Journal Of Veterinary Medical Education

Volume 21, Number 2
Fall, 1994


Discussion Leaders: Kristi Arndt Green, DVM; Phyllis York, DVM, PhD
Rapporteur: Dale A. Moore, DVM, MS


Rather than approaching the topic of certificate programs as a problem to solve, it was addressed as an opportunity, an area to be developed. In this workshop group, the discussion focused on common experiences in program development and implementation as well as variability among existing programs. The 13th Symposium Program describes certificate programs as "a new and developing area which will probably become much more important in the future as a means of ensuring continued or improved competency for practitioners." In general, these are structured, intensive continuing education programs that are designed to meet specific needs for a particular audience.

Certificate programs attract individuals that are not necessarily interested in graduate degree programs, yet desire more intense training than that usually provided through continuing education. Each certificate program focuses on a specific area or need and is designed for individuals with at least 2 years of experience in clinical practice or other areas of veterinary medicine. Relevancy and practicality are emphasized. Often, the programs are interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary and many include areas not covered in the typical DVM curriculum (e.g., interpersonal skills, computer usage, business management). Because of the information explosion, the importance of continuing professional education and lifelong learning will continue to increase in the future. One advantage of continuing education is that it allows for flexibility and creativity in design and delivery. Often continuing education planners are able to avoid certain constraints of working within a university bureaucracy and college and departmental boundaries.

Certificate programs are more comprehensive than the traditional continuing education format, providing in-depth focus on selected topics. Instead of waiting for certain topics to arise in separate programs which may be separated by significant spans of time, individuals can be exposed to a wide array of subjects which are combined in one program. As new information becomes available and as new skills are required of, or desired by, veterinarians and their clients, veterinarians will need to update their knowledge more frequently and in new areas.

Certificate programs are not degree programs, although some institutions offer a Master of Science (MS) option, requiring both additional work and tuition for an individual to receive graduate credit. Participants receive continuing education credits and at the conclusion of the program are awarded a "Certificate of Completion" based on attendance and completion of assigned work.

The program format/schedule is variable across certificate programs. Some certificate programs are intensive, advanced workshops offered as isolated, stand alone programs. However, most follow a modular format. Of those represented in this workshop, 3-day modules were the most common, with the longest one being 10 days (see Table 1). Modules are offered as often as every other month and as infrequently as every four months. The entire program is completed over a one- to three-year period. Each module usually addresses a specific topic or area of interest. However, continuity across modules and integration of different topics are desired goals. This modular format promotes group cohesiveness and interactive learning. Much of the learning occurs in discussions among attendees and is highly valued by the participants.

Each program is developed for a particular audience, with consideration given to the lifestyle, work situation, and schedules of that group. The program design allows individuals to continue their work in practice or industry while they receive in-depth, advanced training. Many of these programs assign projects to be completed by the next module which require the veterinarian to apply the material from the module to a real situation she/he is working on in practice or on the job.

The target audience for the certificate programs varies. Obviously, every segment of veterinary medicine has its own specific needs. Modular programs have attracted mainly veterinarians in private practice with a smaller number from industry and academia. The background of the instructors includes private practice, academia, and industry. It is not uncommon to invite individuals outside the veterinary profession to serve as instructors (e.g., agricultural economics, animal science, business, educational psychology).

Certificate programs have operated relatively free of problems. One reason is that they are relatively new in veterinary education. Also, because they are not subject to the formal university and departmental requirements which degree programs must meet, they have considerable flexibility to make needed changes. The workshop discussion focused on the following issues specific to certificate programs.

Identification of Clients/Users

Most of the original programs, primarily dairy and swine health management programs, were designed for a specific practice segment because of a need for practitioners with a greater production management orientation. Historically, little production medicine has been provided in traditional veterinary school curricula although a need arose for preventive health programs. These health management or production medicine programs originated at Ontario Veterinary College.

A secondary facet of client identification is the need to identify the long-term objectives of veterinarians and make the programs relevant to their practice or other area of work. Needs assessment can be conducted, using a survey, to determine objectives for the programs. Also, the use of steering committees, with representatives from both practice and industry, has assisted with identifying the programmatic goals and developing the curriculum.


Given the current financial constraints for universities, funding is a concern of the developers of certificate programs. One advantage, when a program is successful, is cost-recovery. However, a related challenge is to keep the price reasonable for the practicing veterinarian. A few strategies for support of program costs are: strict fee for service, i.e., passing the total cost on to the consumer; solicitation of financial support outside the institution, e.g., sponsorship of specific modules; and institutional support including the Cooperative Extension Service.

Faculty Selection and Remuneration

Cutting-edge, knowledgeable individuals from private practice, industry, and academia are all potential instructors. The intention is to use the best person available to teach a particular topic. In some cases, this individual can be found at the institution. However, more often, the person is brought in from outside. A useful strategy is the identification of a module coordinator, an expert in the field, who organizes the module by selecting both the topics to be addressed and the instructors.

In certain cases, faculty cannot be paid for their involvement in a certificate program. This situation creates the additional challenge of keeping faculty motivated and interested, especially in the programs that have been offered several times.

Program Structure/Curriculum Development

Some basic similarities can be found among certificate programs, particularly in the areas of bovine and swine health management/production medicine. However, the structuring of a program to meet client needs remains a concern. For example, conflicts may arise during busy parts of the practice year, e.g., calving season for beef practitioners. Another challenge is keeping current with new information and changes in the industry, resulting in a constantly evolving curriculum.

