Tag Archives: CPD

Blurring the Lines – A New Digital Approach to Immersive Veterinary Education

“The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.” These words, spoken by the philosopher Herbert Spencer, ring true and can, in my opinion, also be applied inversely. That is to say action delivers great education. For far too long the accepted model for delivering knowledge and training professionals such as vets has been to sit them all down in a lecture hall, drone on at them for hours on end, demand that they go off, read, write the odd essay and complete the occasional project, and then ask them to cram all of that supposed knowledge into their brains ready to regurgitate at will during the course of an exam or nine.
Granted there are also practical elements to most of these programmes, whether it be dissection, physiology labs or animal handling, but the bulk of the training has always been delivered in much the same manner: didactic instruction. For some this approach works and they go away retaining everything that they have heard. For most, however, myself included, it represents a dated and unbelievably inefficient method. Hence the need to condemn weeks to tedious, stress-induced revision before the big assessments. I always found it much easier, way less stressful and frankly more fun to learn by actually doing, seeing, touching or otherwise interacting with the subject matter at hand. Most of what I recall from anatomy training, for example, are the random little moments in the dissection lab when I recall physically holding a specimen and examining it. I can’t for the life of me easily recall a specific moment when I turned to a textbook page and had a piece of knowledge stick in perpetuity.
Whilst it is acknowledged by many educators that practical instruction has better outcomes in terms of understanding and long-term knowledge and skills retention, the fact of the matter is that preparing and delivering a lecture is significantly cheaper, quicker and easier to achieve, whilst the results of that labor can be shared far more widely than a practical session. In terms of resources, acquiring digital photos, videos and other screen-based media is far less costly and labor intensive than drawing together and delivering a tangible, practical learning tool, such as an anatomy specimen. Some of these barriers, I believe, are now finally being lifted and the costs, both in terms of time, effort and direct financial outlay, are narrowing between the old and the digital new. The implications for education and training at every level of schooling, from kids’ first school experience right through to professional CPD (continuing professional development), is profound and I wish to explore why I believe that to be so.

Mixed Reality & Virtual Reality

I first experienced both mixed reality and high-end virtual reality in 2015 and again in 2016 when I volunteered at the Augmented World Expo in Silicon Valley. The power of both technologies to fundamentally change how education outcomes are achieved and training delivered was clearly evident and left me convinced that the future of medical, including veterinary, education was in the application of these new immersive tools.
HoloLens, AWE 2016
Microsoft’s HoloLens offers users the ability to experience mixed reality

In 2016 I was fortunate enough to be at one of the conference parties where someone happened to have two Microsoft HoloLens headsets and was demonstrating them to the small crowd of curious nerds that had gathered around him. Well, I was one of those nerds and before long had the pleasure of donning one of the sets and so was introduced to the wonders of true mixed reality.

AWE 2016, HoloLens
Interacting with objects in mixed reality is as simple as reaching out and ‘touching’ them.

Much like a small welding mask, in both look and feel, the HoloLens is essentially a set of transparent screens that sit in one’s field of view by means of the headstraps that keep the device in place. Whilst not especially comfortable and certainly not something anyone is going to ever be in a rush to wear out in public on account of looking, frankly, ridiculous, the experience that it delivered was compelling. With the use of a simple gesture, specifically an upward ‘throwing’ movement, a menu popped into view suspended perfectly in mid-air and crystal clear as if it were right there in the real world in plain sight of everyone around me. Of course it wasn’t and the only person able to see this hologram was me. Selecting from the menu was as simple as reaching out and ‘touching’ the desired option and within seconds a holographic representation of the Earth was spinning languidly before me. I could ‘pick up’, ‘move’ and otherwise manipulate the item in front of me as though it were a physical object, and if I did move it, for example off to the right, out of my field of view, that is precisely where it remained and where I found it again when I turned back round. The human body application was similarly cool, as I was able to explore the various layers of anatomy through interaction with a highly rendered hologram. Whilst comical for onlookers not wearing a HoloLens, as I appeared to apparently be pawing away at thin air like someone suffering a particularly lucid acid hallucination, the thrill of what I was actually seeing and engaging with myself allowed me to ignore my daft appearance.


