The Veterinary Clinical Skills Centre encompasses state-of-the-art facilities across four key areas: companion animal skills, equine and farm skills, simulated veterinary practice and locomotion research. Whilst the core use of these facilities focuses on undergraduate veterinary education, far wider impact has also been achieved.
Undergraduate teaching: preparing students for the cut and thrust of practice
In a traditional vet school, the development of vital practical clinical and communication skills would be left until the latter stages of the programme. They are taught in potentially intimidating environments of busy teaching referral hospitals and students have little time to orientate themselves to their clinical surroundings. This creates a ‘high stakes’ environment and the ability to try, fail and learn is greatly diminished.
At the University of Surrey, we make extensive use of our simulated veterinary practice facilities across the undergraduate programme to ensure that students are better prepared to engage fully and achieve their learning objectives when they are exposed to real practice placements.
For example, in the earlier years, trainee surgeons can have multiple attempts to practise skills such as handling surgical instruments, donning sterile gloves and placing skin sutures. They do this using low fidelity models, but in an authentic environment. Their learning is enhanced and confidence grows without fear of consequences for a real patient or from an admonishing surgeon.
The simplest skills are developed first and built upon through each cycle of teaching – the ‘spiral curriculum’ – so that when the student attends their first clinical placement they can focus on the case in front of them more fully. Feedback from the hosts of our first clinical placement students has already evidenced the enhanced confidence our students display.
The companion animal centre is equipped with a range of low and high fidelity models and simulators alongside Fledglings, a fully equipped vet practice. Students use the practice to learn the rudiments of animal handling, veterinary business operations and for extensive communication skills training. The latter makes use of discreet cameras in key areas which capture students undertaking role play exercises with professional actors. The opportunity to record, playback and debrief these real-life scenarios has a major impact on developing the most important skills needed to thrive in practice.
Engaging the partner network
The School of Veterinary Medicine is uniquely predicated on students undertaking their final year at a range of placements in veterinary businesses that form our partner network. The vets, nurses and support staff of these businesses have also started to benefit from the use of the clinical skills centre.
Partner engagement and continuing professional development events have been hosted and can be tailored to meet the needs of each business. Partners attend the School to prepare for hosting students on their final year placements through role play and workshops across the facilities. The School also plays a key role in hosting new graduate training programmes for the larger corporate vet practice groups.
Research in the Centre
The gait analysis laboratory has the most up-to-date research equipment, which is used to investigate companion animal lameness. By combining modalities for capturing abnormalities – pressure mats, treadmill and three-dimensional cameras – scientists can better understand the subtleties of lameness-causing disease in animals.
Engagement with commercial partners
Access to cutting-edge facilities enhances the offer and potential impact of working with the University of Surrey, and now the School has a wide range of commercial partnerships as a result. For example, a project with Zoetis, the world’s largest animal health company, uses wearable technology to enhance understanding of the health of pet dogs.
Fledglings practice has been used for filming activities that link to research outputs in other parts of the School, too.
The long-term potential for the facilities is yet to be fully realised but already there are concrete outcomes relating to teaching, research and industrial projects.
HEFCE’s Catalyst Fund has enabled this and will continue to do so for many years to come, benefitting a new generation of veterinary graduates and a far wider network beyond.
Photographs provided by the University of Surrey