Volume 43 Issue 1, Spring 2016, pp. 104-110

Effective faculty development for veterinary preceptors requires knowledge about their learning needs and delivery preferences. Veterinary preceptors at community practice locations in Alberta, Canada, were surveyed to determine their confidence in teaching ability and interest in nine faculty development topics. The study included 101 veterinarians (48.5% female). Of these, 43 (42.6%) practiced veterinary medicine in a rural location and 54 (53.5%) worked in mixed-animal or food-animal practice. Participants reported they were more likely to attend an in-person faculty development event than to participate in an online presentation. The likelihood of attending an in-person event differed with the demographics of the respondent. Teaching clinical reasoning, assessing student performance, engaging and motivating students, and providing constructive feedback were topics in which preceptors had great interest and high confidence. Preceptors were least confident in the areas of student learning styles, balancing clinical workload with teaching, and resolving conflict involving the student. Disparities between preceptors' interest and confidence in faculty development topics exist, in that topics with the lowest confidence scores were not rated as those of greatest interest. While the content and format of clinical teaching faculty development events should be informed by the interests of preceptors, consideration of preceptors' confidence in teaching ability may be warranted when developing a faculty development curriculum.

The clinical education of final-year undergraduate veterinary students is expanding into the work setting of veterinarians in community private practice (i.e., a veterinary practice that is privately owned and operated; this includes small- and exotic-animal, mixed-animal, equine, and food-animal veterinary practice types).13 As documented in medicine,4 nursing,5 and pharmacy,6 clinicians in the human health professions provide a similar mentorship role in the education of their future colleagues. With their rich diversity of clients, patients, and animal health and wellness cases, veterinarians in community private practice are increasingly being asked to undertake the role of preceptor—to act as a supervisor, facilitator, teacher, mentor, role model, and assessor of veterinary students—in addition to daily responsibilities to their veterinary practice, clients, and patients. As clinical educators, preceptors play a critical role in the education of future generations of veterinarians; as such, maximizing their teaching effectiveness and efficiency should be considered a priority for veterinary education.

Faculty development has been defined as “a planned program, or set of programs to prepare institutions and faculty members for their various roles, with the goal of improving individual instructors' knowledge and skills in the roles of teaching, research, and administration.”7(p.317) Optimal faculty development programming is underpinned by the principles of adult learning, contains achievable and measurable objectives, includes a diversity of educational strategies, allows for experiential learning, and provides constructive feedback for the participant.7,8 Reported benefits of faculty development include improved teaching knowledge, skills, interest, and confidence levels,7 as well as positive changes in both teaching behavior and effectiveness.9,10 Given the importance of effective teaching skills for preceptors11 and recognizing that preceptors often lack formal training in teaching skills or theory,11,12 it has been suggested that faculty development is an essential component of both preparing and supporting clinical educators for their role in the education of healthcare professionals.8,10

Faculty development programs for preceptors should recognize the educators' previous experiences and their motivations for learning, be accessible at different times and through a variety of formats, and provide content relevant to the participants' learning needs.7 A learning need can be described as the difference between current and ideal levels of specific knowledge, attitudes, or behavior.11 While often overlooked during the process of designing a faculty development program, the determination of educational learning needs helps identify preferred learning formats and guides the formulation of constructive and relevant curricular material.7

Assessment of the faculty development needs of preceptors in medicine,11,1315 pharmacy,16,17 and nursing18 has indicated strong interest for learning sessions focused on provision of effective feedback to students,11,1315,17,18 student assessment,11,1418 methods of integrating learners into busy clinical practice environments,11,1416,18 engaging and motivating students,17 and conflict management.16 Health professionals have also indicated a preference for in-person faculty development learning, including classroom learning15,17,18 and interactive workshops,14,17 as opposed to online learning.14,16,17

There are very few reports of faculty development needs in veterinary medicine.7,12 In an investigation of the faculty development needs of clinical faculty at a university veterinary teaching hospital, the faculty development topics of interest were evaluating student performance, providing constructive feedback, and maximizing teaching and learning moments for each case.1 Within the published literature, there are no reports of investigations of the faculty development learning needs of veterinary preceptors in community private practice.

