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Reflecting on my EMS placements

18 Oct 2019 | Emily Collins-Wingate


Emily Collins-Wingate, a final year student at Surrey vet school, reflects on what she’s learnt during her EMS placements and rotations.

My name is Emily, I’m a final year vet student (when did that happen?!) at the University of Surrey. I’ve just finished my first rotation, which was spent on farm practice, and I’m about to start pathology and public health.

For as a long as I can remember, being a vet was the only thing I ever wanted to do. There was no ‘set point’ when I decided it was the career for me but I never considered anything else! I was lucky enough to grow up around animals as my grandparents have a smallholding with a fairly eclectic assortment of rescued animals – several of my baby pictures feature turkeys on my pram!

Getting the most out of your placement

I’ve just finished my last week of EMS and have completed placements in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Sussex, and Surrey over the last four years. I focused on getting broad animal husbandry experience (covering traditional species, reptiles, and wildlife), and as much farm exposure as possible by revisiting local vets.

I think the most important things to learn are communication and practical clinical skills. It can be daunting starting again from scratch at a new place on Monday morning, but if you can spend time talking to everyone in the team, everything is so much easier. Practical skills come down to repetition so try to get as much practice as possible whilst on placement. 

Skills such as completing a clinical exam, (especially on healthy animals), taking blood or placing catheters were really important for me as I wanted to increase my confidence ready for final year rotations. I also often made notes of good phrases I heard vets using when talking to clients! 

One of the best things about EMS is that you spend short bursts of time with different teams and I’ve really enjoyed meeting new people on my placements. Looking back, I’d say these are my biggest learning points:

  1. The power of tea. Every situation is improved by a hot drink, and offering to do the tea round just once has always brought me closer with the team.
  2. The ‘q’ word. It didn’t take many times of saying the dreaded word (*quiet*) before I learnt the error of my ways. You can always guarantee a full waiting room if you utter the word ‘quiet’. But you do find yourself with some downtime take the opportunity to ask questions, make notes, or see if there are any jobs you can help out with. Willingness to get stuck in and clean or tidy goes a long way.
  3. Notebooks are your friends. It’s not for everyone but I’ve always taken notes whilst on EMS as a reminder of the cases I’ve seen, discussions with staff, and even the names of the office dogs!

Sourcing my EMS placements

I’m part of the second intake of students at Surrey so when I started (unlike now) the database of previous EMS placements was fairly small; this meant most of my AHEMS placements were found by searching myself or from contacts I already knew. It sometimes took multiple emails or phone calls to pin down dates but with perseverance, some lateral thinking and planning (sometimes years!) ahead, I never struggled to fill my weeks.

Mistakes happen

As a self-professed lover of cows, and determined future farm vet, I don’t mind sharing probably my ‘silliest’ moment of fourth year. Whilst in a group seminar we were discussing what aspects of a clinical exam would be important for suspected colic cases. After a few entirely sensible suggestions from my colleagues I piped up with “You could auscultate the rumen!”. It definitely doesn’t require four years of vet school to learn that horses don’t have rumens, but at least that anatomy knowledge won’t ever leave my brain again!

Balance is important

My biggest tip is making sure you’re doing things outside of your degree. Being involved with Surrey VetSoc (sort of cheating I know) taught me so much and has given me so many opportunities to connect with the wider profession. Whatever your interests I’d really recommend joining a society, club, or local group and switching off ‘vet brain’ for a while. 

Something else I’ve also really benefitted from has been attending veterinary conferences. Many count towards EMS, and some, like AVS Congress, are aimed entirely at students. Aside from the educational sessions, I found the opportunities to network with fellow students and colleagues from the profession invaluable! 

Everyone knows vet school is tough so make sure you look after yourself. When you’re busy and working long hours keeping healthy is really important. I’ve always had BVA membership, which gives me medical cover whilst on EMS - it’s worth checking that you’re covered should anything happen!

Stepping up for rotations

My first rotation was on farm practice which was perfect for me. The transition from EMS student staying in the background to taking part in clinical discussions took some getting used to, but I finished the month feeling I’d come a long way. 

My biggest challenge has been feeling I don’t know enough and thinking that everything I’ve learnt has vanished from my head. I’ve been assured this feeling is completely normal and temporary but moments of having no answer to, what should be simple, questions are still a bit crushing!

Despite feeling like this, my proudest moment so far was probably on the last week of my farm rotation, one of those moments where I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and felt like ‘being a vet’ was maybe something I’d be able to do. We have remote ultrasound displays for our farm rotations, so the vets were able to talk me through what they were seeing when PD-ing cattle. I started being able to interpret the images and everything finally clicked into place! 

Graduation is a year away which feels like a lifetime. But I know this year will fly by! My plan has always been to work in farm veterinary so hopefully I can find a supportive new graduate position not too far from my family in Hampshire.


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