Hands-on clinical training invaluable for OVC student veterinarians

Externship Project

Experiential learning is a key component in the student veterinarian’s journey.  This is particularly true for fourth-year students at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) as they move from lectures and labs into an intensive year of clinical training prior to graduation.

It is a defining experience as they transition from the classroom to the clinic and put to work the clinical, diagnostic, problem-solving and client communication skills they have been honing over the past three years.

In a typical year, this shift to clinical learning begins with an eight-week externship.

Supported by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, students complete the eight-week Externship Course between third and fourth year in a veterinary practice that works with food animals, as well as companion animals and/or horses.

“These externships provide an invaluable experiential learning opportunity,” said Prof. Joanne Hewson, Associate Dean, Students and Academic. “Students have an opportunity to practice their diagnostic and problem-solving skills in a real-world setting while working as part of a team providing animal care to the public. It’s a crucial step in preparing them for their entry into the veterinary profession.”

But 2020 was not a typical year. The provincial shutdown in March 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, impacted class delivery in the final months of the academic year and delayed the start of the externship course for the current cohort of final year students.

As the province began to re-open during the summer, fourth-year student veterinarians began to move back into clinical rotations and into their externships. Although the length of the externship placements had to be shortened to four weeks, in order to accommodate other training requirements and the timeline to graduation, the externship is considered a critical aspect of training and it was important to maintain it despite the pandemic.

“During the challenges of the pandemic, our faculty and staff have worked incredibly hard to ensure OVC continues to meet our high standards in delivering our curriculum, clinical rotations, and externship opportunities,” added Hewson.  “I greatly appreciate the flexibility and empathy our Phase 4 team and our external host partners have shown in making it possible to get our final year veterinary students back into this important experiential training. The team has simply been amazing in accomplishing this!”

The Externship Course started in the mid-1980s to provide practical, real-life experience to DVM students entering their final year.

Practitioners provide their expertise and mentorship. They also evaluate the students’ progress in achieving core competencies, ranging from clinical abilities to communication skills, which will be essential during their first months after graduation. Many of the practices have been hosting students for more than 20 years – their support is critical.

“We are extremely grateful to these veterinary practitioners for their commitment to educating our next generation of veterinarians,” said Prof. John Tait, OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies and Externship Course coordinator. “They add such great mentorship and guidance to our students, help build their skills and confidence, and are the reason the externship program is so impactful on veterinary student training at OVC”.

The Externship Course is a component of the Veterinary Capacity Program (VCP), supported by the partnership between OMAFRA and the University of Guelph and delivered through the Ontario Agri-Food Alliance. The VCP provides annual funding to the OVC to help prepare veterinary graduates with an emphasis on animal agriculture, emergency preparedness, food security and animal-related public health.

Since 2014, the OVC Externship Blog Project has followed student veterinarians as they share their experiences. Their posts provide an opportunity for future students, DVM students, OVC faculty, staff and alumni, government funding agencies and the community to discover what student veterinarians are learning, as well as providing an opportunity for student veterinarians to develop communication and social media skills for use in their future veterinary careers.

This year, the OVC Externship Blog Project looks a little different.  Our three student veterinarians put together a series of blogs through the fall of 2020 as they completed their externships in Ontario veterinary practices.  Carleigh Cathcart completed her externship with Mildmay Veterinary Clinic in Mildmay, Ontario, Roseann Kehoe was with Holliday Veterinary Hospital in Cambridge, Ontario, and Mikkyla Reid worked with Highway 24 Veterinary Clinic, Guelph, Ontario.

Stay tuned to the OVC Externship Blog Project as we share Carleigh, Roseann and Mikkyla’s blogs over the next few weeks.