What are the medical education applications for such mixed reality technology? Whilst holographic visual representations of anatomy are, at first, a magical phenomemon to experience and a pretty cool party piece, it is the fact that mixed reality sees realistic holograms merged, or so it appears to the user, onto the real world, in contrast to virtual reality, which replaces the real world experience with an entirely digital one, that lends itself to unique educational applications. Anatomy instruction by being able to accurately overlay and track in real-time deeper layers onto a real-world physical specimen, enabling students to understand the wider context in which various anatomical structures sit is a far more compelling and useful application of MR than a simple floating graphic. Similarly, surgical training involving holographic overlays onto a real-world, physical object or combined with haptic technology to elicit tactile feedback, offers the potential to deliver programmable, repeatable, easily accessible practical training with minimal expense and zero waste on account of there being no need to have physical biological specimens.


Imagine: a fully-functional and resourced dissection and surgical training lab right there in your clinic or home and all at the press of a digital button. Imagine how confident you would become at that new, nerve-wracking surgical procedure if you had the ability to practice again and again and again, physically making the required cuts and placing the necessary implant, being able to make the inevitable mistakes that come with learning anything new but at zero risk to your patient. Being able to step up to the surgical plate for real and carry out that same procedure that you have rehearsed and developed refined muscle memory for, feeling the confidence that a board-certified specialist with years of experience has, and all without having had to put a single animal at risk – that’s powerful. That’s true action-based education at it’s most compelling and it is a future that both VR and MR promises.


I predict that the wide adoption of graphically rich, immersive and realistic digital CPD programmes, through both VR and MR, will result in a renewed engagement of professionals with CPD training and ultimately lead to more confident, skilled, professionally satisfied and happier clinicians. I, for one, know that were I able to complete practical CPD by simply donning a headset and loading up a Vive or HoloLens experience from the comfort and convenience of my clinic or home, all whilst still being able to interact in real-time with colleagues both physically present and remote, my CPD record would be bursting at the seams. That has to be a great thing for the profession, our clients and society in general.

London Vet Show – Buzzing!

LVS 2012, Main ExhibitionI love vet congresses and see them always remaining an important part of our professional lives, not only in terms of CPD, which I actually think is probably delivered more effectively now through other mediums, especially online methods, but more in terms of the fact that they provide the single best way of bringing vets, and those involved in delivering veterinary services, together under one roof. The advantages of this were evident during the two days of the London Vet Show, held at London Olympia in Kensington, at which I had the pleasure of meeting up with loads of friends, from both former and current jobs, vet school and industry contacts. There is no other way that you would expect to just be able to bump into someone whom you might not have seen for five years and for it to feel as though you were still at vet school. I think most vets would agree that the best bit about congresses such as LVS is the social aspect.

It wasn’t all hanging out with friends and flexing my social muscles though, with lots to achieve during the two days, including gathering research and images for an article I have been working on for the veterinary press, discuss careers issues with members of the veterinary profession, and expanding my veterinary knowledge by attending lectures. Perhaps it would be easier to give you an insight into a vet congress by guiding you through my two days…


Day 1: Hypercalcaemia & Competition Marathon

  • An early start for an early train for an early arrival in London. Clutching my pass I entered the impressive, expansive, timeless space of Olympia in London and en-route to my first lecture of the day was immediately distracted by an exciting new piece of technology: a simple to use ECG (VetCor) that reads out on an iPhone or iPod Touch and was as simple to use as can be. Definitely one for the blog! Getting through the exhibition hall, which is huge and packed full of various stands ranging from the big pet food and drug companies, to small independent suppliers of a range of services and products, to veterinary groups and specialists, is difficult without being drawn into perusing the stands or stopping to talk to those you know. I definitely needed to keep focused on my aim of getting into my first lecture of the day, on calcium disorders in animals, and made it into the huge lecture area to take up a seat, funnily enough, next to an old friend from Bristol Vet School.


  • An excellent lecture during which I learn’t a good couple of nuggets of clinically relevant information which I can take back to my day to day work as a vet. Right, time for a coffee with another vet school friend.


  • Another lecture to attend, although I quickly realise that it is not the one I thought it was going to be and turns out not to be too interesting. Still, it is a good opportunity to fill out all of the various competition slips in the congress handbook in preparation to hand them in at the various company stands and hopefully win some cool prizes, with the chances of securing an iPad appearing pretty good on account of virtually every stand offering one as a prize! The London Vet Show does offer delegates some pretty amazing chances to win great prizes, with the main prize for collecting a variety of stamps from across a range of exhibiting companies being a safari in Africa, organised by the awesome team at The Worldwide Veterinary Service, WVS.


