by Olly King, Founder
Meraki HQ, Totnes, UK
Created 91 days ago
EMS Stories: Centaur Society President Shares Her C-EMS Experiences
Eager to listen to students early experiences of C-EMS, I caught up with Phoebe Dodds, Class of 2024 and Bristol Vet School’s Centaur Society President. Phoebe is now a fourth year student, but has already managed to complete 16 of her RCVS 23 weeks C-EMS requirements. After a summer crammed full of placements I was keen to hear first-hand of Phoebe’s insights that she had to share to help other veterinary students plan and get the most out of your C-EMS. Read on to check out Phoebe’s open and fantastic advice.
“I gave a horse a satsuma sized haematoma once!”
What’s been your approach to finding EMS placements?
They have been recommendations mostly and places I went to before uni where I’d had a good experience, and decided to go back. I went to one near where I did lambing that I was recommended by the farmer, and an equine placement that my friend help me arrange. People have shared advice with me this summer to go spend time with a charity vet, so I’m going look at doing dogs trust or PDSA or somewhere like that.
With increasing numbers of vet students, I hear it is getting harder to find placements. What has been your experience of that?
I have tried to be organised so haven’t had a problem. One placement I booked over a year ago. Normally it is impossible to get in there for more than one or two weeks, but because their calendar was so free a year in advance, I managed to arrange a three-week long placement.
Most of my placements have been local to my family home in Essex. I need to find local places or be able to stay with people to save on accommodation costs. Oxfordshire is the furthest I have been, where the farmers who I did my lambing with kindly invited me to stay with them.
That’s nice, you must have made a good impression.
I guess so. When I said I couldn’t come back for lambing the following year they suggested I arrange to see practice with their vet and offered for me to come back and stay with them, so I did. Plus I am vegetarian, staying on a farm with livestock. I did offer to cook for myself during my stays with them, but the mum of the family was having none of it – massive shout out to Glebe Farm in Black Bourton, Bampton!
Accommodation was one of the things I was going to ask about. Sounds like you have managed to mitigate that cost of seeing practice. How is completing your EMS going so far?
Really good overall. I’ve received good teaching and they’ve all boosted my confidence in different ways. The people I have met have been lovely and really supportive, even some that at first I wasn’t sure about. But this has invariably been more my extroversion meeting more introverted types, which has been useful for my own self-awareness.
I’ve so far completed a 6-week non-clinical placement, supporting a PhD student with their data-analytics. This entailed writing code in Excel. It was more of a research assistant role. Then over the summer I have just completed 10 weeks of clinical placements. I did two weeks in a mixed farm and small practice, 2 weeks at a mixed small and equine practice, 3 weeks at a small animal hospital and then 3 weeks with an ambulatory equine vet.
Two of the practices I went to this summer I’m going to go back to because they were really good at teaching surgical skills and it was a really calm atmosphere that I found great for learning.
“Going forward with my future placements, I’m going to write lists of all the things I want to practice ready to share them with the EMS co-ordinator at the start of my placement.”
What has been your approach to clinical EMS to ensure you get the most out of your placements?
That’s actually one of the things I’ve taken away from placements this summer. Even though it feels awkward at the start of the placement, you need to talk to them about what vets usually do or what they expect vets to do.
I went into the summer hoping to get basic skills like taking blood samples, catheter placing and perhaps minor routine surgery. But I didn’t actually tell any of my placements that I wanted to do those things. I went into placements feeling not very confident in myself.
Going forward with my future placements, I’m going to write lists of all the things I want to practice ready to share them with the EMS co-ordinator at the start of my placement. Despite this I still got to do things, particularly at busier practices when they were low staffed and at smaller practices where it was easy to get know the nurses better and get more 1:1 teaching.
What have been the highlights of your clinical EMS this summer?
I loved doing a load of calf castrations. That was great for my confidence and feeling like I can be vet. I was out with the boss and he was watching and instructing. Afterwards we went through what I did well, what I needed to improve and do differently next time. It was great.
Generally though, doing anything for the first time is a little-win, taking bloods, doing part of a dental, receiving some ultrasound teaching, scrubbing in to help with a spay or castration.
Also I enjoy receiving feedback, positive or constructive, so that I can improve or know that I have been appreciated. People saying lovely things about my personality is a real confidence booster too, and helps soften my imposter-syndrome self-talk.
Fantastic. I’m hearing that people connection piece is really important to you.
