Online tool helps students prepare for EMS

EMS driving licence screenshot
In the UK, the RCVS requires students to undertake 26 weeks of clinical extramural studies (EMS) before they can graduate. Students and EMS placement providers agree that current preparation for placements could be improved. Students report being nervous about attending their first placement, and unsure ‘what the vets will expect them to know and do’, while practitioners (who receive no payment for providing these placements) report various common issues regarding the students; for example, failing to bring appropriate clothing, or not recognising the importance of confidentiality issues.

Optimising EMS placements

In addition, as student numbers at UK veterinary schools have risen, and practices have become busier, it is increasingly important that students optimise their learning from the opportunities that they encounter during EMS. To help them do this, a team involving myself and Andrew Cavers from the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh, and Sarah Baillie, Tierney Kinnison and Neil Forrest from the Royal Veterinary College, London, have developed the ‘EMS Driving Licence’.

What is the 'EMS Driving Licence'?

The EMS Driving Licence is a computer-aided learning (CAL) package that was created to provide a solution to the problems identified, and thus better prepare veterinary students for their EMS placements.

The CAL takes around half an hour to complete, and its content was created through a process of consultation with EMS providers, veterinary students, the RCVS and the UK veterinary schools. A further interactive process of development was undertaken with students, to ensure that the program was user-friendly, and its content helpful. The program is divided into seven sections: introduction, preparation (including what to take), working with people (staff and clients), professionalism (including confidentiality), tips (from practitioners), frequently asked questions (for example, ‘Should I stay in the room during a euthanasia consult?’) and useful information (including links to relevant pages of the RCVS and BVA websites).

"The licence was created to better prepare veterinary students for their EMS placements"

As the project evolved, it became clear that additional highly topical issues also needed to be incorporated. For example, client, patient and practice confidentiality had been raised as a major concern by several EMS providers during project consultations, and latterly, issues surrounding students taking photographs or videos during EMS placements (often without appropriate permission) and then posting them on internet sites such as Facebook had become an issue of concern to the veterinary schools.

A certificate of completion was also developed to provide evidence that a student had completed the CAL in full. This is generated once all pages of the CAL package have been visited, and the student can then save or print a dated certificate for their own records or portfolio.

What are the benefits? 

The benefits of the CAL package have been assessed via focus groups and questionnaires with students after they returned from their first clinical EMS placement.

Results from students who had not completed the program before their placement were compared with those who had. The results showed that those who had completed it were more prepared (e.g. knowing what to take) and were able to set their own learning objectives and deal with difficult situations (e.g. what to say if an owner asked a clinical question when the vet was not present).

"EMS placement providers have also appreciated the usefulness of the package"

General feedback from students who have used the program has been positive, and indicates that it addressed most of their concerns. Many students reported that sections on the importance of body language were particularly useful. One comment was: ‘The section on body language was useful, as I had never really thought about this before. It has made me much more aware of how I may come across to vets and clients.’

EMS placement providers (veterinary practitioners) have also appreciated the usefulness of the package, and some request that students present their certificate of completion on the first day of their placement.

Future of the licence

The EMS Driving Licence is available to all UK vet students, and is a compulsory part of the curriculum in several schools. Those wishing to try the EMS Driving Licence can access it here.

The program is being adapted for veterinary nursing students through funding from the LIVE Teaching Development Fund, and a new ‘VN Clinical Placement Tool’ is due for release this year.

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