The purpose of this study was to assess the faculty development learning needs and delivery preferences of veterinary preceptors engaged with teaching undergraduate veterinary students in the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM). A formal faculty development needs assessment of UCMV preceptors has not previously been undertaken. For the purposes of the study, faculty development for veterinary preceptors is narrowly defined as a planned program to prepare community practice veterinarians for their role as a preceptor of undergraduate veterinary medical students, with the goal of improving the veterinarians' teaching knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

This research study addressed the following questions:

  1. What faculty development topics are of greatest interest to veterinary preceptors?

  2. How confident are veterinary preceptors in their teaching abilities for each faculty development topic?

  3. What is the relative importance of each faculty development topic to veterinary preceptors?

  4. What is the preferred faculty development format for veterinary preceptors?

  5. Are there differences in faculty development topic interest, confidence, and format preference based on socio-demographic variables?

Participants

All veterinarians (N=195) who were veterinary preceptors with UCVM between 2011 (the inaugural year of distributed clinical education for UCVM veterinary medical students) and 2014 were invited to participate in the research study. Prospective participants were engaged in private clinical practice at locations across the province of Alberta and spanned a wide variety of types of veterinary practice, including food-animal practice, mixed-animal practice, equine practice, and small- and exotic-animal practice.

Setting

UCVM was established in 2005. In lieu of a veterinary teaching hospital, UCVM relies on a distributed clinical education model in which student clinical practice rotations are delivered by community-based veterinary preceptors in private practice. Approximately 200 preceptors at more than 60 practice locations across Alberta offer a variable number of clinical rotations lasting either 2 or 4 weeks. Clinical rotations include food-animal health (including swine, poultry, dairy cattle, and beef cattle), equine health, canine and feline practice, mixed-animal practice in a rural community, exotic-animal practice (including avian, reptile, and other caged companion animals), zoo-animal health, and public health.

While there are no formal faculty development requirements for UCVM preceptors, all preceptors are invited to attend an annual 1-day veterinary clinical education workshop. Although registration and meals for the workshop are complimentary, travel expenses associated with attendance at the workshop are the responsibility of the attendee. Teaching workshops have included presentations by faculty members, small group discussions, and demonstrations. To date, workshop content has been informed by anecdotal feedback.

Instrument

A package including a personalized invitation to participate, a seven-page questionnaire, and a postage-paid return envelope was delivered via traditional mail to 195 veterinary preceptors in September 2014. Prior to mailing, the questionnaire was pilot tested by five preceptors and the questions modified for clarity. A personal electronic mail request to return completed questionnaires was sent to all prospective participants 6 weeks following mailing of the questionnaire.

To assess veterinarians' interest in a variety of faculty development topics, participants were asked to indicate their level of interest in attending a teaching seminar for each of nine faculty development topics. Topics were selected based on a review of health profession literature and discussions with veterinary preceptors. Each item was scored using a 5-point Likert-type scale, with responses ranging from 1 (not at all interested) to 5 (very interested).

To assess veterinarians' confidence in their teaching ability, participants were asked to complete a nine-item survey that mirrored the nine items in the “Interest” section of the faculty development survey. Each questionnaire item was scored using a 5-point Likert-type scale, with the responses ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).

Given that a low teaching ability confidence score for a faculty development topic suggests that information on the topic may be relevant for future clinical education events, the reverse score for each faculty development topic's confidence score was determined. A confidence score of 1 would have a reverse score of 5, a confidence score of 2 would have a reverse score of 4, and so on. The relative importance of each topic was then determined by calculating the sum of each topic's interest score with the topic's reverse score for confidence in teaching ability. Items with high sum total scores were interpreted as having a high relative importance.

Requested demographic information included the type of veterinary practice in which the preceptor worked, the size of the community in which the veterinary practice was located, previous attendance at faculty development events (offered by UCVM or otherwise), gender, and the year in which the participant received a veterinary medicine degree.

Statistical Analysis

Descriptive statistics for all items were determined. Reliability of scores for the interest survey and the confidence survey were assessed using coefficient α. A dependent samples t-test was used to determine whether there were differences between likelihood of attendance at in-person versus online faculty development events. To determine whether there were differences in topic interest, confidence, and format preference based on demographic variables, independent sample t-tests were used to assess between-group differences between urban and rural veterinarians, between male and female veterinarians, and between veterinarians who had attended faculty development events in the past and veterinarians who had not. The significance level for t-tests was set at p<.05. Effect sizes were determined by calculation of Cohen's d. Effect sizes were interpreted as small (d=0.2), medium (d=0.5), and large (d=0.8).19

One-way ANOVA was used to determine between-group differences among four veterinary practice types: food-animal practice, mixed-animal practice, equine practice, and small- and exotic-animal practice. Post hoc tests (with Tukey's correction) were applied to determine the groups between which there were significant differences. Analyses were performed using IBM SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 21.0 (IBM Corp, Armonk, New York, USA).

