular coaching sessions and monthly progress reviews to discuss how they are progressing with the activities they carry out as part of their role.

Both the veterinary graduate and VetGDP adviser will drive progress through the programme. It is the responsibility of the graduate to identify which areas they most need support with and to request this from their VetGDP adviser. This might include inviting supervision and/or observation and feedback on activities for which they feel it would be beneficial, such as more complex or unusual clinical cases. The VetGDP adviser should invite these requests for support, and meet regularly with their graduate to review progress and set goals.

Requests from the graduate for advice, supervision or observation are a way for them to obtain feedback, which is critical to supporting their professional development, and definitely should not be seen as any sign of ‘weakness’. Indeed, through asking for support when needed, graduates are demonstrating leadership and taking responsibility for their development and commitment to growth as a veterinary professional.

Entrustable professional activities

It is important that the VetGDP is tailored to the specific needs of each veterinary graduate, providing sufficient structure to support learning and development, while being flexible enough to accommodate the different types of roles new graduates are employed in.

The framework for the programme uses entrustable professional activities (EPAs). These are high-level descriptions of activities which are typically involved in veterinary practice. They encompass quite broad areas of veterinary work so that they are relevant and applicable to many different cases and scenarios that may be encountered in practice, rather than being concerned with granular-level tasks that not all graduates may be able to fulfil.

Similarly, the EPAs are not just concerned with the scientific and technical skills required of a vet, but also take into account integrative and general professional skills such as communication, professionalism and organisation.

In some other professions EPAs are associated with a formal assessment process and sign-off for independent practice – this is not the case in the VetGDP. Instead, EPAs are used informally to give structure to the graduate's e-portfolio against which they will record and reflect on progress.

The VetGDP adviser will be able to support the graduate in recording and reflecting on their progress with each of the activities (EPAs) relevant to their role. The new graduate will have access to a bespoke e-portfolio, where they can record their reflections, feedback and progress against the EPAs they have identified as being part of their role. VetGDP advisers will also have access to this platform so that they can support their graduate when reflecting on activities and add their feedback on either observed cases/situations, or progress review discussions.

The e-portfolio has an intuitive design and will be supported by an app (available by the end of 2021) that can be downloaded to a mobile device. Features will include easy navigation across all the EPAs, the ability to upload supporting documents and record reflections and feedback, easy-to-view progress against individual EPAs and across the whole programme, and the ability to upload audio files for recording reflections or progress meetings.

All of the above provides a clear structure for the programme to record how the new graduate develops and thrives in the first stage of their career until they reach the point where they feel confident enough to submit their e-portfolio for peer review in order to complete the VetGDP.

Retention and wellbeing

As the first article in this series outlined, part of the VetGDP's origin lies in concerns around the expectations and wellbeing of new graduates as they enter the world of veterinary work, and the impact that poor outcomes in both of these areas can have on them staying within the profession.

With the VetGDP, I really do feel we have a system that, through support, guidance and feedback, will help new graduates meet their goals and thrive as confident and competent independent veterinary professionals. I hope this will, in turn, lead to them feeling better about themselves and their choices, and staying within this great profession.

About the Author
Linda Prescott-Clements is RCVS director of education. Her team is responsible for the accreditation of university veterinary school degrees, the statutory examination for membership, the Veterinary Graduate Development Programme and CPD policies, among other activities.
She is a highly respected educationalist with 20 years’ experience across the health, and higher/continuing education sectors.

A mentor's view of the VetGDP

Charlotte Moody graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2012 and currently works as a mentor for XLVets, a community of independent veterinary practices. In this role, she is responsible for supporting member practices to provide mentoring for their team members. She also acts as an external mentor for individuals, mostly new graduates and has recently signed up to train as a VetGDP adviser.

“I AM always inspired by the energy, optimism and enthusiasm that new graduates have as they enter the next chapter of their lives. They are thirsty to get stuck in and put everything they've learned into practice. Their emotions of enthusiasm, excitement and pride combined with trepidation are probably no different from those of a new graduate 40 years ago, but there is a difference between then and now. Today's new graduates are very well informed on the choices available to them, for example, of what type of practice they first work in. They seek out and expect the sort of support and structure that they are used to from education, as well as the new-found freedom to become the vet they aspire to be.

This isn't about holding new graduates’ hands; often we learn the greatest lessons when we have to go it alone. I see the role of the VetGDP adviser as one of making sure graduates have room to breathe and make clinical decisions by themselves, while at the same time knowing that support is there should they need it. What's so useful in my role as a mentor for XLVets is having regular catch ups with the graduates I support, with opportunities for two-way feedback. This scheduled, guaranteed time to have an honest conversation, ask open questions and really listen to the graduate, is one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do, as it can help build confidence, wellbeing and job satisfaction.

New graduates emerge from a long period in education where structure, support and regular feedback is the norm, so it can be hard for them to lose this suddenly. This, in addition to all the other big life changes, such as moving away from friends and family, only adds to all the usual stresses of starting a new chapter, so the VetGDP will be so helpful in smoothing the transition from vet school to the workplace. It will also provide an opportunity for the employer to know how things are going, check how the team and business is adapting to the new graduate, and find out what their areas of need are.

Overall, I am really pleased that this fresh graduate development programme is being launched and provided for the profession, and the signs are very encouraging that it is being embraced and seen as a universal good – for new graduates, for established vets and for veterinary businesses.

I can't emphasise enough how often as a mentor I've witnessed the benefits of taking the time to listen, process and plan with someone. I know it can be hard to find time in a busy rota, but investing time and effort into those you employ, particularly if they are new to the profession, will pay dividends in aiding recruitment, retention and wellbeing. We look forward to wholeheartedly embracing the VetGDP in the XLVet community – it's an exciting time!

August 2021