Professional Development: Crucial forTeam Members' Long-term Success

By Dr. Rob Jones, “The Aquarium Vet”

The Aquarium Vet LogoHere's a question that frequently comes up when management is looking at budget concerns: "What if I spend all this money on professional development for one team member and that person leaves?" The answer is at the end of this article. Read on:

Professional development is a critical part of developing your team members. It is important to note that there are 2 types of people with 10 years' experience. The first is a person who has regularly attended conferences, has taken appropriate courses in their field, has read the latest professional journals, and is continually growing in their knowledge base. They truly have 10 years of experience. The second is a person who has never attended a conference or taken a course: they actually only have 1 year of experience (times 10), and they are far less valuable as a team member.

Here are three of the most useful professional development options for aquarists and wildlife care specialists:

1. In-house Development: This should be the primary source of professional development for team members, and it is crucial. At a regular time every week or two, 30 to 60 minutes should be set aside for a discussion of a chosen topic. This discussion is usually led by a senior member of the team, and it is a great way to share knowledge. Years ago, when I had a small-animal veterinary hospital, any team member who went to a conference (see the next paragraph) had to come back and make a 30- to 60-minute presentation to the rest of the team, sharing tips or ideas that they picked up at the conference, at our weekly development meetings.

2. Conferences and Workshops: The top two for aquarists are the Regional Aquatics Workshop (RAW) and Aquatic Animal Life Support Operators (AALSO). As aquarists and animal care specialists climb the management ladder, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) annual and mid-year conferences become especially relevant.

3. Online Resources: SDZWA Academy courses provide a wealth of options for professional development in wildlife care. For aquarists, the Aquarium Vet E-quarist course has now been available for over 10 years, and we are a proud AZA Recognized Learning Partner. Various modules are available, including a free Aquatic Animal Welfare module. has been recording conferences for many years, and these are available for a modest annual subscription fee. More recently, they have launched the Kraken Curriculum, enhancing this resource. The AZA Executive Leadership Development Program is specifically geared for management and leadership development (which is what transforms an aquarist or wildlife care specialist to a curator, or higher up the chain).

So, if you want to have 10 years' experience (the right 10 years!), start today by taking advantage of every educational opportunity that is available for your own professional development. It is your responsibility to continue to grow both personally and professionally.

Oh, and the answer to the question for managers that I posed at the start: "What if I spend all this money on professional development for one team member and that person leaves?" The answer to that question is another question: "What if you don't, and they stay?" I am sure we have all seen that person, at one stage or another.

E-quarist™ Courses—Academy Subscriber Special!
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Academy is excited to share an additional Academy subscriber benefit regarding our collaboration with The Aquarium Vet. As an Academy subscriber, you are entitled to a 10 percent discount on the E-quarist™ courses. We are also happy to offer one of our regular webinars for free.

For more information about the SDZWA discount or anything about E-quarist™ courses, including our next webinar series, please contact

Note: The sources in this column are recommended by the author and have not been independently reviewed by the Academy.