Widening access to vet school: RVC's Gateway Programme

Students at RVC
In September 2005, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) welcomed its first group of students on to its Gateway access course, and from these origins the initiative has continued to grow.

What is the Gateway programme?

The Gateway course is the first year of an extended six-year veterinary degree programme. Part of a widening participation initiative, the course is designed to open up opportunities to students who went to a non-selective state school; are eligible to receive the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA); and whose parents have not been to university. Successful completion of the programme does not give a qualification in itself, but does lead to a guaranteed place on the RVC's five-year BVetMed programme. The course also now offers students the chance to study for their veterinary degree elsewhere, with the universities of Liverpool, Bristol, Glasgow and, most recently, Cambridge guaranteeing an interview for a place on a five-year clinical veterinary degree course.

In September 2009, 34 students joined the current Gateway year, with all passing their first course assessment. Feedback from the students is positive, with one Gateway student stating: ‘The lectures have been structured very well, and the pace has always been just right. It's an amazing course and I would not be here without it!’

Success of past students

Students who have passed in previous years are now in a variety of places. Most are in years 1, 2 and 3 of the RVC's BVetMed course. Some are at the universities of Bristol and Liverpool, while a few are spending the year studying a BSc in another discipline. Two students from the original intake have returned to the RVC having successfully graduated with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences and Infection from University College London, and from Liverpool University with a BSc in Veterinary Conservation Medicine. This year, even more students have shown an interest in intercalation and are now applying for courses around the country.

"The lectures have been structured very well, and the pace has always been just right. It's an amazing course and I would not be here without it!"

Students in the first intake have just finished year 5 at the RVC and have been visiting practices and farms to observe and learn from practitioners. This is part of 26 weeks of extramural studies (EMS) they complete over the last three years of the course, of which they are about to enter their final year. They have become ambassadors for the RVC Gateway programme across the country. As the students spend time with vets, vet nurses and sometimes secondary school students on their work placements, they are spreading the message that it is possible to get into vet school from a non-traditional route and succeed there.

Stephanie's experience

Stephanie Edwards is one such student, who has excelled in her studies, having received merits in all years and a distinction in year 3 of the BVetMed. ‘I am currently in my fourth year of the BVetMed course at the RVC. I achieved average GCSE grades and A-levels, so when applying to universities for veterinary degrees I got straight rejections. My options were limited but I was determined to achieve my goals, so I returned to school to resit my A-levels and, upon my return, the new RVC Gateway course was brought to my attention. I fulfilled the requirements for entry so applied and, after a successful interview, was given an unconditional offer.

‘I found the RVC Gateway year an excellent opportunity to integrate into a new environment and develop my learning skills, as well as making close friends within the group. Having not come from a farming background, I had little experience handling large animals and found that the structured animal husbandry classes gave me more confidence. Due to the work placement, I didn't feel behind doing the EMS and OSCE [objective structured clinical examinations] on the BVetMed course. This helped me develop a good work ethic and basic practical skills to build on later in the course, and has enabled me to progress well with the degree.

"I found the RVC Gateway year an excellent opportunity to integrate into a new environment and develop my learning skills"

‘I have a favourite work placement with a farm practice locally, which I continue to return to. They have helped me build on the theory and improve my practical skills in a large animal practice, an area of the profession which I take a deeper interest in and intend to progress into a career after graduation.’

Stephanie did two periods of EMS with a farm animal practice based in Shrewsbury.One of the vets in the practice, Rob Wood, can't speak highly enough of her: ‘We gave Stephanie her first EMS work placement, and together did a lot of routine fertility work, some operations and some clinical work. Throughout the work placement, I've been very impressed with her grasp of the practical work we have undertaken, her keenness to learn and to participate in our day-to-day work. Steph's knowledge is good and she seems to have an aptitude for this side of veterinary practice.

‘I would put her practical ability above most of the students I have dealt with in the past considering where she has got in the course so far. As a Gateway entrance student, I would have no qualms about her and, at present, would rate her beyond normal- entrance students I've helped to train on the EMS work placement.’

Lance Lanyon, who was principal of the RVC when the Gateway programme was developed, believes the course is a great way for young people to enter the veterinary profession. He says, ‘The veterinary profession has long been recognised as one of the most difficult to enter. The odds are stacked against young people from inner cities who do not have easy access to animal experience and attend schools where students do not routinely achieve the high A grades required. The Gateway programme will help the veterinary profession become more representative of the society it serves.’

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