We spent years studying to get to where we are now, and for some, once we have that degree or post graduate certificate, that’s where the learning stops. That’s pretty short sighted! The skills and information we learnt during our initial studies are nowhere near enough to carry us through this fast-paced, ever-evolving field we have chosen. As veterinary rehabilitation therapists, we have to be constantly learning. It’s not a desirable added extra for when we have the time and budget. Continuing education is a must.
Continuing education is not just about being competent. It’s about progressing from competence to excellence. It is also about upholding the standards and reputation of our profession. If you fail to keep up with new knowledge, skills and scientific information you may actually be putting the whole profession in jeopardy. One ill-informed vet rehab therapist can easily give the rest of us a bad name.
Remember that as knowledge grows, not keeping up means slipping backwards. Preventing skill and knowledge deterioration is our responsibility. We need to acknowledge this and take control of our own continuing education. We’re no longer forced to study to get the minimum competency; we’re now at the stage where we take our career growth into our hands and learn willingly!
Experience = performance
In a systematic review on human physicians, it was noted that performance frequently decreased as experience increased (Niteesh et al., 2005). Pretty surprising! Many who have been in the field a long time believe that their experience outweighs their need to engage in continued education. Your experience may well have imparted superior clinical abilities, but the reality is that keeping up to date via journals is not enough in this profession. We need to learn from one another, because formal research in our field is not keeping up with anecdotal and clinical experience. Discoveries are being made about new techniques and therapies, and we may hear about them first from our colleagues. Often it’s only years later that someone takes the initiative to try and prove or disprove the findings that are being made now.
So don’t be too quick to assume you have nothing to learn from your younger, less experienced colleague giving a talk at the practice down the road. Be humble and encouraging, for by listening, you might be privy to exciting new findings and techniques that you have not even considered. That younger colleague of yours may very well be a future leader and innovator in our field.
Making it a discipline
Participation in CE should be a constant in any professional’s life. Sustained professional learning is unlikely to be achieved through sporadic bursts of CE. We really have to be life-long learners, and schedule time and money for regular participation in various forms of continuing education.
If you’re not yet convinced, here’s a list of reasons to keep up with CE:
- Remain compliant: Most councils and associations have a minimum requirement of CE hours per year or three-year cycle.
- Increase your clinical competence.
- Ensure salary advancement and certification.
- Obliterate feelings of inadequacy; enjoy a sense of confidence as your knowledge expands!
- Be a part of a community and socialize – you never know what may emerge from new friendships and associations.
- Gain the knowledge to expand and improve your practice.
A study of physical therapists found that 96.2% of them believed they had improved as therapists due to participation in CE (Austin 2007). We should learn not just in order to tick compliance boxes, but because we have a strong motivation to become better at what we do.
To me, there are two aspects to CE:
This entails just keeping up to date, refreshing old knowledge and adding to it on a weekly basis. It needs to be sustainable and we need to allocate time for it – whether we plan to watch a webinar recording, listen to a podcast, read a journal, watch a ‘research refresher’ or read a textbook. We really have to structure this into our week and make it a priority.
Here’s where we look at our weaknesses and consider CE tailored to the area where we’re lacking. You might also consider improving knowledge in an area of interest, so that you become known as a therapist with a special interest and ability in a niche area of our profession. These learning opportunities might be in the form of workshops, courses or conferences; online or in person.
‘But I can’t afford it’
My answer to that is that you can’t afford not to do CE. When we were at college or university we (or our parents) had to pay for that knowledge. Well, knowledge has not stopped, and if you have, you are slipping behind. We have to budget for CE, just as we budget for other things.
‘I don’t have enough time’
You’ll be amazed at how much time you have when you make something a priority. Block out time on a weekly basis to continue to learn. If time management is an issue, click here to learn how to maximize your time with this free training.
In summary, my five top tips for continuing education, even when we feel we’re not up to it:
- Decide that excellence is going to motivate you, not CE compliance.
- Decide on a monthly CE budget and stick to it.
- Commit to weekly learning by prioritizing time for it.
- Evaluate your weaknesses and make a decision as to how you will address them.
- Don’t be a ‘clever clogs’. Be humble. You can never know everything there is to know.
Lastly, enjoy the process. We’re really not here on earth to stagnate. We have chosen an exciting field and most of us are highly motivated, because this is a profession with both heart and head. Therefore we have a lot to learn from one another. Take advantage of the learning opportunities you can, and watch your confidence and career soar.
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