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Guidance for practices taking on students for EMS placements during the pandemic

The following joint guidance for veterinary practices taking on students for EMS placements during the pandemic was issued jointly on 29 March 2021 by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Veterinary Schools Council, British Veterinary Association, Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons and Association of Veterinary Students, and emailed to practices with the joint letter below.

Joint letter to veterinary practices

Logos for RCVS, VSC, BVA, SPVS and AVS

Dear Veterinary Practice Principal

One of the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been on veterinary students and in particular a reduction in the opportunities for Extra Mural Studies (EMS), which is a required element of the veterinary degree programme. EMS provision is highly valued, and it is recognised that it plays a vital role in the development of new veterinary surgeons, supporting them to be able to graduate as day one competent.

In August 2020, we jointly called upon practices and placement providers to consider continuing to offer EMS opportunities to students as at the time, although restrictions were in place, they did look to be lifting. Of course, there were then further periods of lockdown announced in November 2020 and further restrictions over the Christmas period before the current lockdown.

However, with the government recently announcing the staged approach out of lockdown, we now feel that is appropriate to once again call on practices and placement providers to continue to offer EMS opportunities, if both the practice and the student feel that they are able to safely undertake a placement. The following guidance aims to provide information to support practices when taking students onto EMS placements during the pandemic, through advice and information on measures that could be used to minimise and / or mitigate possible risks involved. 

Education is included in the category that the government allows to be exempt from certain restrictions, such as travel. EMS falls within the definition of education and therefore students would be permitted to attend placements. 

Offering students an EMS opportunity remains at the discretion of the practice and this guidance does not intend to put pressure on practices taking on students if they do not wish to, but is intended to act as a guide for those practices that are willing to.

Thank you to those who are already continuing to offer placements where you can, your ongoing assistance in providing this vital service is much appreciated, and we hope that this guidance will support you in continuing to do so.

We will review this guidance and update it as necessary in line with Government and other appropriate regulations. 

It is appreciated that many practices will have incorporated different ways of working to remain open during the pandemic, and the RCVS and BVA continue to update their coronavirus advice for veterinary professionals in practice. This advice is in line with the UK governments’ latest guidelines for employers and businesses as the four nations of the UK begin to emerge from lockdown restrictions.

If you have any questions about our EMS guidance, please email ems@rcvs.org.uk.

Yours faithfully

Mandisa Greene MRCVS
President, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

Susan Dawson FRCVS
Chair, Veterinary Schools Council

James Russell MRCVS
President, British Veterinary Association

Nick Lloyd MRCVS
President, Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons

Calum McIntyre
President, Association of Veterinary Students 

 

EMS placements: guidance for practices

Risk assessment

A risk assessment prior to the commencement of a student’s EMS placement is suggested as an initial action. Risk assessments already in place for staff could be used or adapted for students, and should be cognisant of the local and national restrictions in place at the time. 

Further guidance and generic templates for risk assessments are available from the Health and Safety Executive. Other veterinary organisations have also developed their own templates specifically for use in the veterinary sector.

Students will also be acting responsibly themselves, but there may be situations in which they may be living with others who are at risk, therefore practices should be aware that there may be situations where a student wishes to withdraw from a placement due to any concerns of high risk.

COVID-19 testing

Although recent test results and infection rate data may offer some reassurance, it cannot eliminate the risk entirely as a negative test result is only representative of that individual’s infection status at the time of testing. However, some universities are offering students routine testing and are closely monitoring any cases and contact tracing as part of their own processes which is helpful.

Any available testing data would be a helpful consideration as part of the practice risk assessment, and practices could check the availability of this information with the student and / or university in advance of the placement.

Some universities regularly publish data about current infection rates within the student body, on their websites.  However, these rates are likely to be university wide rather than specifically for the vet schools.

Practices may also have in place protocols around track and tracing programmes, please see RCVS COVID-19 FAQ 26.

Information on university measures in place

Measures have been put into place by the universities themselves to mitigate risk of infection within the vet school and student body, such as teaching and accommodation “bubbles”, safety measures around social distancing in and around the school buildings, and wearing of PPE in clinics, for example.  As further reassurance for practices, it is advised that these measures could be discussed between the provider and the student or school.

Practice staff “bubbles”

Some practices may have already introduced these measures, but setting up a practice “bubble”, or A and B rotas so that the same groups of vet surgeons or vet nurses are on shift at any given time, can reduce the risk of infection.  This could also limit the number of staff who may need to enter periods of self-isolation in the event of a positive test.

Practices could also consider assigning a student to a single vet, if at all possible.  Whilst this may limit the experience to an extent, it could further minimise the risk of infection during a placement.

As mentioned above, students themselves are likely to be operating within their own bubbles, so it would also be advisable to ask them to provide any information on measures they may be taking to minimise risk, to offer the placement additional assurances.

Personal Protective Equipment

It is advisable that students are given advice and guidance on the PPE a practice will have available to them, and what they may need to provide for themselves. They should also be provided with clear guidance on what PPE should be worn at different times, for example, when seeing cases, and at other times within the practice.

Please see RCVS COVID-19 FAQ 24 for further guidance around PPE.

Communication around measures already implemented at the practice

Prior to a placement commencing, it would be useful for the student if they can be briefed on any measures that have been implemented at the practice to make it COVID-19 secure, as well as any other information that would be beneficial for the student, such as:

  • are staff bubbles or set rotas in place;
  • the protocols in place if there are situations where social distancing would not be possible, such as in a smaller consulting room.

This could help to save time at the beginning of a placement and could also manage the expectations of the student.

Longer term, block placements

The option for a longer EMS placement or block-booking of placements could reduce the risk to staff by reducing the number of students attending during a specific period. However, it is recognised that this may not be practical or even possible for all providers or students.

Location of students

Local placements would be preferable where possible, but it is recognised that students may not live locally to a variety of providers, for example, students living in or near cities may be less likely to have easy access to large animal or equine providers.

On-site or local accommodation

In situations where longer distance travel is required and permissible, any on-site or local accommodation that can be recommended by the provider would be appreciated.  This could reduce the risk of infection from any other outside contact to the student.

Transport whilst the student is on placement

Restrictions in certain areas may prevent the option for staff and a student to travel together in a car.  If transport will be required during the placement, it is advised to make arrangements with the student prior to the placement.  Not all students will have access to their own vehicle during the placement period.  For those students that do have their own vehicle, they should be encouraged to check that their insurance would cover them when using it on placement.

If you have any questions about our EMS guidance, please email ems@rcvs.org.uk.