The University of Calgary Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board reviewed and approved this study.

Demographics

A total of 105 individuals returned the questionnaire. Of these, 4 respondents opted out of the research study and 101 completed all or most of the questionnaire (usable response rate of 51.8%). Of the 97 participants to state their gender, 48.5% were female. Fifty-eight participants (57.4%) practiced in an urban location. Participants had spent between 1 and 4 years as a UCVM preceptor (mean of 2.67 years, mode of 3 years). Most participants (66.3%) had been engaged in UCVM clinical teaching for 3 or more years. The majority (90%) of preceptors reported that they had never attended a faculty development event. The range of time since participants' completion of a veterinary medicine degree ranged from 1 to 44 years, with a median of 13 years (mean of 15.60 years, standard deviation of 10.69 years). Participants' veterinary practice types are presented in Table 1.

Table

Table 1: Preceptors' veterinary practice types

Table 1: Preceptors' veterinary practice types

Number of
participants
%
Small- and exotic-animal practice 35* 34.7
Equine practice 12 11.9
Mixed-animal practice 35 34.7
Food-animal practice 19 18.8

*canine/feline practice=30 and exotic-animal practice=5

†includes public health (n=1)

What faculty development topics are of greatest interest to veterinary preceptors? How confident are veterinary preceptors in their teaching abilities for each faculty development topic? What is the relative importance of each topic?

Teaching clinical reasoning, assessing student performance, and engaging and motivating students were the faculty development topics of highest interest to veterinary preceptors. Of lowest interest was resolving conflict involving the student. Preceptors' confidence levels were highest for the topics of teaching clinical reasoning, providing constructive feedback to students, and engaging and motivating students. Preceptors' confidence levels were lowest for the topics of student learning styles, balancing clinical workload with teaching, and resolving conflict involving the student (Table 2).

Table

Table 2: Preceptors' interest and confidence and relative importance of faculty development topics

Table 2: Preceptors' interest and confidence and relative importance of faculty development topics

Interest
Confidence
Relative importance
Faculty development topic Mean SD Mean SD Mean SD
Teaching clinical reasoning 3.96 0.92 3.82 0.70 6.15 1.14
Assessing student performance 3.84 0.99 3.67 0.67 6.17 1.33
Engaging and motivating students 3.83 0.99 3.81 0.67 6.02 1.21
Student learning styles 3.71 0.99 3.17 0.81 6.55 1.30
Providing constructive feedback to students 3.70 1.09 3.81 0.56 5.89 1.33
Balancing clinical workload with teaching 3.62 1.12 3.19 0.81 6.45 1.60
Teaching professionalism 3.58 0.98 3.75 0.75 5.77 1.22
Helping students learn on their own 3.56 1.03 3.42 0.71 6.15 1.35
Resolving conflict involving the student 3.18 1.14 3.29 0.78 5.89 1.44

The relative importance of each faculty development topic was determined by summation of each topic's interest score with the same topic's reverse score for confidence in teaching ability. The topics of student learning styles, balancing clinical workload with teaching, and assessment of student performance were of highest relative importance. Of lowest relative importance was teaching professionalism (Table 2).

The reliability coefficients for interest in faculty development topic scores and confidence in faculty development topic scores were α=0.87 and α=0.69 respectively. The reliability coefficient for the relative importance of faculty development topic scores was α=0.83.

What is the preferred faculty development format for veterinary preceptors?

Veterinary preceptors rated their likelihood of attending an in-person faculty development event significantly higher than their likelihood of viewing a live Internet presentation (t[99]=3.03, p=.003, d=0.30).

Are there between-group differences in faculty development topic interest, confidence, and format preference based on socio-demographic variables?

Faculty Development Topic Interest

Male veterinary preceptors were significantly more interested in the topic of engaging and motivating students (t[95]=2.85, p=.005, d=0.59). There were no other significant differences for interest in faculty development topics between male and female preceptors.

As compared with veterinary preceptors who had completed faculty development training, preceptors who had not completed faculty development training were significantly more interested in the topic of balancing clinical workload with teaching (t[98]=2.49, p=.01, d=0.83). There were no other significant differences for faculty development topic interest between preceptors with previous faculty development training and preceptors without previous training, or for preceptors from rural practice locations and preceptors from urban practice locations. There were significant differences among veterinary preceptors from small- and exotic-animal practice, food-animal practice, mixed-animal practice, and equine practice for interest in teaching clinical reasoning (F[3,97]=3.79, p=.013). Small- and exotic-animal practitioners were significantly more interested in the topic of teaching clinical reasoning than mixed-animal practitioners, with a mean difference of 0.66 (p=.012). There were no other significant differences among practice types for interest in faculty development topics.

