In the day-to-day bustle of veterinary clinics, staff training and education often get pushed aside because of a lack of time and resources.
But myriad opportunities are available today for clinics to educate their staffs at a pace and price that suits everyone’s needs.
Mark Stephenson, DVM, president of Lifelearn Inc. of Guelph, Ontario, notes that learning options “range from independent reading of journals and textbooks to attending local, regional and national veterinary conferences that include tracks for all types of paraprofessionals, including receptionists and animal health technicians.”
E-learning has increased dramatically over the past five to 10 years as well, Dr. Stephenson says. Sources range from DVDs to websites.
“Most people equate e-learning to online learning; however e-learning really encompasses any learning that is computer based,” Stephenson says. Over the years, this has evolved from CD-ROMs to Web-based learning and educational applications for PDAs and smart phones.
David Grant, DVM, president of Animal Care Technologies in Denton, Texas, says standardized training programs—in which every staff member participates in a clearly defined learning path—have long been key to successful businesses.
“One of the most profound changes to occur in veterinary staff training in recent years is the advent of online training,” he says. “Today’s generation has been raised on the Internet and strongly prefers to access their training through this media.”
Why Online Works
Dr. Grant says online training, such as the programs offered by Animal Care Technologies, provides benefits including:
- 24/7 access to materials from the home or office.
- The ability to track a staff member’s progress.
- The ability to easily update material as information becomes available.
- Pay-as-you-go models that eliminate the need for major lump purchases of training materials.
Grant says online training should offer a customized curriculum for every position: receptionist, assistant, technician, kennel personnel and management.
“The soft skills, such as exceptional customer service, often get overlooked in training,” he says. “Many hospitals focus on the technical aspects of training, such as vaccines and flea lifecycles, but fail to spend time providing clear instructions on how to interact with the pet owner. These skills can and should be taught to every staff member.”
Nanette Walker Smith, RVT, content and CE director at the Veterinary Support Personnel Network (VSPN.org), says on-site conferences can be costly, so a wide variety of continuing education options have emerged, including webinars and online meetings.
“Non-interactive CE still exists for those wishing to just read information and take a competency test,” says Smith, of Monument, Colo.
Interactive online CE, such as that offered by VSPN and its parent organization, Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), has advanced to include audio, case scenarios, real-time polls, games, videos and more.
That said, Smith still loves on-site CE, such as that offered by professional industry organizations. “I thoroughly investigate the topics and tracks before committing to going,” she says.
Smith recommends that practice owners start small on learning events.
“Test the waters with the entire team. Short, quick CE like an industry luncheon or local VMA/VTA sessions are cost effective and can be a great way to get a group together to learn,” she says. “Sometimes it’s a good camaraderie builder to get groups of practices together for a paid speaker or wet lab.”
Valerie Goodwin-Adams, director of marketing for animal health at Abaxis Inc. in Union City, Calif., sees a growing trend in CE programs offered by veterinary medical associations. Abaxis sponsors programs in which attendees receive complimentary CE while attending dinner with their peers.
The company also offers an online CE program, Abaxis University, which boasts a variety of courses.
“We have also noted that many practices will attend an Abaxis University course, a la ‘Lunch and Learn,’ as a group during the lunch hour, which obviously saves time and creates the group learning dynamic,” she adds.
Grace Long, DVM, director of veterinary technical marketing at Nestlé Purina in St. Louis, notes that most major veterinary companies offer some kind of training. “The benefits are that it covers a wide range of areas and it’s generally free,” she says. “Sometimes, however, it’s simply product training. This can be good, but limiting.”
Purina offers Daily Nutrition Matters, an online program that provides a total of 12 CE hours. The program provides technicians, veterinarians and other staff members with general nutritional education.
“We feel that if veterinary staff and professionals have a better understanding of nutrition, it’s a win for us all,” Dr. Long says. “The principles of good nutrition can be applied to any diet.”
Abbott Animal Health of Abbott Park, Ill., offers an online CE program called AbbottAnimalHealthCE.com. Veterinarians and technicians can earn CE credits from home or the clinic.
Lynn Bromstedt, divisional vice president and general manager of Abbott Animal Health, says each of the free lessons, or modules, is presented by an expert in the field.
Launched last year, the Abbott program’s first topical focus was fluid therapy.
“Many veterinarians and technicians who have completed modules at Abbott-AnimalHealthCE.com have noted that they would be interested in a similar approach to diabetes topics. [That’s] an area we are developing and plan to launch this summer in addition to the fluid therapy and anesthesia modules currently available,” Bromstedt said.
Whether online, in person or by another means, the importance of veterinary staff training and continuing education can’t be understated.
“The neat thing about the availability of resources,” says VSPN’s Smith, “is there is something for almost everyone—multiple ways of addressing multiple learning styles.” <HOME>
This article first appeared in the April 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News