  • The next few hours are a blur of competition entering, discussing new developments in veterinary and the various products and services on offer, including some very interesting new tech, and just hanging out with friends over lunch. Tickets to the London Vet Show include a bag containing an official show guide, including synopses of the lectures, and important show information, the aforementioned competition slips and lunch is included as well, which we collected from the centre of the beautiful main Olympia hall, where the exhibition was taking place.


  • If I had been more organised and booked in advance then I would have spent the afternoon attending one of the practical sessions delivered by veterinary specialists Dick White Referrals. As it turned out, these sessions proved to be very popular and so were booked up early. As useful as lectures can be, I definitely feel that practical CPD is the most useful as a lot of what we do in our jobs as vets is very practical in nature and I am sure you can all appreciate how much more effective it is to learn to do something by, well, actually doing it. Still, maybe next year.


  • An afternoon lecture on feline triaditis, which I found myself watching from a very comfortable reclined position on the floor, due to the fact that the big lecture room was packed. I must admit that it was very tempting to catch a few Z’s during the lecture – not a comment on the interest level but more a reflection of the fact that I had just had lunch and found myself in a very comfortable position laying on the floor watching the lecture on one of the many video screens around the room.


  • Another round of exhibition touring before attending a small Cuban cocktail party being hosted by a referral centre and yet more catching up with former lecturers and friends. A decent warm up to another drinks reception at the nearby Hilton, hosted by webinar provider, The Webinar Vet, complete with pizza, meaning that dinner was sorted 🙂


  • Quick drop off of bags at my (over-priced, yet conveniently located) hotel and it was off out into Kensington to find a pub for a few drinks and a good evening of chatting with a good friend. Lots of delegates were at the Vets Now party, which was the official party of the show, and saw the guests entertained in dazzling fashion by, amongst other treats, a fire-eating display. We vets sure do know how to party!


  • Not enough sleep before getting to do it all over again….


Day 2: Tech & Vet Education

  • Its always a good idea to fuel up well at breakfast when attending any vet shows, as there is a lot of walking around to do and you sure do need the energy. All fuelled up, it was straight back into research for the article and meetings with vets involved in the new book I am working on.


  • The first talk of the day for me was a small group session with Noel Fitzpatrick, of Fitzpatrick Referrals, during which we spent a good hour learning about elbow dysplasia and the exciting new developments in veterinary orthopaedics. I am always amazed at what is now possible, and pioneering vets like Noel continue to push the boundaries.


  • The next lecture was unfortunately so popular that I was not able to even get into the hall and so it was back to the exhibition for some more perusing and research.


  • Lunch with a friend and a really good discussion about veterinary education and the future of the profession. We both agreed that the next ten years are going to be very interesting in terms of the anticipated changes in the veterinary labour market.


  • As much as my mind was willing and I had every intention of attending another lecture, the fact is I still had so much to do in the main exhibition, with the rest of the afternoon involving tying off loose ends and bringing the two days to a close.


  • A cheeky curry and a few pints with some vet school friends before getting the wrong train home and a later than expected return!

As you can see, veterinary congresses are a really great way to pack in a range of CPD opportunities, including some practicals, whilst also offering one of the best ways to catch up with all those friends from vet school and the wider profession who you may not have seen since the previous year. Yet another good year and looking forward to the next one.

Conference Season – Fun & Learning

Vets don’t stop learning the minute they leave vet school. In fact, quite the contrary. CPD, or Continuing Professional Development, is something that we all have to keep up with in order to retain our MRCVS registration and as well as reading, Webinars, practical courses, and in-house presentations and talks, much of the CPD we complete is delivered via conferences and shows. These are a great chance to add to our knowledge, by attending lectures, presentations and workshops by recognised experts, as well as meet various companies and other relevant organisations in the exhibition hall, and meet up with friends and colleagues. Conferences are as much social events as they are educational exercises, and I personally love the fact that I get to easily catch up with friends who I might not have seen since vet school.

Two of the conferences and congresses going on at this time of year are the following:

British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA) Congress

British Cattle Veterinary Association15th – 17th November, The International Telford Centre, Telford. This is the place to be if you’re involved in cattle practice. Close to the Harper Adams College University, Telford is the perfect site for the UK’s cattle vets to get together to discuss all aspects of cattle production, from dairy to beef, and to get in some serious CPD.

The London Vet Show (Small Animals)

London Vet ShowThis is the one I am heading to and runs for two days (15th and 16th November) at London Olympia. It is a relatively new congress yet has grown steadily, offering a really good range of CPD opportunities, including the BVA (British Veterinary Association) Careers stream and several practical workshops, as well as a big trade show and dedicated Party Night.