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Exploring support for vet students

Abstract

Recently qualified vet Amber Marshall was supported through vet school by Royal Canin as part of its ambassador programme. Here, she describes what the role involved.

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As a student, being able to take up a role with responsibility, in an area of veterinary science you feel comfortable with, is a nice place to be. I achieved this by becoming a student ambassador for Royal Canin.

When I went to Bristol vet school, I found our online learning resource – the Vet Student Network – contained lots of useful information. It was here I learnt what being a Royal Canin student ambassador involved and, during my second year, when a position became available, I applied. There is one student ambassador in each of the UK schools.

The application process involved written and interview elements. I was asked a few nutrition-based questions, and for my ideas about what I could bring to the role.

Having been selected, I met up with my supervisor Lee Danks, the company’s scientific manager to discuss my responsibilities and ideas. It was also my chance to ask him any questions.

Considering a similar role?

The top pieces of advice I would give to anyone considering a position of responsibility, such as being a student ambassador, are:

• Organisation is key

Dedicate some time each week to the role alongside your studies. It can be hard to focus all efforts on one thing or another, which leaves you feeling bogged down and pushed for time. I made sure that any jobs were put on my ‘to-do list’ and completed by the end of each week. There is nothing more satisfying than crossing something off the list when accomplished.

• Be creative

During my time as an ambassador, it was important to think of new and exciting ways to help reach out to peers and fellow students in order to increase awareness of what resources were available to them. When meeting with ambassadors from other universities, it then became important to bounce these ideas off one another to further improve the outcome. It was always great fun coming up with plans and then putting them into action and discovering what worked and what didn’t.

• Knowledge is power

Being a ‘rep’ can provide opportunities to further your own education and that of others around you. Use the resources available and ask questions. Immerse yourself into the role and you will have the best experience because of it.

This put me at ease and I felt more comfortable about my new role.

Why apply?

I believe that nutrition is a key factor in preventive and therapeutic medicine so the role felt like a natural fit for me. It also gave me the opportunity to build relationships and provided me with knowledge and tools that I have been able to transfer directly into working in practice.

Ambassadors receive significant training in presentation skills, communications workshops, consultation skills and nutrition.

As vets, many of the cases we see on a daily basis can be related to poor nutrition in one way or another. Obesity, dermatitis, gastroenteritis and uroliths are just a few common cases that can be improved with good nutrition. I believe it’s important to educate pet owners about how these diseases can be prevented.

Increasing the nutritional knowledge of vets and vet students means they can pass on information in a palatable way

Increasing the nutritional knowledge of vets and vet students means they can pass on information in a more palatable way – I wanted to be a part of that.

My role certainly helped me to develop my understanding of nutrition and, as my knowledge grew, so did my confidence.

Now I’m qualified and working in practice, I’m able to initiate conversations with people about how best to feed their pets for a range of medical and dietary issues.

I am comfortable talking to groups too. I gained this skill at vet school when I gave the annual welcome presentation to first-year students, highlighting the resources that were available to them.

The role also gave me the chance to make friends and network with other vets and vet students, not only in the UK, but worldwide as well.

Insight

Being a student ambassador offered me an insight into how other sectors operate and work within the veterinary world. I’ve enjoyed seeing and learning the ways in which businesses provide opportunities to engage and educate not only students and vets, but pet owners too.

I’ve also been exposed to the level of work and research that goes into developing and producing pet food and how companies go about improving their products and why.

The experience has broadened my mind outside the vet school ‘bubble’ and I hope I have been able to encourage others in the same way.

Unexpected skills

When I stepped into the role, I had no idea how many e-mails I would need to send to such large numbers of the veterinary cohort, or how many people I would need to present myself to.

Alongside this were numerous meetings with other student ambassadors and members of staff to arrange evening talks, sponsorship, raffles, competitions, and so on.

I had always thought of myself as a confident person, but I had to develop a stronger, more outgoing persona to deal with groups of people and the large number of new contacts I had made. Looking back, I'd pass on top three tips to other students wanting to take up the role (see box). But probably my fourth and most important point would be ‘enjoy yourself’.

Working in practice

Now that I’m qualified, my clients benefit because I have the ability to give them information confidently and clearly.

I also feel as though I have been able to engage in informed conversations with clients regarding appropriate nutrition for their animals. Among many other things, being a student ambassador enhanced my student experience and has given me additional skills that allow me to do my job better.

Although doing a veterinary degree is challenging, there are many opportunities for support and these should be explored. I am very appreciative to have had this role.

I developed a stronger, more outgoing persona to deal with the large number of contacts I had made

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