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Veterinarian Technician January 2013 (Vol 34, No 1)

Setting Up an Educational Program in Your Hospital

by Lisa Kernaghan, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC)

    Many people who work in veterinary medicine or other medical fields enjoy that medicine is ever changing and, therefore, always allowing opportunities to learn and grow. Providing veterinary staff members with chances to learn and to gain new skills benefits not only them but also their hospital. Setting up an in-house educational program does not have to be difficult; a program can be as simple or as involved as you want to meet your staff’s needs. You may find that the rewards of having an educational program exceed the effort of starting and maintaining it.

    The Benefits of Education

    The benefits of increased staff training can be vast. Professional development can be a lifelong process that adds greatly to personal job satisfaction and increases the quality of patient care.1 The American Nurses Association endorses continuing education (CE) because it helps “develop and maintain continuing competence, enhance professional practice, support career goals, and ensure the quality of health care to the public.”1 These benefits certainly apply to veterinary CE and in-house education as well, and for veterinary professionals, “the public” comprises animals and people.

    A survey by Lou Harris and Associates showed that 41% of employees with few or no training opportunities planned to change jobs within a year.2 Among employees with superior training opportunities, only 12% planned to change jobs. This translates into an improved retention rate, decreasing (1) the need to hire new staff and (2) the costs associated with turnover.2

    Getting Started

    If you have never had an educational program at your hospital, setting one up does not have to be a daunting task. First, find out who is willing to contribute content to the program; then assess their training and their comfort level with different types of presentations. If a volunteer does not have much clinical experience or knowledge of a particular topic, assign him/her a mentor (i.e., a senior technician or a veterinarian). More experienced personnel can also be invited to prepare or moderate presentations. If you cannot find volunteers to present topics, the program could start as a journal club in which each “student” is asked to review an interesting article from the literature or to summarize a recent case in your hospital. Pick a date for the staff to meet, giving participants adequate time to review their information. At the meeting, discuss the merits of the article or case and how it may change or enhance your hospital’s procedures. Set up a schedule for submitting an article or a case for approval and for having regular meetings (e.g., monthly, bimonthly), ensuring that the dates do not conflict with your hospital’s routine. Another option is to invite specialists from local referring hospitals to speak on topics that will be helpful to your staff.

    Staff members who are interested in preparing presentations can be an important resource for helping to meet your hospital’s training goals. Staff members can choose topics of interest to them, or topics can be assigned by the program’s leader. Researching and preparing a presentation can be a great opportunity for staff members to become well versed in a subject, and sharing information with coworkers can be very empowering. Before each presentation, have a veterinarian or an experienced technician review the information to ensure its accuracy. If few staff members are interested in doing presentations, representatives from product companies can be invited to speak. Presentations by the latter would likely be based on the companies’ products, so you should ensure that the presentations are educational and are not just sales pitches.

    If only one staff member will be presenting topics, he or she should decide how often to make presentations and how much time to devote to preparation. The presenter can survey staff members for topic ideas, pick a subject, find information on it, download or print relevant articles, and prepare a packet. Presenters should use only credible sources of information, such as peer-reviewed print and online publications, university Web sites, and veterinary and medical association Web sites; Wikipedia articles cannot be considered reliable. After presentations, the staff can be given a set amount of time to review the information and then, possibly, tested on it to ensure that everyone understands it.

    There has been much discussion on differences in personal learning styles. Studies have shown that interactive presentations or hands-on laboratory sessions lead to better information retention than do written or oral presentations alone.3 Allowing participants to practice a skill can be a fun, effective method of learning. All hospitals should have regular cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) drills to ensure that all staff members are prepared. CPR training can be enhanced by using a Rescue Critters! mannequin, a model from CPR Savers (these models are more basic and are not designed for teaching intubation), or a cadaver. A team that has a plan and has practiced the necessary techniques will be more efficient in an emergency. With Rescue Critters! critical care mannequins, staff can practice venous access, endotracheal tube placement, and bandaging. If mannequins are not available, items such as baseball bats or wooden dowels can be used to practice bandaging. Fake legs with “veins” can be made from tubing from fish tanks or other products. Although this tubing does not feel the same as a real vein, it can be helpful for practicing the mechanics of intravenous catheter placement.

    If your hospital has a large staff or is interested in allowing employees time to further their education individually as their schedule allows, online programs are available (e.g., Mindflash, GoToTraining). Someone on your staff will have use one of these online systems to set up your presentations, which can then be sent to your staff. If you set up your programs to include quizzes and tests, your educational program administrator can be automatically notified when a participant has completed a section and whether he or she passed the quiz or test. These programs have fee structures based on the number of participants. You should be able to find programs that fit your hospital’s budget and needs.

    Recognition of Effort

    Although in-house educational programs do not typically qualify for state or national CE accreditation, you can make unofficial certificates for your program’s participants. Both participants and presenters will appreciate recognition of their effort, which can be considered when performance evaluations and/or raises are given.

    If you are interested in the criteria for CE accreditation, go online to the American Association of Veterinary State Boards and investigate the “RACE” (Registry of Approved Continuing Education) section at the top right of the home page.


    Having a good in-house educational program can benefit any veterinary facility. Helping staff members to grow and to reach their potential can make them happier and increase the level of patient care, which benefits employees, employers, patients, and clients. The time and effort involved in an in-house educational program will be paid back many times over.

    1. American Nurses Association. http://www.nursingworld.org/FunctionalMenuCategories/FAQs. Accessed August 2012.

    2. Dubois L. How to implement a continuing education program. Inc. August 18, 2010.

    3. Wieman C. Science education in the 21st century: using the tools of science to teach science. Proc Focus Forum 2008:61-64.

    References »

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