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Standards of behaviour

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IT was almost certainly a coincidence rather than a deliberate attempt to spoil anyone's fun. Nevertheless, it is ironic that the RCVS should have approved new guidance on veterinary students' fitness to practise in the same week that students from across the UK were heading to Dublin for this year's AVS Sports Weekend, an event which is traditionally renowned for giving everyone involved an opportunity to enjoy themselves to the full. The guidance,1 which has also been approved by the newly formed Veterinary Schools Council (see p 497 of this issue), explains that veterinary students are expected to represent the future of the profession and, as such, must conduct themselves professionally at all times. ‘Fitness to practise,’ it tells them, ‘encompasses not only your professional competence and practical skills, but also the way in which you conduct yourself outside the clinical environment. This includes your private life and student life.’ It also extends to use of social media. The aim of the new guidance, the RCVS explains, is to introduce students to the concept of fitness to practise at an early stage in their careers, and to promote good fitness to practise regimes in the UK veterinary schools.

The guidance is divided into two parts. The first, aimed at veterinary schools, gives advice on recognising concerns about a student's fitness to practise and addressing those concerns in a fair and appropriate way. The second, directed at veterinary students, ‘sets out broad principles of fitness to practise that [students] should follow and which veterinary schools should expect and uphold.’ These principles – which relate to students' behaviours in relation to people, in practice as well as in their student and private lives – are based on those underlying the RCVS Code of Professional Conduct, and the guidance encourages students to familiarise themselves with the Code and aim to follow its principles even though they are not yet qualified. Although discussing general principles rather than attempting to provide a definitive list of good and bad behaviours, it nevertheless gives a number of examples of professional behaviours that veterinary students are expected to demonstrate, as well as examples of behaviours that might result in their fitness to practise being called into question.

Examples provided of behaviour that might give rise to concern in relation to students' dealings with people are ‘breaching client confidentiality without proper justification’; ‘inappropriate or offensive behaviour towards fellow students, colleagues or clients’; and ‘failure to respect a client's instructions or going beyond the scope of consent’. Regarding behaviour in practice, they include ‘demonstrating a serious or persistent lack of insight into your limitations and lack of experience’; ‘deliberately ignoring or failing to follow instructions or advice’; and ‘taking unnecessary risks and compromising animal welfare’. Regarding private and student life they include ‘aggressive, threatening or violent behaviour’; ‘substance misuse, eg, drugs, alcohol or other substances that can impair performance’; ‘dishonesty, cheating or plagiarising, including dishonesty outside the professional role’; and misuse of social media.

Use of social media is the subject of a specific section of the guidance, which tells students ‘you must uphold the reputation of your chosen profession at all times. You should be mindful that you may jeopardise your position and your subsequent ability to join the RCVS Register if you misuse social media.’

Introducing the guidance, the RCVS notes that ‘Veterinary students have responsibilities and privileges beyond those of most other student bodies.’ It also notes that ‘The concept of being fit to practise is not just about achieving academic qualifications; it is about being of good character, being responsible and being worthy of the trust and confidence of the public and peers. In order to maintain that trust and confidence, veterinary students must behave in a manner that upholds the reputation of the profession and promotes animal welfare. In short, veterinary students must conduct themselves professionally at all times.’

All that may be true, but it must be hoped that the new guidance does not dent students' confidence unduly, or prevent them from enjoying student life appropriately.

Meanwhile, the RCVS has also recently approved guidance on use of social media and networking forums by veterinary surgeons. This is available at and notes, among other things, that ‘Veterinary surgeons have a responsibility to behave professionally and responsibly when offline, online as themselves and online in a virtual world (perhaps as an avatar or under an alias). They may put their registration at risk if they demonstrate inappropriate behaviour when using social media.’ Social media, enthusiasts keep telling us, bring many advantages, and they are certainly part of everyday life. As the new RCVS guidance indicates, they can also make professional life more complicated.


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