EMS is extremely important and well supported by the profession on a voluntary basis; ie no practice or practitioner actually gets paid for hosting vet students, but such is the lovely nature of this great profession of ours that enough people believe in it to support it.

There are lots of learning outcomes achievable through this activity which is a treasure trove for the person wanting to succeed in becoming a veterinary surgeon.  Here are just 10 tips for getting the most out of it:


  1. Planning. What is it that you want to achieve? Have a think about what competencies you have, and don’t be too shy about them because although you might only just be beginning the clinical part of your course you will still have knowledge and skills in understanding anatomy, laboratory work, and pathology to name a few examples which could be useful to see at work in practice. Discuss this with your college tutors to see what you can and want to achieve, make a plan, however vague, because this will help you and the practice in your learning. Your tutor contacts the practice with a brief introduction normally.   If you are ready and supported you can start neutering cats and dogs under supervision, making sure there is a qualified vet near where you are operating for advice and guidance.  Make sure you have the support of the vets and nurses who want you to succeed before you anaesthetise the animal or make the first incision. 


  1. Consider the opportunities in different types of practices. What will you be allowed and supported to do? In Proverbs 1: 22-27 God talks about how he loves learning and discipline in real life.  In our lives we all do things that don’t quite go to plan, or a mistake can happen which has consequences for which we are responsible, but God still loves us.


  1. Communication skills are often said by experienced practitioners to be 80% of what we do in practice. Working as a team, communicating with everyone in it including the clients is vitally important. In EMS you can observe and participate in the communication going on constantly in the practice, and if you are lucky you may even be able to participate in video recording exercises used by a few practices to help in training the vets and other team members in the art of practice.  God has a huge amount to say about communication and communication skills which you can start to appreciate by reading the Proverbs.


  1. Practice organisations and structure vary enormously from a solo vet with no staff, a one vet practice with one or two staff, to much bigger single and multi-site practices with 30, 50 or even 200+ team members. Practice ownership has been changing particularly over the past 10-15 years.


  1. The nurses are a very important part of any practice, as are the receptionists, managers, administrators and animal care assistants and other paraprofessionals. You need to keep the support of the nurses, so nurture it. 


  1. Cakes are usually highly welcome at tea and coffee breaks. Building rapport with the team you are working with is important, but not always easy and straightforward. See how you interact with other people in the team and learn how your particular personality and behaviours actually work and can be moulded.  When you are in your first job these things matter a great deal and you will have more responsibilities.


  1. Limitations. Set out your limitations and don’t walk into situations where you are expecting to do something you don’t feel competent or confident to do. On the other hand if you never take a step into doing something you are not fully confident with, you will never learn. So talk about what you are doing with your mentors and the practice team so you can make the most of the experience in front of you.


  1. Being helpful and willing is an attitude, but there are behaviours you can exhibit such as offering to clean a kennel, picking up a dirty swab from the floor, making the tea, looking at a slide under the microscope for mites or fungi, etc., all of which help everyone working with you to feel you are actually being useful rather than a student getting in the way.


  1. Practice meetings, both clinical and social do take place, and you might get the chance to join in. This is a great place to be as a student because you can really listen and contribute to the discussions, and learn about how the practice runs, and really explore the issues the team are facing every day and how they are dealing with them.


  1. At the end of your EMS placement try to get a short 20-30 minute debrief with your mentor in the practice. This is a really valuable opportunity to share with the practice your experience which will help you and other EMS students, but it also gives you the opportunity to get some very useful feedback on how you have been getting on. Some feedback will be positive, and some advisory which can all be highly constructive when you go away and think about it.

As you reflect on your experiences, it is useful to keep a Learning Diary along the lines of those shown in the table  at the bottom of page 6. Take this back to discuss with your tutors at University, and continue to build your portfolio through the clinical years of your course and on into practice.

Paul Manning