Practice joins school's innovative 'distributed learning' scheme - Veterinary Practice
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Practice joins school’s innovative ‘distributed learning’ scheme

Christine Shield visits a veterinary hospital in Oakham to see the changes taking place

The new Nottingham veterinary school is creating much interest with its innovative approach to the curriculum and its system of “distributed learning”, where private practices and other outside bodies provide much of the clinical teaching.

I wanted to see how this worked from the point of view of the practices concerned, and visited the Oakham Veterinary Hospital in Leicestershire to find out.

The practice was first opened by George Gibson back in 1900. The family connection was maintained until 2004 when grandson Michael Gibson left, at which time the name was changed from Gibsons Veterinary Hospital. The practice moved into its new, purpose-built premises in May 2005.

The practice was first approached by Nottingham University four years ago, as part of its feasibility study for a new veterinary degree course. Many local practices were contacted, seeking feedback on the novel (to the veterinary profession) distributed learning concept and finding out who might be suitable and interested in participating. The practice was already considering relocation from its central Oakham premises.

The practice has long had excellent clinical standards, taking students on EMS from the other schools and equine referrals from much of the east Midlands, so involvement with Nottingham seemed like an appropriate step. Most of the university’s clinical equine teaching as well as some small animal work will soon take place at Oakham.

The new premises were funded entirely by the practice, though Nottingham has subsequently paid for an additional stable block, incorporating a student common room and teaching rooms, and for certain items of equipment such as the scintigraphy unit.

Over the next couple of years three members of academic staff will be permanently based at the hospital and 10-14 Nottingham students will be on placement at any one time, split between equine surgical, equine medical, equine ambulatory and small animal rotations.

The students will gain genuine clinical experience in a real-life practice situation, dealing with clientowned horses, both sport and leisure animals, and will gain insight into relevant equestrian industries. This should help to produce wellrounded, competent and confident graduates.

In their third year the Nottingham students spend three months on a clinical project, resulting in a publishable paper. Some have already undertaken projects at the practice and partner Neal Ashton told me that he is very excited about the possibilities.

A practice of this size and quality has an enormous amount of clinical data available but not the spare time to exploit it and produce quality clinical papers. This is exactly the sort of thing that students can do, with benefits for their education, for the practice’s reputation and for the knowledge base of the profession.

Ethics lecture

I wondered how much effect the continual presence of students will have on the workings of a privatelyowned practice operating in a commercial world. Neal Ashton told me that client confidentiality is a critical issue: the practice takes care of many high-profile event horses and it is essential that their medical histories or the results of vettings do not “leak” from the practice. New students get a lecture on ethics and confidentiality at a very early stage.

Practice manager Tessa Smith told me that the relationship with Nottingham has not had a huge impact on the practice yet, just the provision of some rather nice additional equipment, but that the imminent arrival of the students is very much to the forefront in planning the systems and protocols.

Soon there will be more people than usual involved in most procedures and some will have very limited equine experience. Neal was confident that the impact of procedures taking longer due to teaching is compensated for by the increased expertise and diagnostic equipment that is available as a result of the collaboration.

The high-tech approach to education that is evident in the Nottingham course is echoed in the practice facilities. An imagemanagement system will ensure that all images (radiographs, MRI images, video clips of ultrasound and endoscopy, etc.) can be accessed from any work station in the practice and also from Nottingham University.

All are archived and available to the students.

Viewing operations

High-definition video cameras in the operating theatres mean that procedures can be viewed live in the lecture theatres: these too are archived for future reference.

A new project for the practice, also related to education, is a branch practice opening shortly on the Moulton College campus in Northamptonshire, part of its new state-of-the-art equine physiotherapy centre. This will be used as a training resource for the college’s veterinary nursing and animal management courses.

The Oakham Veterinary Hospital has had an enviable reputation for quality in equine medicine and surgery in the 20th century, and in the 21st seems set to enhance and increase that by making a major contribution to veterinary education.

I think George Gibson would be very proud.

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