One of the responsibilities of every veterinarian is to stay abreast of medical and surgical advances. This is accomplished through continuing education (CE) offerings. As part of licensing requirements, vets must accrue CE credits for license renewal.
For most, this is something we would do anyway, simply for the love of learning and the need to keep up with cutting-edge changes in the industry. But because there is a cost in terms of both time and expense, it helps to find ways to make the most of CE opportunities.
The Registry of Approved Continuing Education (RACE) program established by the American Association of Veterinary Boards authorizes which venues qualify to provide accepted CE credits. Its mission statement is as follows: “The purpose of the RACE program is to develop and apply uniform standards related to providers and programs of continuing education in veterinary medicine. The objective is to approve CE that consists of educational activities that serve to maintain, develop or increase the knowledge, skills and professional performance and relationships that veterinary medical professionals use to provide services for patients, the public or the profession.”
RACE-approved opportunities can be seminars and lectures; labs or wet labs; web-based, teleconference or audioconference learning that is interactive at a distance; or as independent self-study programs that are tested and graded. Many vets take advantage of seminars, conferences and conventions because of the quality of the educational experience and the number of credits accrued in one setting.
Veterinary publications and special membership publications often list upcoming educational opportunities. The AVMA journal and website, the AAEP website and Diplomate specialty programs keep practitioners abreast of upcoming CE seminars. Worldwide, there are many other educational opportunities, such as those offered by BEVA (British Equine Veterinary Association) and WEVA (World Equine Veterinary Association). State and regional veterinary organizations and veterinary colleges also offer annual conventions to licensed practitioners.
Locating an appropriate seminar, program or conference is often as easy as going online and accessing those organizations’ websites or looking through veterinary journals. Usually there is a list of speakers and topics that will be presented so you can peruse the content of the seminar and see whether it fits with your interests and practice needs. For information about worldwide vet conferences for all species, the International Veterinary Information Service (IVIS) monthly newsletter is available at ivis.org.
Many large conferences also incorporate a trade show for evaluating and purchasing products and equipment. Perusing the trade show can be educational on many levels, complementing the content of the CE program. (See “Shopping at Trade Shows,” EquiManagement magazine, July 2015, or search for the title on EquiManagement.com.)
AAEP CE Programs
One excellent way to maximize your CE opportunities is to review the offerings from the American Association of Equine Practitioners available on its website. A primary objective of the AAEP is to provide its members with cutting edge continuing education. Sally Baker, the AAEP director of marketing and public relations, explained the organization’s mission statement: “CE is the foundation of the AAEP, and the primary reason and driving force for formation of the organization. The original objective in forming the AAEP in the 1950s was to share ideas, topics and treatments from practitioners throughout the USA, moving the experiences beyond each veterinarian’s local community. Today, this has expanded to a networking of equine practitioners throughout the world.”
The AAEP used to have only one big convention during the winter, but now the organization has scheduled numerous educational opportunities throughout the year, specifically targeting the equine practitioner. The programs are varied in topic and content, as well as location. P. O. Eric Mueller, DVM, PhD, DACVS, of the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine and chair of the AAEP Educational Committee, remarked, “The AAEP provides CE that is relevant to equine practice and current to equine veterinarians of all abilities and disciplines, providing information that they can take home and immediately incorporate into their practices. Offerings include state-of-the art information related to medical and surgical advances, reproduction and sports medicine, along with reinforcing the anatomic, physiologic and pharmaceutical rationale behind various treatments.”
The AAEP tries to deliver programs that are well received by people with a variety of abilities, including students, new graduates and every level of practitioner. At the annual convention, there is something for everyone, said Mueller.
Baker noted, “Supporting strategies for this objective are to continually assess member CE needs to ensure the AAEP is developing education opportunities driven by member preference; create a culture of innovation in CE delivery; and continue to enhance the quality of the Annual Convention, the AAEP’s flagship event.”
Every couple of years, a survey is sent to AAEP members asking which CE issues are important. The responses guide topics to include in future conventions. As an example, many practitioners recently requested that ethics be addressed, and the 2016 keynote speaker will focus on that.
In selecting topics for the AAEP annual convention, Mueller described a three-year grid that is considered, with offerings of more than 130 hours of continuing education during the three-and-a-half-day meeting. The CE committee examines major areas of emphasis, such as medicine, lameness, surgery, reproduction, dentistry, ethics, business and complementary therapies, as a few examples. The large, general topics are repeated over a three- to four-year cycle; then each topic is narrowed further into specific specialized topics. This enables the CE committee to keep track of offerings so that important areas of education are not overlooked. The educational programs committee peer reviews the submitted and invited papers, as well as the overall meeting agenda.
