If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that a more flexible way of working would be beneficial for your career progression, you aren’t alone. The link between flexible working and career development was highlighted in a veterinary women survey from 2021, which revealed that 33% of respondents said that flexible working and part-time hours could allow more women greater opportunities to use their skillset at work. As well as giving us opportunities to fit our work around family commitments, caring responsibilities, hobbies and travel, flexible working has also been adopted by organisations to help their employee wellbeing and can help employers to retain staff.

Shona McIntyre

Shona McIntyre, Head of Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Surrey, works as a small animal senior lecturer, teaching undergraduates mostly in the clinical years of their course. As well as working five days a week, she also has a three-year-old daughter and until very recently, worked as a PDP Dean for the RCVS and sat on a number of RCVS working parties.

When asked about how she navigates flexible hours, she said: “Flexible working has become much easier since the pandemic when it became more of a necessity. During lockdown, I was working full time with a small baby at home and had to be able to adapt to working slightly different hours. There are times when there is little flexibility, for example, when face-to-face teaching or assessments are happening but at other times I have managed to work in a different pattern. Being able to leave early if I need to collect my daughter and then catch up in the evening has relieved some of the pressures of childcare, which many parents find difficult.”

Racking up your CPD hours

Something that many veterinary professionals who work flexibly (or who are considering asking their employer for more flexible hours) may find challenging is how to stay on top of the required annual CPD hours. The number of hours needed is 35 for vets and 15 for VNs. Although completing this may seem daunting, there are some easy tips and tricks that can make racking up your CPD hours much more manageable.  

Jenny Soreskog Turp

“More counts as CPD than many people realise,” explains Jenny Soreskog Turp, the RCVS Lead for Postgraduate Education. “When you’re at work, try to have a think of any instances where you learned something new, solved a problem or went on a formal training course. All of those things will have counted as CPD and go towards the number of hours you need to complete.”

Shona explains that she has certain areas that she focuses on to help her manage her CPD. She said: “I tend to focus on a mix of clinical and non-clinical which I find really rewarding. I have found the online conferences, although great for accessibility, harder to engage with so instead I have gone to a couple of in-person conferences and find the networking which goes along with them really beneficial.

“I also found that in-house CPD in small groups is good for rebuilding relationships which have been lost slightly since the pandemic. For example, we have started doing journal clubs, which have opened some engaging discussions and we have started a scheme where, if someone goes to a conference, they come back and present the ‘best bits’ at a lunch meeting. As a result, everyone benefits from the CPD even if they could not attend.”

Flexible CPD options

”Flexible working often means choosing your hours to fit around other commitments, rather than cutting down on the amount of time you work. However, there are options for CPD that can be done in smaller chunks of time, to fit around busy schedules. One of Jenny’s suggestions is to have a look at CPD that can be done in, for example 20-minute blocks, that can be completed over several days. She said: “There are lots of organisations that run events, webinars and training that you can watch online. You can pause and come back to a video recording, which is a great way to take a little-and-often approach to CPD.”

Shona explains that she has changed the types of CPD she chooses to undertake. She said: “I think a bigger challenge for me with a young child is having to travel or commit to CPD in the evening or at a weekend. As a result, I have done less of these types of CPD in the past two years and I think this is where online CPD benefits those with commitments at home.”

Plan in advance

People who work flexibly are often brilliant at managing their time, so advice about not leaving your CPD to the last minute may seem obvious. At the start of the year, your CPD hours don’t look very high, but if you leave it until the last couple of months to get started, they can seem a bit overwhelming. Jenny said: “A good tip for managing your CPD is planning it out at the start of the year. For example, if you know you are going away for two weeks in the summer, it might be difficult to fit in CPD around your holiday and work. You could then plan to do more CPD in the Spring or the Autumn when you have a bit more spare time.”   

When asked about what advice she had for others who were trying to fit in their CPD hours alongside flexible working, Shona also cited having a plan in place. She said: “Try to cherry-pick activities or topics that are most beneficial to you and fit within your CPD plan. You can opt for webinars or on-demand content, which can be watched in the evening or weekends if you’re pressed for time in your working week.”

CPD can be a really rewarding and enriching part of the veterinary role, where you learn new skills and choose which areas of your work you want to improve upon. However, you won’t be alone if you have questions about the 1CPD app (the platform that tracks CPD and records reflections) or queries about what counts as CPD. Jenny explains that her team are always on-hand if anyone from the professions has any questions about their CPD. She said: “We are always happy to reply to questions about the professions’ CPD and would encourage anyone who is unsure about something to email cpd@rcvs.org.uk. As more workplaces start to consider offering flexible working, we are very keen to ensure that all veterinary professionals who work flexible hours feel they are supported with their CPD.”

Find out more about how the RCVS support lifelong learning: https://www.rcvs.org.uk/lifelong-learning/

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