After at least five years of full time study at veterinary school, you’ve finally qualified as a vet. Your head is stuffed full of the latest facts and figures about veterinary science. You know from seeing practice that you have learned as much theory as anyone else on the broad topic of veterinary medicine and surgery. Yes, of course you need to complement this academic knowledge with practical skills. But surely, surely, you can now put the books down and stop studying?
The truth – which you need to know – is that life as a vet means that you will never be able to stop studying. Veterinary knowledge and skills continue to advance at a phenomenal rate. Whilst the average pet owner may not feel that the latest technological advances have any relevance to old Jessie lying asleep in the corner of the living room, it is surprising how rapidly new surgical techniques and medicines filter down to the vet in practice. And if you want to be a competent vet, you need to keep learning this new information for the entirety of your career.
The new knowledge is passed on in four main ways - veterinary journals, by conferences and courses, in text books, and finally, through the internet.
Veterinary journals used to be the main way that vets kept up to date: a weekly or monthly magazine would be pored over, with new facts being picked up and retained. Vets used to take part in journal clubs where nuggets would be shared. These days, while the printed version of journals is not so widely read, the principle remains the same. It’s worth reading the latest publications in the professional veterinary arena so that you can keep up to date with the newest thoughts on a wide range of diseases, techniques, medicines and investigations.
Veterinarytext books have suffered a similar fate to journals: every vet clinic used to have a comprehensive library of up to date text books. Most clinics still do have a library, but the online world has presented a high bar of keeping continually up to date that is difficult for books to compete with. Many veterinary clinic libraries are now smaller than in the past. Still, a good text book is a rich reference source that should be part of all vets’ staple diet of ongoing, life long study.
Veterinary conferences are also a major source of new information. Typically, there will be hundreds of lectures over a few days, all aiming to teach vets in practice how they can apply the latest advances to their own general veterinary work. A conference programme often provides choice, covering every aspect of pet illness from heart failure in cats to sore ears in dogs. Every vet who attends such conferences comes home with enthusiasm, energised with new ideas for tackling old disease problems. Specific courses – covering particular topics of interest, such as ultrasound, dentistry or any other subject of interest – are also available. These are particularly valuable when hands-on skills need to be learned: the concept of the “wet lab” is a good example of how study can involve more than sitting in a quiet room reading a book.
The internet of 2018 has a multitude of websites and discussion forums where vets can discover new and better ways of treating pets. Whether you are doing specific online webinars or courses, or just browsing through professional resources, online study is likely to be the mainstay of your future life in continuing education.
Study doesn’t need to rule – or ruin – the life of a vet, but it does need to have a strong place in all of our lives. The joy of learning is something that vets need to foster: if we want to give our patients the best possible care, we need to have the best possible knowledge. And we can only gather that from continuing to study and learn, for our entire careers.