Attending an extramural studies placement with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate

Dog capsule

Unlike many vet students, I have been interested in the public health, non-clinical aspect of veterinary medicine since I was still at school. I jumped at the opportunity to spend time learning about the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), and successfully applied for its first extramural studies (EMS) placement, which took place from 5 to 16 July this year.

The placement was initially going to be held at the VMD’s Surrey-based office, but Covid meant a change of plan. Time flew by, with back-to-back lectures, workshops, question-and-answer panels, and a student-led journal club – all online.

I was joined on the placement by five other vet students in their clinical years, from several vet schools. We all admitted early on to being largely unaware of the VMD’s role as part of Defra, but by the end of the first day, we had gained insight into how important the agency is, and the many areas it is responsible for.

Teams within the VMD

Presentations from each team within the organisation were spread out over the two weeks, and we gradually began to understand the full extent of the VMD’s work. 

An introductory lecture explained the general outline of the medicines’ authorisation process. Applications for marketing authorisations (MAs) for new pharmaceutical veterinary medicines comprise  a dossier of information, which is assessed by different teams. 

The Efficacy Team is essentially responsible for determining whether a medicine will be safe and work in the target animal species when administered according to the label instructions. This involves assessment of pharmacology, dose-finding, target animal safety and clinical field studies. Presentations from the Quality Team explained the importance of considering a medicine’s formulation, manufacture, active substances and excipients. The work before drug authorisation does not stop here – there is also input from the Human and Environmental Safety Team, which considers any risks to people administering the medicine, the environment and, where applicable, to consumers of any products from the animal to which the medicine has been given. The team introduces appropriate mitigation measures, such as warnings in the labelling. 

The Biologicals Team executes a similar procedure, but works with products such as vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and stem cell therapies.

Assessment of a veterinary medicine continues long after this initial evaluation. The Residues and Pharmacovigilance Teams are vital to ensuring that the safety and efficacy of a medicine is continually monitored after authorisation. VMD staff also contribute to stakeholder groups such as SCOPS (Sustainable Control of Parasites in Sheep) and COWS (Control of Worms Sustainably), working to combat the threat of anthelmintic resistance on British farms.

The Legislation Team is another crucial part of the VMD, and it was incredibly interesting to hear about the complex steps involved in introducing new legislation and modifying existing documents. The recent reworking of the Veterinary Medicines Regulations made for an interesting discussion within the group. This talk was followed by the Enforcement Team, who explained the difficulties involved with regulating veterinary drugs, giving some eye-opening and almost unbelievable examples. The Inspections Team also plays a key role in enforcement – and carefully explained how these inspections will affect us, as vets, in the future.

The final team to mention is the International Development and Training Office. They provide education for veterinary medicines regulators all around the world, with the aim of creating a safer and more efficient veterinary medicines industry. 


In addition to lectures, we spent a lot of time working with VMD staff in workshops. The topics included: assessing new medicines; bioequivalence; clinical trials; palatability; and Animal Test Certificates. These sessions were really good for helping us understand some of the more complex subjects, as well as getting to know fellow students and staff.

We also got the opportunity to ask career-based questions of a panel of vets within the agency. It was fascinating to hear about the different routes people had taken to the VMD, and to ask their opinions on further education and non-clinical work.

Journal club

As part of the placement, each student was required to select an article relevant to the work of the VMD. We then had to evaluate the methodology, and any actions the VMD could take as a result of the study. On the final day of the two weeks, we presented our findings to staff – a terrifying but very rewarding experience! My article focused on pollution of waterways by flea treatments. Other examples included the safety and efficacy of new pharmaceutical medicines and 3D printing to produce dosage forms tailored to individual patients.

We got to hear the opinions of experts in the different fields, and to discuss the relevance of each article. These real-life conversations revealed just how important the work of the VMD is to the veterinary industry – and the broad range of knowledge available in the organisation.

Thank you!

I had an incredible two weeks with the VMD. So much was packed into the time we had, and I learnt an astonishing amount! Thank you so much to everyone who took time out of their busy schedule to talk to us, particularly the EMS coordinators Vicky and Helen, who managed to organise a comprehensive and enjoyable placement.

I definitely recommend this experience to all vet students!

2022 EMS placement

If this has sparked your interest, the VMD is currently accepting applications for the 2022 EMS placement. Click here for further information.

Applications are being accepted until 1 October 2021.


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