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What students need to know about EMS

Liverpool veterinary student Rebecca Grace shares her top tips for students for EMS, as well as how to find EMS placements.

I’m currently at Liverpool vet school and looking forward to moving to Leahurst next year to start 4th year. I’m originally from Yorkshire so I’m very lucky to have such a diverse range of placements local to me. So far, I’ve completed all 12 weeks of pre-clinical EMS placements and 7 weeks of clinical EMS.

Past EMS placements

For pre-clinical placement, along with the usual dairy farm and lambing placements, I ventured to a goat farm with 5000 milking goats, a racing yard, a chicken farm, pig farm, an aquarium, rescue kennels and cattery and a bird of prey centre.

For clinical placement, I’ve been to a few small animal vets and spent 2 weeks this Easter at a farm vets. Prior to vet school, I spent a week with a poultry vet, which is slightly more unusual, but a really good placement with lots of pathology and laboratory skills to learn.

I really enjoyed the diversity of placements as 1 week you could be delivering kids (the goat kind), next week you could be target training sharks and feeding penguins, and the next week you could be learning how to handle fit racehorses.

Key tips for life during EMS

In small animal practices, nurses are your best friends. They have so much they can teach you and will help you learn practical skills and they also know where everything is in the practice, they are life savers!

If you don’t know how to do something, then ask, it is a lot better to ask than to do something wrong and if you do make a mistake, then tell someone as soon as you do. For example, if you forget to put the antibiotics in the antibiotic sensitivity test it can be easily resolved a couple of hours later but not if you don’t say anything for a couple of days.

If you would like to practise something and you haven’t been offered the chance, then ask politely during a quiet period. Sometimes everyone is so busy or on autopilot that they can forget to let you have a go.

Communication is a key skill to learn on EMS. I recommend watching how different vets communicate with the clients and how they deal with tricky situations. If a practice gives you the opportunity to take histories in consults then do it! It is best to practice now before you are thrown in at the deep end when you graduate. If you watch different types of vets you can get a different feel for individual communication styles and what you would like to emulate, but you don’t know how you are going to react until you’ve had the chance to practice.

Amusing moments

Always triple check that you have tied a gate up on a farm correctly. I had checked it twice and got to the opposite end of the field when suddenly a stampede of about 200 heavily pregnant ewes were running away from me towards the gate onto a road leading into a village, it is also slightly tricky to round them all back in when you are at the opposite end of the field (don’t worry we got them all back).

I would say one of my more embarrassing mistakes was when I ended up helping with a shark post-mortem. Firstly, sharks’ livers look very similar to lungs and you should engage your brain and realise sharks don’t have lungs. Secondly, I asked what the fin-like structures were that I was holding, the guy at the time was very amused and informed me that they were claspers (shark male genitalia). Needless to say, I should probably have been a bit more familiar with shark anatomy before I started asking too many questions.

How to find EMS placements

There are a number of options when finding a placement. The majority of mine were through word of mouth, especially from farmers recommending other farms and vets, but also by asking around my vet school to see who has already been and whether they would recommend it. In addition, some vet schools have databases that list local farms and practices. There is also the NSA Lambing list for sheep farms.

For places like chicken and pig farms or racing yards who advertise less, my pro-tip is look on Google Earth for farm-like building/racehorse gallops then pop the location into Google to see if you can track down some details. However, it can be less successful as you never know if they will be keen to take on students.

If you’re looking at wildlife parks or bird of prey centres, then go along as a member of the public to see what the volunteers are doing, and their level of involvement in animal care.

Tips for students trying to find placements

  1. If the place doesn’t reply to your emails then keep trying them, ring them up and get a specific contact or ask about placements while you are on the phone to them. They are often really busy and forget.
  2. See if you can “try before you buy” if it is open to the public, go incognito then if you like the look of a place then you can ask them in person.
  3. Make sure they have got animals when you’re scheduled to go (not a turkey farm the week before Christmas!)
  4. Farm vet placements tend to be busiest October – May and may not take students over summer. So make sure you book it well in advance (sometimes even a year in advance to get placements at peak times such as Easter).
  5. Definitely get insurance through BVA EMS insurance. It definitely gives you peace of mind as veterinary is quite a high-risk profession, and as students lacking in experience we are more prone to getting injured. It is also invaluable if you are on EMS abroad, but remember to check that you’re covered through Lloyd & Whyte.
  6. Know what are you expecting to get out of a placement. If it is a busy hospital it may be great for medical cases and consult variety but they may not have the time to guide you through stuff. Equally, you may not want to be in a really small practice where you are sat around waiting for patients to come through the door! Are you looking to find a practice that you would potentially like to work for? If so are you looking for practices with the right species in the right location?
  7. If you’re struggling to find farms near you, your local butchers may be able to help you get in contact with local farmers.
  8. Ask around your vet school - everyone has to do EMS and they will know of some amazing places or potentially even let you crash at their house for the week.
  9. Go to a congress, you can apply to steward for free at congresses such as BSAVA, BCVA, BEVA or attend the student congresses such as AVS, FAVS, SEVA or the Zoological Symposium, they are great fun and you get the chance to talk to some brilliant vets in your area of interest and get their contact details.
  10. Don’t be afraid to ask if accommodation is available in places further afield. There are some places that might charge you to stay, but some farmers may be more than happy to put you up and it will save you petrol money.

More information


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