Mueller explained, “For example, in 2016, the large topics include lameness, imaging and medicine, as well as a special niche that provided information on current issues, such as the EHV-1 outbreak and the FDA ruling on regenerative medicine therapies. This delivers timely information without having to wait until the following year’s meeting. Other topics included at the AAEP Annual Convention are emerging medical issues, and also the AAEP Touch session that helps practitioners develop relationships with their clients to foster improvements in their practices."
CE on business matters is provided in several sessions for those wishing to improve business acumen and the bottom line of their practices.
The Table Topic sessions at the annual convention provide an interactive learning experience, with practitioners weighing in on their clinical experiences and expertise about a particular topic. This format gives audience members a chance to voice questions or provide information. Table Topics have now become a main feature of the annual convention, with a choice of seven to eight topics and sessions each afternoon.
An attendee at the AAEP Annual Convention can achieve up to 32 hours of CE if attending all possible presentations during the convention, in addition to the benefits of having a large trade show on-site. The AAEP also provides a cell phone and tablet app that gives the schedule, information about the speakers and complete papers from the proceedings. These documents are easily accessed so you can have a chance to review information before attending a session.
Two AAEP Focus meetings are offered each year, with approximately 150-200 vets in attendance. Each two-and-a-half day meeting is an in-depth look at a variety of topics, with classes such as “The Breeding Shed,” “Soft Tissue Lameness in Performance Horses” or “Diagnostic Imaging” as a few 2016 examples.
Most of the presentations are in lecture format with some panel-audience interactive sessions. Generally, six to seven speakers present selected topics, and the evening social events enable attendees to interact with the presenters. The summer Focus session also included a student meeting concentrating on hands-on skills.
At least once a year, the AAEP puts on a 360 meeting, which combines lecture, lab and hands-on experience, usually in an academic setting. The 360 meetings focus on one subject viewed from many vantage points of diagnostic and therapeutic options. For 2016, the 360 meeting is entitled “Pain in the Neck,” and it provides 31.5 hours of CE credit. The topics at the 360 session will be presented by 13 instructors. While this format is the most expensive of the AAEP offerings, these 360 seminars are limited to only 20-25 people, which allows attendees invaluable individual instruction.
AAEP Resort Symposium
The AAEP Resort Symposium offered in the winter features in-depth topics presented in exotic places (Hawaii, Barbados and New Zealand in recent years). While these venues make for attractive family vacations, attendees also gain the benefit of tax write-offs for the those portions of their trips that are related to CE.
About 100-150 veterinarians attend the three-day Resort Symposium, which features half-day sessions, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the tropical environment.
Other Equine CE Offerings
Every three years, an international colic and research symposium alternates between the British Isles and the United States. This program is sponsored by the University of Georgia and the United Kingdom, and it is supported by the AAEP.
Specialty organizations, such as the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology (ISELP), also host CE seminars. ISELP offers “advanced education in the field of equine lameness and osteoarticular locomotor system of the horse.”
International equine veterinary educational meetings, such as BEVA and WEVA, are available to provide practitioners a more global look at equine medicine while providing an opportunity to network with colleagues from around the world.
The AVMA website (avma.org/Events/ Calendar/Pages/default.aspx) also lists continuing education offerings. It is worthwhile to continually check the offerings, as new CE programs come up constantly, with some specifically targeting the equine practitioner.
Interactive digital and in-person CE have become increasingly popular options with CE seekers for all types of educational events, not just veterinary medicine. Baker said, “Attendees want the ability to interact with the information being delivered and those who are delivering it. This could be through audience discussions, which are moderated to allow attendees a Q&A period with the presenter, or it could be through hands-on learning like wet labs.”
The AAEP has an ad-hoc committee currently looking at more interactive ways of delivering information. One example is the use of cell phone apps that enable the audience to send messages and comments and to answer questions posed by the speaker. This gives the speaker immediate feedback as to how well she/he is communicating the message and how comprehensible it is to his/her audience. It also enables the attendee to “voice” ideas and thoughts that might stimulate further discussion by the presenter.
This desire for interaction extends to connecting with colleagues through networking. “Sometimes the most valuable experience that an attendee takes home from a CE meeting is the name and contact information for a colleague they have met while there. Networking is emphasized at the AAEP Annual Convention, and that event receives high marks from attendees for networking opportunities,” reported Baker.
There are about 9,300 AAEP members, including graduates and students, that now can network with a variety of people from around the world. Baker emphasized that this feature of the AAEP annual convention is important and relevant since horses are commonly traveling throughout the world. Such networking establishes professional relationships and is a significant portal to making these connections with veterinarians and clients. In essence, the AAEP becomes a supporting network for the equine industry.
University CE Conferences
Just about every veterinary college hosts an annual continuing education conference across all species. Many offer about 20 CE credits over the course of a few days, and the cost is usually under $500.
Some colleges, such as Colorado State University, offer short courses that combine lab sessions with classroom instruction for two to three days.