Confidence in Teaching Ability

Female preceptors were significantly more confident in their ability to engage and motivate students (t[95]=2.68, p=.009, d=0.54) as well as in their ability to teach students with different learning styles (t[95]=2.62, p=.01, d=0.53). There were no other significant differences between genders for confidence in teaching ability.

Veterinary preceptors who had not completed formal faculty development training were significantly more confident in their ability to assess student performance than preceptors who had completed faculty development training (t[98]=2.47, p=.02, d=0.81). There were no significant differences in scores between urban and rural preceptors, nor among food-animal practice, mixed-animal practice, equine practice, and small- and exotic-animal practice.

Faculty Development Format Preference

While male preceptors' mean score for likelihood to attend an in-person faculty development event was significantly higher than female preceptors' mean score (t[74.77]=2.18, p=.03, d=0.45), there were no significant differences between males and females for likelihood to view an Internet presentation. There were no significant differences in format preference (for either in-person or online delivery) between preceptors who had previously attended faculty development events and preceptors who had not.

As compared to preceptors who practiced in a rural community, veterinary preceptors who practiced in an urban community preferred a live, in-person presentation format for faculty development (t[62.45]=2.46, p=.02, d= 0.54). For online presentation format, there were no significant differences between urban and rural preceptors (Table 3).

Table

Table 3: Preceptors' format preferences for faculty development events (by gender and location)

Table 3: Preceptors' format preferences for faculty development events (by gender and location)

Gender
Location
Male (n=50) Female (n=47) Urban (n=58) Rural (n=43)
Mean [SD] Mean [SD] t(df) Mean [SD] Mean [SD] t(df)
In person 4.06 [0.79] 3.59 [1.26] 2.18(74.77)* 4.05 [0.78] 3.50 [1.29] 2.46(62.45)*
Online 3.30 [1.17] 3.34 [1.17] 0.17(95) 3.28 [1.16] 3.37 [1.13] 0.42(99)

t(df)=t statistic (degrees of freedom)

*p<.05

There were significant differences among veterinary preceptors from small- and exotic-animal practice, mixed-animal practice, equine practice, and food-animal practice in their likelihood to attend an in-person faculty development event (F[3,97]=2.94, p=.037). Small- and exotic-animal practitioners were significantly more likely to attend an in-person event than mixed-animal practitioners, with a mean difference of 0.73 (p=.02). There were no other significant differences among practice types for faculty development format preference (Table 4).

Table

Table 4: ANOVA: preceptors' format preferences for faculty development events (by practice type)

Table 4: ANOVA: preceptors' format preferences for faculty development events (by practice type)

Mean SD F(df) p
In person
 Food-animal practice 3.79 0.86 2.94(3,96) .04
 Mixed-animal practice 3.44 1.44
 Small- and exotic-animal practice 4.17 0.62
 Equine practice 3.92 0.79
Online
 Food-animal practice 3.68 1.20 0.90(3,97) .44
 Mixed-animal practice 3.17 1.18
 Small- and exotic-animal practice 3.31 1.02
 Equine practice 3.17 1.34

F(df)=F statistic (degrees of freedom)

The key findings from this study were as follows: (1) veterinary preceptors were most interested in teaching clinical reasoning, assessing student performance, and engaging and motivating students; (2) preceptors were most confident in their ability to teach clinical reasoning, to provide constructive feedback to students, and to engage and motivate students; (3) student learning styles, balancing clinical workload with teaching, and assessment of student performance were of highest relative importance to preceptors; and (4) most veterinary preceptors preferred to attend faculty development events in person. This study also identified important differences in topic interest, confidence, and format preference based on socio-demographic variables.

