Achieving Advanced Practitioner status is a marathon, not a sprint!

Maggie Doherty

I am a 2003 graduate of the Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences in Poland and my career so far has been one of overcoming the inevitable hurdles associated with our rewarding, yet pressure-filled vocation. The first hurdle to my working in the UK was learning English, as my language skills when I graduated were Russian and Polish, my native language. I recall my first sentence in English was ‘Mind the gap’ from my time navigating the London Underground! 

Over the course of the 18 years since I graduated, I am grateful to have met many skilled and dedicated colleagues – individuals who have shared their knowledge, skills and inspiration to make me the veterinary professional I am today (and who, indeed, metaphorically pushed me over a hurdle or two, when I most needed their help). Without question, experiencing a variety of practices has been important in my career progression. With each new position, I encountered new methods of practice and knowledge to incorporate into my own skill set. Importantly, I have maintained strong professional ties with all my former employers, an invaluable benefit as my career progressed through clinical lead, to sole charge to business owner and beyond.

'Without question, experiencing a variety of practices has been important in my career progression'

After 10 years of working in practice, I thought it was time to set out a structured plan to achieve the status of Advanced Practitioner with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). Although there are more than 30,000 dedicated veterinary professionals working in the UK, there are currently fewer than 1000 vets who are Advanced Practitioners. Advanced Practitioner status demonstrates the extensive career, knowledge and specific competence of a veterinary professional, and is a clear and public recognition of the knowledge, skills and attributes they have gained in the course of their career.

My plan was all the more ambitious as I have a growing young family of three and, at the time, I was running two highly successful veterinary clinics. I also somehow found the time to instruct Zumba classes, thanks to skills from early days as a ballroom dancer! I decided I needed a training provider that offered modular training that fitted with my busy lifestyle and schedule. I chose Improve International for its well-structured path to my goal and found its support, tuition and supportive colleague network invaluable on this journey.

I’d advise anyone setting out to achieve Advanced Practitioner status to think of the journey as a marathon, with each step on the long journey leading toward a monumental personal achievement. My first step was to enrol on Improve International’s General Practitioner Certificate (GPCert) and Postgraduate Certificate (PgC) programme in Small Animal Medicine (SAM). The course was very professional and linked perfectly with my daily practice experience. The mix of training methods caters for all learning styles and on-hand support really helped point me in the direction of the finish line. 

Once I’d achieved the GPCert in SAM, I needed further modules to complete the PgC (and gain credits that can be counted towards a Master’s degree). Advisers at Improve helped guide me through the process and reassured me that I could achieve – I just needed to put in the hours of study in my free time. Plodding along, one foot in front of the other, I was nearing the finish line as I completed and passed my exams at Harper Adams University. When I got the notification email, I remember dancing around my father’s garden with joy at this great news.

I also had to complete a module on ‘Foundations of Advanced Veterinary Practice’, which I studied for with the University of Liverpool. This module covered a very broad and in-depth subject base, including veterinary law, biosecurity and veterinary ethics, to name just a few areas. It was mainly beyond the clinical realm with which I was comfortable, and studying for it required significant effort. Naturally, I was over the moon when I completed the course and had gained all the necessary qualifications to apply for Advanced Practitioner status with the RCVS.

The final hurdle (yes, my marathon has hurdles) was to gain support from other veterinary professionals by way of references. I was lucky that my career had brought me in touch with many great individuals who were only too pleased to provide support for my admission. With glowing recommendations from veterinary specialists and other veterinary colleagues supporting my application, I concentrated on my training records stored on the RCVS’ 1CPD portal. To achieve Advanced Practitioner status, vets are required to demonstrate a commitment to professional development over and above the regulatory minimum thresholds for annual study. Boring as it is, I’ve always updated my CPD records religiously and now this voluminous catalogue of training paid dividends in demonstrating my continuous learning and development, sustained over many years.

In March 2021, on my first application, I was notified of my successful admission to the RCVS’ Advanced Practitioner register. This was the end of a long marathon – it took five years from start to finish. I won’t lie, it was a hard, gruelling slog, but like all marathon runners, once into the groove, I just kept on going and choosing my next challenge. All those long hours studying were a step-by-step progression to an achievement that speaks for itself. This journey has certainly developed my skills and knowledge, opening new areas of passion in my profession and set me on course for my second PgC programme with Improve International, this time in Emergency and Critical Care. I’ve met excellent colleagues through my studies and while the path to Advanced Practitioner may not be for all, I would thoroughly recommend it.

This journey has certainly developed my skills and knowledge, opening new areas of passion in my profession

I look forward to continuing my career development, serving my clients and their pets and looking for new growth both professionally and personally in the most exciting stage of my career. My newly acquired status has opened many career opportunities already and I’m excited to be joining a new high-class multicentre veterinary practice in the coming weeks.

To those colleagues with a growing family, I recommend a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones while studying! 

Back to Categories