Professional and Clinical Skills Courses in the Veterinary School
Reflection on skills development and on implementing feedback are essential aspects of the professional and clinical skills courses.
Students in the Veterinary Medicine (Clinical) programme undertake a professional and clinical skills (P&CS) course every year from Year 1-4, each course building on the last. These courses teach students drug calculations, patient intake interviews and many other practical skills.
Essential for the completion of the courses is a portfolio, which evidences their development in a series of skills as well as action plans for developing their weaknesses the following year. These skill records are reflective in nature and students discuss their progression with their personal tutor (PT) who see the student’s portfolio prior to the final meeting of the year in May.
Some students find immense value in the reflective process, where others find it to be challenging and fail to see the value. Reflective practice is essential to being a good veterinarian and the course team is working on communicating how essential the skill is to their students.
Takeaways may include
- Reflection acts as an excellent tool to support skill development.
- Introducing students to reflection in a lecture with participation and examples is a great way to show students what academic reflection looks like.
- Keeping reflections in a portfolio which is made available to the personal tutor prior to an end-of-year meeting is an effective way to allow personal tutors to support their students’ personal and professional development.
- Having students keep a feedback report ensures that students engage with their feedback and reflect about how to use it in the future.
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P&CS 1 to 4 is a series of vertical skills courses taught in the Veterinary Medicine (Clinical) Programme.
Veterinary students throughout Years 1-4.
Course Organisers and some admin staff required for qualitative assessment of the portfolios.
Students complete a range of reflective exercises focused on skill development, which they include in their portfolio.
A lecture is given at the beginning of Year 1 dedicated to teaching students about reflection.
Each portfolio is checked by admin staff.
It is difficult to estimate how much time students spend on reflection as this depends on the individual student and their level of engagement.
The P&CS are a range of courses that prepare students to become professional veterinarians. Students develop aspects such as client-facing skills, financial skills relevant for running a practice, record keeping, and drug calculations.
Moreover, students are prepared for their required Extra-Mural Studies (EMS), which are short placements that veterinary students must undertake during their degree.
These courses are marked as pass/fail based on attendance and completion of a portfolio as well as a small number of other tasks.
Reflection in context
Reflection is critical for both the development of the students, and for them to complete the course requirements. Students must complete a range of reflective documents, which will be included in their portfolio:
- Skills reflections
- Self-reflection of the progress over the year
- A feedback record
Introducing and implementing reflection
In the first lecture of P&CS 1, students are introduced to structured reflection through the Gibbs’ reflective cycle (See link below for description of Gibbs’ cycle). In this lecture students discuss two example reflections where they are only given the facts of the situation. They must deliberate how they imagine the person is reacting, what they learned, and how they will act differently in the future.
After the discussion, students are shown prepared reflections by the team for both examples. This enables students to have a chance at reflecting themselves and then compare this with a prepared example displaying the type of reflection the course team is looking for.
At the end of the lecture, students are shown videos of professional veterinarians who are reflecting on a critical incident. The veterinarians show how they have improved their actions and exemplify a full rotation of Gibbs’ cycle.
For further supporting the reflection in students, all of the documents students have to complete for their portfolio have reflective prompts.
Gibbs’ reflective cycle (within the Reflectors’ Toolkit)
For the skills reflections, students are asked to summarise the skills they have been working on and evidence their progress. The evidence can come from curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular situations. Students are also asked to find gaps in their current skillset and provide an action plan for how they wish to work on these gaps in the future.
The students’ self-reflection of their progress over the year is made up of three components.
- The first encourages students to reflect on general successes and failures, while continuously asking themselves why.
- The second component asks students to reflect on their EMS placements.
- The last component tasks students with reflecting on their work/life balance.
In relationship to the last component, students are introduced to The New Economics Foundation's ‘the 5 ways to wellbeing’ , and are tasked with creating goals in relation to these. Students must reflect on which they have achieved and what is required to achieve the rest. Based on these, students are asked to formalise an action plan for the following year.
For the feedback record students reflect and document all feedback they receive. They are asked to record:
- Who gave you the feedback? (lecturer/tutor/peer/EMS placement provider)
- The type of feedback (verbal/written/active demonstration)
- What was the feedback?
- How useful was it?
- What actions are you going to take in response to the feedback?
The reflections are not strictly assessed but must be completed. However, all portfolios will be looked through by admin staff and if a student has not made a serious attempt at completing the reflections, this may be highlighted for the Exam Board.
Moreover, the portfolios are made available to the student’s PT prior to the final PT meeting of the year in May. The reflections therefore serve to create a foundation for discussing the student’s transition into the next year of study.
While there is substantial support available to the students (a lecture introducing reflection and question prompts for all the documents), the course team believe there is a lot of value in allowing students to reflect in their own personal way. However, to be classified as reflection it is essential that the student revisits an experience and highlights strengths and weaknesses in order to improve future practice. These requirements can be met in many ways.
The series of skills courses taught within the Veterinary School allow students to develop into professional clinicians. Reflection is an important clinical skill and an approach that can significantly support the development of other skills. Asking students to keep a portfolio reflecting on their development and yearly progress also functions as a great foundation for end-of-year PT meetings.
Course descriptions (University of Edinburgh DRPS 2018-19)
Dr Jessie Paterson (Veterinary School)