Consistent with research from medicine,11,1315 pharmacy,16,17 and nursing,18 four topics that were of great interest were also the topics with which preceptors were most confident: teaching clinical reasoning, assessing student performance, engaging and motivating students, and providing constructive feedback to students. Helping students in these areas is critically important in the development of a veterinary student's professional identity. As students begin to act and feel like veterinarians, they develop their professional identities in part by observing role models and being in environments in which they are taught good clinical judgment and given constructive feedback.20,21

The faculty development topics of highest relative importance to the veterinary preceptors were student learning styles, balancing clinical workload with teaching, and assessing student performance. With the exception of performance assessment, these topics do not match those of greatest interest. While student learning styles were of high relative importance, research suggests that aligning instruction with a student's learning style is not required to achieve learning outcomes and that teaching complex skills requires consideration of the nature of the skill, context, and cognitive ability of the learner.22 Recognizing that interest in learning is driven by previous experience as well as perceived relevance and utility,7 preceptors may not understand how faculty development may help them balance clinical workload with teaching. Given the discrepancies between interest and relative importance, explicit information regarding these items of high relative importance may be best delivered through orientation programs.

Similar to physician13,14 and pharmacy16 preceptors, veterinary preceptors in our study expressed a preference for in-person faculty development events as opposed to online content. This finding supports the ongoing delivery of in-person programs for veterinary preceptors, whereby the faculty development benefits can also extend beyond the formal program and into networking with colleagues. Networking allows educators to exchange tacit knowledge, create shared experiences, and seek additional sources of information; as such, networking with colleagues may facilitate changes in teaching.23 Male preceptors were more likely to attend an in-person faculty development session than female preceptors, and urban preceptors and small-animal practitioners were more likely to attend an in-person event than rural preceptors and mixed-animal practitioners. With UCVM faculty development events traditionally being held in person and at a location in or near an urban center, such differences among gender, practice location, and practice type may reflect the preceptors' proximity to the event as well as costs associated with attendance (such as travel time, time away from the practice, child care, transportation, and accommodation).

The majority of veterinary preceptors in our study had not attended a faculty development event. Recognizing that the distance between in-person events and preceptor practices may be a barrier to preceptor attendance, computer-aided or web-based learning opportunities could be used to supplement centralized learning programs.7 Offering shorter faculty development events24 and local programs24 for practitioners in remote locations may also encourage attendance. Providing continuing education credits for faculty development12 and creating stronger relationships between the preceptor and the university,24 such as involving preceptors in the planning and delivery of faculty development,25 have also been suggested as means to improve faculty development attendance.

Our research study has shown significant demographic group differences for interest and confidence in the faculty development topic of engaging and motivating students, and for confidence in the topic of student assessment. Gender differences in perceptions of authority, control, and responsibility to the client, patient, and student may influence a preceptor's approach to and comfort with student engagement and autonomy,26 with males being more interested and less confident than females. Faculty development training for preceptors may heighten awareness of the importance of objective student assessment, and lead preceptors to a low confidence rating for student assessment.

There are limitations to this research study. The sample size is small and limited to one veterinary college's preceptors in community private practice locations. As such, the faculty development learning needs of preceptors at other veterinary colleges may differ. This research study assessed the faculty development learning needs of preceptors with experience teaching students in private veterinary practice, and it is plausible that the learning needs of prospective preceptors may be different from experienced preceptors. While the survey questions were piloted with preceptors, the faculty development topics listed in the questionnaire did not include explicit definition or detail, and respondents may have interpreted the topics differently than intended.

The findings of this study suggest areas for future research. Gender differences and the influence of prior faculty development training may be important determinants of a preceptor's ability to engage as well as assess students. The long-term impact of a veterinary faculty development curriculum on the effectiveness, efficiency, and confidence of preceptors needs to be explored. A follow-up study, in which qualitative data can be collected, will be conducted to better understand veterinary preceptors' perspectives on clinical teaching in private practice.

This study provides baseline information regarding the faculty development needs and delivery preferences of veterinary preceptors engaged in a distributed model of clinical education. Veterinary preceptors were most likely to attend faculty development events in person rather than online; male, urban, and small-animal practitioners were more likely to attend an in-person faculty development event than female, rural, and mixed-animal practitioners. Preceptors had great interest in the faculty development topics of teaching clinical reasoning, assessing student performance, and engaging and motivating students. Veterinary preceptors were least confident in their abilities with respect to student learning styles, balancing clinical workload with teaching, and resolving conflict involving the student. Taking both interest and confidence into account, the most important faculty development topics were student learning styles, balancing clinical workload with teaching, and student assessment. Notable disparities between preceptors' interest and confidence in faculty development topics exist, in that topics with the lowest confidence scores were not rated as those of greatest interest. While an educational needs assessment of the learning interests of veterinary preceptors serves to inform the content and format of faculty development events, this study suggests that consideration of preceptors' confidence in teaching ability may be warranted when developing a faculty development curriculum.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The authors are grateful for the financial support provided by the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Education Research Fund.

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