Absolutely. I struggle being around people who I do not get along with. I lose confidence, don’t feel I can ask questions and it creates a barrier to chit-chat during the day. Being surrounded by a nice team is a must for me, particularly when things go wrong, because it impacts your feelings so much and how the day’s gone.
Want to give a shout out to a practice that had a great team?
Sure, Bridge Veterinary Clinic in Lechlade. That was one of my mixed placements. I loved the variety of work and the staff were like a little family. They have set the standard for me. There was a good mix of banter alongside working really well as a team, and the vets were really nice. They also had a couple of new grads who were really confident and happy to teach me things. It was fantastic for building my experience and confidence to take to future placements.
“The first day can be hard. But I find the best way is to get to know everyone properly rather than the superficial ‘how are you?’.”
What is your approach to building your own positive relationships with the team?
My approach revolves around simply chatting with people as a way to ease myself in rather than jumping in and asking to do everything. The first day can be hard. But I find the best way is to get to know everyone properly rather than the superficial ‘how are you?’. I ask a lot of questions that show I am interested in them, focusing less on the clinical stuff ‘what’s this?’, ‘what’s that?’, ‘why do you do this?’.
Especially on farm and equine placement, otherwise you’re sat in a car with them in silence and it can be really awkward. Being curious about people’s career, family, hobbies, places where they’ve travelled, that sort of thing I find a good way to get the conversation going. At the same time, I’m wondering what it would be like to work with them. So I let my sarcastic and dry sense of humour come through to see if they share my humour. Once people like you they are more likely to invite you to have a go at doing something.
Plus it can be difficult judging when is the right time to ask to do something. People may not obviously be busy, and so my asking and then taking forever, or doing something badly, might risk creating more work for them. Instead, I trust my interest in them, my general enthusiasm and my being as helpful as I can to everyone, and so far it has lead to practical opportunities coming my way. It has helped me get to do so many things that I did not know how to do before.
That sounds like you have great self-awareness and awareness of others. How do these relationships then play out in your ideal placement?
I enjoy places where they’re willing to let you have a go at things and support you with kindness rather than tell you off if you’ve done something wrong. Somewhere where people do not criticise everything you do, but share constructive feedback. And of course a friendly team who like to have a laugh as well – it can be a stressful job that you need to be able to have a sense of humour.
What experiences of workplace stress have you seen?
Witnessing people saying and doing things that they wouldn’t usually do. Also the little digs people make to others. For some the comments go over person’s head, or at least they do not react, yet for other people they clearly take it to heart. I’ve seen both reactions, and kind of just stood there and tried to imagine if that me how would I react, but you are at the time just watching.
What kind of digs, passive aggressive type comments?
A little bit yeah. But also patronising, even aggressive at times. Then one person will leave the room, and the person left will discuss what happened. Then the other person comes back in and the person who had been left in the room leaves, and the person who re-entered the room now discusses what happened. So you are a bystander, getting the story from both sides. It happens all the time.
Sadly incivility is an ongoing challenge for the profession. A survey last year into the mental health and wellbeing of student and newly qualified veterinary nurses reported 96% of respondents felt incivility and bullying were serious problems in the profession.
I think a lot of people are oblivious to how they’re speaking to others, particularly when they are stressed. Part of me think it’s only natural when people work in such close proximity in like a high stress environment every day. But I have seen the other side too, in practices where people have been so nice and where I have not heard any gossiping or talking about each other. I do not want to condone it, and high stress is not a good enough excuse in my opinion.
“It’s been a big learning curve in communication styles that’s for sure and re-enforced the importance of having that ‘expectation’ conversation at the start of each placement.”
What reflections did you take-away from these experiences?
It made me think what would happen if I was involved in that exchange, or perhaps something got back to me that was said by someone I thought I got along with. So I do stop and reflect on what it would be like to actually work here and be one of the members of staff rather than a fleeting character.
And I in fact did have to act on this reflection after one experience in a practice after expectations were not communicated well. It was silly really. I am a chatty person and like to help. When it was quiet, and the vets doing their admin, I would muck in in prep and kennels. But those I was trying to help were asking me to instead go study instead in not the most constructive way. It came across like I was a bad vet student and that my help was not wanted.
