When a new young vet arrives on the yard to look at your horse how confident can you be about their capabilities?
The UK newly graduated vets have always been some of the best trained in the world, and they now have the potential to be even better.
Likewise, any overseas veterinary surgeons will either have been trained at an approved university or will need to pass exams set by the UK governing body, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), before they can work in the UK.
Academically, there is no question that veterinary students are amongst the top 10 per cent highest achievers in the country, but what about practical training?
The RCVS has a programme of practical clinical requirements that graduates must have achieved before they can become a member and become practising vets. This is referred to as Day One Competence and is targeted at ensuring that when new graduate vets start working the service they provide is safe.
Universities recognise the need for students to spend time with vets out in practice to undergo additional practical training in animal handling and clinical skills, as well as build up their experience of dealing with clients and members of the veterinary team.
Every student must complete a minimum of 26 weeks of these Extra Mural Studies (EMS). These supplement the training received on rotations in universities where, under the supervision of highly qualified specialists, students take responsibility for inpatients and gain vital experience in leading equine hospitals.
Today, there are more training opportunities for vet students than ever before.
An initiative by many practices in recent years has been the development of Student Externships. Students are selected for a limited number of places through an application process.
An equine externship is usually a two to three week placement at an equine practice, providing training in essential practical skills such as shoe removal, searching the foot for an abscess, dentistry, lameness examination, basic nerve blocks, taking x-rays, intravenous sedation and passing a stomach tube.
Students may be involved in a clinical audit where routine procedures are reviewed and protocols adjusted to fulfil standard requirements for the RCVS.
An equine externship student would also be expected to be available to accompany the on-call vet attending out of hours emergency work and to monitor inpatients with vet and nurse back-up.
This training takes up vet time and therefore has a cost. However, there are important benefits from externships and EMS.
The training helps to equip the final year student with essential clinical and practical skills to help them pass their exams and, importantly, start work more prepared. It can also be of great value to practices in seeing these students as potential employees.
So how can newly graduated vets develop their expertise on how to examine, diagnose and treat your horse?
In most equine practices new vets will only be allowed to go out on calls alone once they have demonstrated that they are competent, safe and can communicate well with the owner. Graduates can be assigned to more experienced mentors, who supervise their training either in the clinic or on accompanied ambulatory/yard visits.
Throughout this early stage of the vets’ careers, receptionists will be updated on what types of calls each young vet should be able to attend on their own.
New graduates are generally not part of the out of hours emergency work for a period of time, which can be flexible according to each individual. Once they are part of this service it is beneficial for practices to have a back-up rota with a more senior vet to ensure 24-hour availability of their expertise for several months.
Young vets are encouraged to feel comfortable about phoning and sending photos and videos of difficult cases to a more senior vet. Owners should welcome this as it means their horse can benefit from the expertise.
It is important that practices introduce graduates to clients via newsletters, social media and in person. Owners can assist these young professionals to develop in the best way possible by passing on some of their own experience and opinions on problems with their horses.
The RCVS requires all new graduates from the UK and overseas to complete an ongoing Professional Development Phase (PDP) assessment during early years in practice. This provides a quality control to standardise new graduate development.
The new graduates of today are an extremely enthusiastic group of young people who are keen to learn and develop into good equine practitioners. Part of that progression can involve studying for further exams, such as the RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice, which can start as early as one year into practice.
Having students and new young vets in the practice has a positive effect on all staff. They help to keep us older vets up to date with state-of-the-art equine medicine.
Those vets interested in event work can also sit FEI exams, allowing them to attend as permitted treating vets at FEI events. This is a great experience and allows equine vets to understand what competitors are trying to achieve at the highest level.
Many vets may start out working as mixed practitioners to consolidate their skills in all species, then move into equine practice. There are many benefits of taking this route, not least having to withstand the rigours of farm practice, including difficult calvings and lambings and developing scanning skills.
Together with an opportunity in the small animal sector to carry out surgical techniques, these are transferable skills that can contribute to developing a well-rounded equine practitioner.
Veterinary medicine is a vocation. Within this, equine practice can be hard, physical work, involve working at anti-social hours and can be intellectually challenging and emotionally draining.
However, the rewards extend far beyond the treatment of equine illness, disease and catastrophes, with immense job satisfaction and making life-long friends.
It is hoped that this article has provided horse owners with some reassurance that our new young vets are well trained and a safe pair of hands. They should be given support, opportunity and encouragement to gain experience and develop.
They are the equine vets of the future.