Lifelong learning is an issue in all professions. The challenge in continuing professional education is to continually upgrade programs in order to meet the changing needs of learners. Keeping flexibility in the program is one solution to this issue.

Unequal Level of Skill or Knowledge-Base at Entry

Individuals within the same certificate program vary in their abilities and past experiences. Some may have advanced skills and others may need remedial training. The decision about the degree of difficulty for material to be presented in a module is often a challenge. Strategies include pre-module assignments or reading materials, basic requirements before entry, optional workshops that cover more basic information, group discussions and assignments before, during, or after the module, individual assistance, and peer pressure. A positive aspect of this situation is that the more experienced individuals can function as effective mentors for the less skilled participants.

Teaching Resourcefulness to Students

Teaching the idea or topic of resourcefulness is a challenge because it has only recently become emphasized in veterinary school curricula. Many of the certificate programs emphasize resourcefulness by helping the learners improve their critical thinking skills. Learning activities include critical literature reviews, problem-solving, communication-building exercises, and information-seeking such as literature searches and accessing databases of pertinent information. Modules on communication skills have been rated very highly by participants even though they had apprehensions about the subject matter at the beginning. The challenge is to offer these non-traditional modules in such a way as to demonstrate their usefulness in practice or the workplace.

Methods of Delivery

Adults learn in a variety of ways. A challenge for certificate programs, or any continuing education program, is to deliver the information in several ways so that all participants receive the message. One effective way of helping adults learn is to provide opportunities for them to deal with real problems. Instructional methods are varied and include lecture, discussion, role-playing, case studies, skill-building exercises, and hands-on experiences including farm visits. In addition, the participants seem to benefit as much from socialization with colleagues as they do from the program itself, so this important activity should not be overlooked.

Post-Program Activities

Many participants express concern about the end of their specific certificate program and indicate a desire for additional future activities to bring the specific group of veterinarians together. Keeping in touch with past participants can be accomplished by holding class reunions, inviting them to be speakers at current programs or mentors of new participants, meeting regularly at local or national conferences, or developing a newsletter.

Recognition of the Certificate

In certificate programs, the skills or knowledge gained are usually more important to the participant than the recognition given for having received the certificate. Most certificates are for program completion which usually requires completion of assignments and attendance at modules. Although standardization of certificate programs would help to elevate the status of certificate programs, it would eliminate the flexibility which makes these programs so desirable. This flexibility is valued by the program developers since it allows each program to be designed based on the needs of a particular group. Although not specifically discussed in the workshop, some of these certificate programs may develop into an educational program that prepares practitioners for examinations as diplomate candidates for one of the species practice boards.


Evaluation includes a number of facets: assessment of teaching; assessment of skills of those individuals completing the program; and assessment of the program's impact overall, for example, on the industry. The most common form of evaluation used in certificate programs is participant reaction to individual modules. More difficult to evaluate are the post-program skills of the participants and the program's impact overall. For example, the Pennsylvania State Dairy Production Medicine Certificate Program is being evaluated by assessing management and herd performance changes of participants' clients' farms compared to "control" farms. This evaluation project looks at the true end-user of the information, in this case, the producer.

These certificate programs have been uniformly successful and accepted by their institutions. They fulfill the needs of practitioners wanting to advance their knowledge without leaving practice and they have allowed flexibility in both scheduling and curriculum changes.


The workshop group suggests that institutions considering the initiation of a certificate program should give careful consideration to the following issues.

  • Develop specific plans for adequate funding for an extended period, not just for the first year of the program. This may include industrial sponsorship of individual modules, income from participant fees, and long term institutional commitment of financial resources.
  • Identification of the teaching faculty. These individuals must have appropriate experience and teaching skills to be effective in adult education settings.
  • Planning for certificate programs must include involvement of the target audience to ensure that the subject matter to be presented is at an appropriate level of difficulty.
  • The program managers must be prepared to have a constantly changing and evolving curriculum which reflects the changing structure and needs of the target industry and the veterinarians who serve that industry.

Table 1. Programs represented in this workshop group.

 Program    Institution  # of       Module  Program Tuition     Represented   
                 Modules        Length  Length          By               
Beef Cattle     U. of Nebraska     6        3.5 1 year  $3,200      Gary Rupp        
Production                  days                                                                

Dairy       Penn. State   10        3 days  3 years $3,200      Dale Moore       
Production  University              ($3,700                   
Medicine                        out                   
Certificate                     of state)  
Master of   U. of          5        10 days varies, $1,100      Will Marsh       
Science     Minnesota               avg.    per module                       
Swine Medicine                      1.5-2.0                                      
Specialist Track                    years                                        

Executive   U. of         12        3 days  2 years $5,000      LeRoy Biehl      
Veterinary  Illinois                            Kristi A. Green         
Program     and Iowa                     
Certificate State U.                                                                                                     
in Swine 
Health Management 

Executive   U. of         12        3 days  2 years $5,000      Dean Scoggins    
Veterinary  Illinois                            Kristi A. Green       
Certificate in
Equine Practice

Certificate U. of          6        2 days  1 year  $1,500      Andre Dallaire   
in Small    Montreal                    (Canadian)                      
Animal      Ontario                                                                          
Dentistry   Veterinary College 
Center for  Virginia-     varies-   varies  varies  varies-     Ed Stephenson    
Government  Maryland      designed          charge fee                      
and Corporate   Regional      by request            for service                     
Veterinary  College of
Medicine    Veterinary Medicine