Continuing education (CE) credits can help refine the skills a practitioner already knows and address new challenges, plus help practitioners grow their practice and business.
Current and past winners of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) AgriLabs Dr. Bruce Wren Continuing Education Award helped meet the needs of their clients by strategically earning relevant CE credits.
Applicants for the $5,000 grant can be up to ten years removed from graduating with a doctorate of veterinary medicine. The timeline encourages newer veterinarians to earn skills that fill a niche within a community or practice.
“One of our goals at AgriLabs is to arm practitioners with the tools they need to stay ahead of the curve,” says Steve Schram, AgriLabs president and CEO. “The Dr. Bruce Wren Continuing Education Award allows us to do so by providing individuals the ability to complete those CE courses they are looking for to enhance their practice.”
Even without the incentive of a grant application, carefully considering CE selections can help veterinarians, producers and practices thrive. In addition, online courses can lessen the sting of being away from the clinic.
Listening to Clients
Becky Funk, DVM, MS, at Rushville Veterinary Clinic in Rushville, NE, focuses her continuing education credits on topics at the top of her producers’ minds.
“I pick up CE and try to get ahead of what I’m seeing my producers talk about,” Dr. Funk says. “I’ll pick up things and bring them back to producers. There are holes that need to be filled.”
Her clients’ focus on profitability  drove Dr. Funk to participate in the weeklong Ranching for Profit course. She participated with help from a Dr. Wren Continuing Education Award.
“I pride myself on helping producers look at both the medical and economic side,” Dr. Funk says. “If they aren’t profitable, I’m out of a job. It will give me a broader base to help work them through decisions, whether it be culling decisions looking at productivity or things like that. I’d like the opportunity to sit down and do some consulting with the cow-calf guys.”
Last year, Dr. Funk worked at a practice evenly split between breeding herds and feedlot clients. This year, she moved to an area predominantly working with cow-calf operators, which will make good use of her CE investment.
Even though she’s required to earn about 40 CE credits every other year to renew her veterinary license, Dr. Funk takes about 30 hours every year during the annual AABP conference and the Academy of Veterinary Consultants (AVC) meeting. Company-sponsored CE available in her area rounds out her selections.
As she chooses courses throughout the year, credits concentrating on business education  always catch her eye.
“The education we get in business is nearly nonexistent,” Dr. Funk says. “I’m filling holes in my education, my practice and keeping up with clients in the business side through CE.”
How To Find Time
As a solo practitioner, it was difficult for Mandy Willis, DVM, at Middle Tennessee Vet Service in Morrison, TN, to find the time to step away from her practice. Yet, she knew the producers in her area needed help developing their nutrition  programs. Plus, it was an area that could help grow her business.
As a recipient of a Dr. Wren Continuing Education Award, Dr. Willis used the financial help as incentive to get started. In fact, she completed three pre-conference seminars on nutrition and herd health consulting during this year’s AABP conference.
“I’ve been out of school for several years,” Dr. Willis says. “I had a hard time trying to sit down and do it, even though I didn’t necessarily have enough education in nutrition—especially for some of my dairy clients. I was frequently called to treat animals for which there was no direct remedy and most of the time it would point back to the nutrition program, whether it was the program itself or the delivery. I knew the problem; I just didn’t have enough specialized training to advise them. And, as a solo practitioner who just started a business, it’s hard to find the time and money to get that extra education.”
Growing up in rural Kentucky, Dr. Willis felt a pull to practice large animal medicine. Her current practice area has been her home for seven years and is where her husband’s family has farmed for generations. She has a variety of large animal clients with about 80 percent in beef and dairy cattle, small ruminants (sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas) and swine. About 20 percent of her time is spent with horses.
Getting involved with nutritional and herd health consulting is a service she feels producers in her area need to survive. Her next step is finding time to put her newfound knowledge into practice.
“From this point on, it’s going to be me getting out there and doing it,” Dr. Willis says. “Coming home and implementing it into your practice is the hardest part. Another thing about going to the conference is all the experienced practitioners I met whom I’ve contacted several times since the meeting. Beyond the education itself, they have been a great aid in helping me put this into practice.”
Seth Hartter, DVM, Mediapolis Veterinary Clinic in Mediapolis, IA, relies on his local Iowa Veterinary Medical Association to help him fit in his necessary CE credit hours. In fact, it’s been helpful to get up-to-speed on companion animal topics after he switched practices last year.
Dr. Hartter attended an ultrasound training course for cattle after he received an AgriLabs Dr. Wren Continuing Education Award in 2012. Since then, he’s moved to an area with fewer cattle and more companion animal clients.
While his ultrasound training comes in handy occasionally, Dr. Hartter appreciated having a mix of CE courses available from AABP and state organizations. He’s added in some online training to allow more time with his family but misses the interaction in-person courses can provide.
“Sometimes you don’t think of things in online sessions other than just what’s coming across in a PowerPoint slide,” Dr. Hartter says. “Some CE credits are online where people can ask questions but often that type is held during daytime hours. At this point, I can’t easily set aside the time for an hour in the middle of the day.”
Understanding the time crunch today’s veterinarians are under, and the need to learn skills to enhance their practices, the Animal Care Training Program  offers online training focused on business skills. Developed through a grant from the National Food Animal Veterinary Institute, it was created through collaboration between the K-State Beef Cattle Institute and K-State College of Business. The training program provides practitioners online tutorials for a total of 25 hours of available CE credit.
The convenience of online courses was important, notes Dan Thomson , Ph.D., DVM, director of the Beef Cattle Institute and Jones Professor of production medicine and epidemiology at Kansas State University.
“Based on my experience as a consulting veterinarian, I was spending so much time on the road. I’d do some CE in my downtime in hotels,” Dr. Thomson says. “Then, when we look at what we’ve done with beef quality assurance , we’ve had 11,000 receive certificates earned online.”
Five courses and 25 video modules offered online through the Beef Cattle Institute website address topics such as budgeting, recruiting and hiring new employees; improving client satisfaction; personal financial management; and sales forecasting.
Online courses will never replace face-to-face interaction during conferences. However, new tools must be developed to address the veterinarian’s need to expand services to a consolidating number of clients as the number of cattle herds shrink.
“A big part of the best CE is the hallway talk. There is that aspect online will never replace,” Dr. Thomson says. “With declining cow herds, I’m looking for CE that offers the captive number of clients more services. I’m going to look at diagnostics, animal welfare  and food safety. To get active in those areas, CE is becoming more important.”
New technology offers the opportunity for different types of learners to obtain information in their preferred method, says Dan Grooms, DVM, Ph.D., president of AABP and professor at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“One of the primary missions of AABP is to provide continuing education to help veterinarians develop new tools and stay at the cutting edge of healthcare for their clients’ cattle,” Dr. Grooms says. “Historically we’ve done that through an annual meeting, and, as our organization developed, we continue to develop more ways getting information to our members.”
The organization now records all sessions at its meetings and makes the recordings available online. AABP members can view the sessions for free, or the time can count towards CE credits for licensure renewal with a short quiz and small fee.
“We know the value of the meetings go beyond just the CE. It’s the networking and talking to colleagues about things they are doing,” Dr. Grooms says. “Having worked in extension for 15 years, I fully appreciate that people get information in different ways. We are trying to address that in AABP through in-person meetings as well as online offerings.”
2014 Continuing Education Credits Options
- The Animal Care Training program: AnimalCareTraining.org 
- American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP): AABP.org 
- Academy of Veterinary Consultants, Inc.: AVC-Beef.org 
- State veterinary medical associations: AAHAnet.org/Library/StateVetAssoc.aspx 
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