To find the schedule and costs, visit the website of the veterinary college at the location you are interested in attending.
State Vet Courses
State veterinary associations offer multiple CE opportunities. Although most focus on small animal issues, occasionally an equine practitioner can find an opportunity that targets her/his particular interest. The state association websites can be accessed by Googling your state of interest and “Veterinary Medical Association.” A full list of every state veterinary organization can also be found at the AVMA link avma.org by going to “Advocacy” and searching under “State & Local Issues” for “State VMAs.” Noted beneath the listing of every state is a link to its website. Within the websites are further links to “meetings” or “education.” There you will find a complete description of topics, speakers, schedules and fees.
Regional Vet Conferences
Regional veterinary conferences, such as the North American Veterinary Conference, the Southeast Veterinary Conference, the Southern Veterinary Conference or the Western States Veterinary Conference, as just a few examples, offer programs that target equine-oriented practitioners in addition to sections featuring other species.
Other regional venues, such as the Northeast Association of Equine Practitioners Symposium and the Florida Association of Equine Practitioners Promoting Excellence Symposium, focus exclusively on equine medicine and surgery.
There are many specialty CE opportunities offered throughout the country. The American College of Veterinary Surgeons’ annual convention is one example. There are also the equine arthroscopic courses offered at Colorado State University that integrate lectures and video presentations. Some advanced courses incorporate wet labs with lectures.
On some occasions, and similar to the AAEP Resort Symposium, CE events are held in locations that feature skiing, cycling, scuba diving or safaris, making that an attractive way to earn CE while taking a nice vacation and/or pursuing hobbies.
Pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers find that they can attract interest when their information is presented in a webinar qualified for RACE CE credits. Often the webinar is an hour long, which provides an hour of CE credit. In some cases, it is necessary to be online at the time of the offering; in others, the webcast can be accessed on demand.
There are also opportunities to attend industry dinners. Besides giving you a chance to network with colleagues and indulge in a good meal, these dinners can be quite informative.
With a little bit of searching, you can locate specific webinars online that provide CE credits and education to access at your convenience. These on-demand options often are associated with a cost, but usually provide 1 CE credit for an hour of content. One past example is the webinar on poisonous plants presented through CSU's Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
More online CE offerings with an equine focus will probably become available in the future. Washington State offers online courses that, although primarily small-animal oriented, include some general topics that apply to all species at apps. vetmed.wsu.edu/CVME/Event.
IDEXX offers a potpourri of online general topics at idexxlearningcenter.idexx.com.
Massey University at the University of New Zealand offers AVMA-accredited equine courses that combine face-to-face contact with distance learning, although these can be quite expensive.
The best way to reduce the costs of registration for seminars is through an annual membership with AAEP and/or a state/regional veterinary organization. Early registrants usually get a discounted price. Making an early decision to attend a course helps you to shop for the best prices in airline tickets and hotel rates.
Mueller noted that AAEP CE venues are heavily subsidized by many of the AAEP’s Educational Partners and other industry companies. A good portion of the registration fees are directed toward paying speakers and providing refreshments. Interestingly, Mueller said that the majority of AAEP post-meeting survey comments are directed primarily toward feedback about the speakers, the food and the location; rarely is cost mentioned. The educational value in attending a quality CE event usually far outweighs the financial cost of attending.
Other resources are available through the AAEP. Texas A&M provides a “Get It For Me” service where AAEP members can access publications and articles through an extensive online library. The link is getitforme.library.tamu.edu/msllocal/. If you find a publication that you want to read, but you don’t have a subscription to it, you can go to this link, sign in and request the specific article by providing information about the author, title, journal and issue. Within a few days, a link is sent via email for you to access the article.
IVIS (ivis.org) is a resource that provides documents such as conference proceedings, journal articles, books and book chapters. Registration for vets is free. The IVIS monthly newsletter also lists upcoming veterinary seminars throughout the world, as well as some distance learning opportunities.
Although not always associated with CE RACE-approved credits, Get It For Me and IVIS are invaluable resources that enable practitioners to access cutting-edge information for practical application. Through these resources, the standard of care for equine patients can be maximized.
Equine veterinarians are in the business of maintaining the health and well-being of horses. Mueller noted that the majority of veterinarians acquire CE from multiple sources. He advised vets to try to get involved with the best education, topics and diversity for their dollars spent.
Finding the best course for you to achieve these objectives is often a matter of accessing university, regional, state, AVMA, AAEP and Diplomate websites. He encouraged everyone to delve into specifics about the agendas and the speakers at an upcoming event before committing to attend that conference. “This ensures that expectations match up with the reality of the conference’s offerings and ensures the greatest satisfaction from the educational experience,” he remarked.
Practitioners will find CE of immeasurable value for improving knowledge and skill sets, improving networking with colleagues and staying current with cutting-edge advances in the industry.