I found it upsetting. I’m quite a sensitive soul when someone says something, I think I read into things too much and then take it to heart. Even though a thousand factors might have gone into whatever they’ve said. I left early on that day. On reflection I think they were trying to support me by giving me permission to focus on my studies, but it came across in an unkind way.
The following day we had a pleasant conversation talking it through and, while grateful for my help, they did not expect vet students to do what they referred to as the ‘menial jobs’. I made some good friends at that placement as well mind you, so it was a nice experience as well as a challenging one.
I am sorry to hear of that experience. Sounds like you handled it brilliantly. You calmed down, reflected and came in the next day and had a courageous conversation. That would not have been easy, I am impressed. Many people working in practice, and even those in leadership positions, do not even do that, and choose to avoid a confrontation. But it sets a poor precedent. Unchallenged and unreprimanded incivility risks normalising behaviours that seed a toxic culture and can be a huge source of interpersonal conflict, which does nothing to help the profession retain good people.
Have your EMS experiences so far impacted your approach to future placements?
All-in-all, EMS has been a big learning curve in communication styles that’s for sure. It has re-enforced the importance of having that ‘expectation’ conversation at the start of a placement to get a clearer impression of the student experience. Perhaps over a phone call to get a sense of whether they are like hands on teaching or just an observing placement. I’ve got three new and varied practices lined up, because I am still undecided what area I want to go into: small or mixed, that I haven’t been to before so will test it out on them.
Good plan! Lightening the tone, have you any embarrassing stories to share while on placement?
I gave a horse a satsuma sized haematoma once!
Oh that’s unfortunate! What happened?
We took a catheter out catheter out and I held pressure on it for so long, more than 3 minutes. It has stopped bleeding when I released the pressure. On discharge later that day it had developed a haematoma at the catheter site. I was mortified, but the vet was really kind about it. As for embarrassing, probably but I have blocked them all from my memory!
I’m sure the horse made a full recovery! How have your clinical EMS experiences so far influenced the type of practice you see yourself working in?
I am already more aware of finding the balance of flexible working and developing myself professionally. At one practice I spent time with the vets seemed to have so much down time. They worked a four-day week, working three really long days and one eight-hour day and had a chunk of time for admin in the middle of the day. They were always home on time. So I was like, oh that’s brilliant, but their caseload was not high, and so I think I would get bored if that was my first role.
In my first role I would want to get involved in some of the stuff that in some practices the nurses do, to help build my confidence. Such as placing the catheters, taking bloods, doing the pre-meds, seeing cases through and stuff like that.
In terms of category of practice, I like mixed practice, but I do like the city and there are not many mixed practices near Bristol or in general is my impression. This may change however, I’m jumping into farm practice in the thick of winter next year to see if that is for me!
Great stuff. Well, you have two years still at vet school so you have lots of time. If you want to kick-start your career in a mixed role, there is no shortage of mixed roles in Northern Ireland to enjoy a diverse and high clinical caseload, if fast-tracking your career is a priority. Might be worth exploring EMS opportunities over there.
Thanks for the tip. I will see if my boyfriend wants to move to Northern Ireland! He has just graduated and is travelling at the moment.
“Relax and get comfortable going on clinical placements feeling like you know nothing and not knowing answers to questions.”
No problem. Finally any top tips to share with students completing their pre-clinical animal husbandry EMS to help them get started with their clinical EMS?
Planning is a big part of it, and as far in advance as you can. I would work out what sort of experience you want and where you would like to do it. I wrote down a list of how many weeks I wanted in each place and what types of placements I wanted. I wanted one equine and then split the rest 50:50 farm and small. I then roughly worked out when I could do it and then researched where I could do it. It has taken quite a lot of planning. On the plus, despite a full-on schedule, I have now managed to keep myself free to join my family on holiday.
Also, give yourself a break and don’t take yourself too seriously on placement, while being sure to get your personality across. If you don’t know something, don’t worry about it, especially on the first day. Relax and get comfortable going on clinical placements feeling like you know nothing and not knowing answers to questions. When I was told that I was like ‘yeah, that won’t be me, I’ll know everything, I’ll remember 200 lectures worth of content.’ What a load of rubbish. There is no way you are going to remember everything, but then ensure you remember for next time.
And as I said before, definitely speak to the practice about what vet students usually do to get a sense of expectations. My experience is that it can be wildly different from practice to practice, when they have consults, when they do cleaning, when they do ops and stuff. Knowing that you can ensure you ask to help or if it is quiet go do some revision.
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