Lifelong learning has been part of veterinary education for many years. The availability and form of continuing education has changed as the accumulation of knowledge increases in speed and requires an organized and efficient delivery to veterinarians and veterinary technicians.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the American Veterinary Medical Assn. found the need to encourage lifelong learning. The AVMA’s Council on Education required that approved/accredited veterinary schools provide formal continuing education to private practitioners.
The AVMA’s Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities required formal continuing education for all AVMA-approved technician schools, too. Some state licensing boards also began requiring continuing education for re-licensure of veterinarians.
In 2004, 44 states required continuing education for veterinarians.
During the 1970s and ‘80s, both the number of AVMA-accredited veterinary schools and the number of AVMA-approved technician schools increased. The number of veterinarians also grew from 21,600 in 1972 to 70,000 in 2004.
During that same period, the number of veterinary clinical specialties expanded and the faculty and staff of the 27 veterinary schools and colleges became more specialized. For example, in 1973 there were 75 board-certified veterinary surgeons in the United States with five in private practice. In 2004, we had 1225 board-certified veterinary surgeons with 850 in private practice.
As the number of specialties grew and more moved into private practice, a new need developed: continuing education for board-certified practice specialists.
In the late 1970s and early ‘80s the specialty boards responded by introducing the American College Veterinary Surgeons’ Forum and the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum.
As part of these specialty meetings, a veterinary technician program was added so support staff could also keep pace with evolving technology.
During the 1950’s and on through the 1980’s many other groups were working to produce quality continuing education for all veterinarians, including the local area veterinary medical associations., state associations, regional associations, such as Western Veterinary Conference, Central Veterinary Conference, North American Veterinary Conference, and national organizations, such as the American Animal Hospital Assn. and the American Veterinary Medical Assn.
During this period, species-oriented groups, such as the American Assn. of Equine Practitioners, American Assn. of Swine Practitioners, American Assn. of Feline Practitioners, etc., also became more involved in continuing education.
As these associations developed their own CE programs, veterinary schools started changing their programs from mainly lecture formats to hands-on wet labs. This allowed the schools to offer a much-needed approach that was not available in a hotel seminar setting.
In the 1990s the regional and national meetings began offering more laboratories by using non-animal or non-invasive methods of hands-on education (dry labs). Some meetings used nearby colleges or private practices to hold animals and use as wet labs.
As concern about the use of animals in laboratories grew, the profession developed more non-animal and computerized interactive labs. This technology allowed hotel seminars rooms and exhibit area spaces to offer laboratories, too.
The rapid increase in the number of educational opportunities for veterinarians and veterinary technicians recently prompted the AVMA’s COE and CVTEA to eliminate continuing education from the list of essential requirements for accredited programs.
This change will allow programs to evolve into the next level, which will include electronic- and technology-based instruction offered on campuses and through the Internet.
Another factor that will affect the delivery, cost and type of CE is the increased financial involvement of commercial companies in education.
The consolidation of commercial companies during the 1990s resulted in fewer, yet stronger, companies. Many have partnered with veterinarians, technicians and their associations at the national, regional and state levels. These consolidations have resulted in concern about how many different CE programs can be supported by the remaining companies.
State association-supported regional meetings are the next step in addressing commercial consolidations and the increasing number of overall CE offerings.
The continued support of commercial companies is vital to keep the costs of the meetings at a reasonable level,. However, to keep education non-biased, the companies must provide block grants rather than support specific speakers. The selection of speakers must be made by the CE associations.
The newest state association-supported regional meeting is the Southwest Veterinary Symposium, which was formed through the support of the Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas Veterinary Medical Assns. in October 2003. This regional meeting allows the five partner states to hold one large CE offering each year and attract several thousand veterinarians and technicians. The event provides the commercial companies with an audience larger than the individual state meetings.
Commercial companies have allowed the cost of most professional meetings to remain reasonably constant over the past 20 years. In addition, the larger regional and national meetings have adapted exhibit halls to the needs of an educational event.
Some state veterinary medical boards now allow a limited amount of CE credit for interactions that take place in exhibit halls.
The use of exhibit halls has become extremely important in keeping practitioners and staff up-to-date.
The introduction of wireless computer tablets, ultrasound technology, in-house chemistry diagnostic systems, paperless medical records, computer management systems, magnetic resonance imaging and digital radiology are a few examples of technology demonstrated in the exhibit hall.
Methods of Improvement
Since 1985 the veterinary profession has been concerned about not only the quality of medical treatment, but how it is delivered. There has been an increased interest in practice management.
The Assn. of Veterinary Practice Management Consultants and Advisors, established in 2001, aids in improving the function and level of profit in practices through private consultants in improving the function and level of profit in practice. The improved financial picture of the profession allows us to keep up with the costs of newer technology and the CE courses necessary to apply the technology. And, as management issues have been introduced into the CE curriculum, the profession is discovering other professionals that can provide important knowledge.
There are now many opportunities for CE in almost any city at any time of the year. Many CE programs are offered in foreign countries, and even aboard cruise ships and on secluded islands.
During the past six years or so, veterinary CE has taken another giant step forward through the use of the Internet. We now have CE available to veterinarians, technicians, and staff 24 hours, seven days a week. Several Web sites are available for professionals, including Veterinary Information Network (www.vin.com), AAHA (www.aaha.org), Vet Med Team (www.vetmedteam.com) and others. These three sites all have online education, reference libraries and discussion boards for veterinarians and staff.
The AVMA now has 110 approved technician training programs, 5 of which are approved Distance Learning Programs, some of which are listed on www.vetmedteam.com. These AVMA-approved programs allow veterinary assistants to obtain online course work which will be credited toward a two-year degree in Veterinary Technology.
Another source of CE are courses offered locally by private-practice, board-certified specialists. These courses are often taught in specialty hospitals and offer both lectures and interactive labs. Schools often provide a clinical setting within the teaching hospital. These courses are usually one or more weeks long and provide experience in clinical specialty subjects.
TThe world of CE in veterinary medicine is changing rapidly as technology and specializations grow. Advanced education is available through organized VMA meetings, specialty practices, veterinary and technician schools, industry offerings, internet courses, specialty groups and published materials. The most difficult decision may be to determine which forms of continuing education seem most appropriate.