On 29th April 2020, BVNA held a webinar for student veterinary and clinical coaches which discussed how the coronavirus pandemic is currently affecting SVNs. Before, during and after the webinar, we invited questions from attendees – this article, which follows up the webinar, aims to address some more of these queries.

Thank you to all who attended and participated in last week’s Covid-19 Student and Clinical Coach Q&A Session. It was great to see so many of you online, and we hope the webinar provided some support as you navigate these challenging times.

If you were unable to watch this webinar live, the recording is available here.

During the course of the webinar, we answered as many questions as we could – but due to the volume received, couldn’t get through them all! We have therefore grouped together the remaining queries we received, to answer as many as possible below.

Please note that as the situation continues to evolve very quickly, we recommend that you discuss any concerns with your training provider in the first instance, as many situations may vary between different institutions. Each training provider will have been liaising with the relevant awarding organisation and/or the RCVS as appropriate, to have the most relevant information for your own programme of training.

1. How can I continue to make progress with the NPL if I have been furloughed, or am unable to carry out my clinical placement?

You can continue to log a number of forms of evidence within the NPL, as there are many skills which can be at least partially worked towards even without being in practice. Have a chat with your training provider as they may have some tips on which skills you could be looking at and how to work towards them while on furlough.

Of course, all competencies will still need to be signed off by your clinical coach, and backed up with physical cases where necessary upon re-entry to practice – but there is lots that you can still do to be prepared to hit the ground running the moment you are able to return to work/placement.

2. What happens if I have lost my job due to COVID-19? I’m an apprentice.

We’re very sorry to hear that your employment has been affected by the current situation. We suggest that you liaise with your training provider, as in order to be able to continue your training, you would need to obtain a placement/employment within an alternative Training Practice.

3. What happens if there is a deficit in practical hours as a result of being on furlough or unable to complete placement?

We would recommend speaking to the RCVS directly regarding any queries over registration. However, the RCVS have announced some flexibility over the VN Registration Rules, stating “student veterinary nurses will still be required to complete the Day One Skills for Veterinary Nurses in their totality as these seek to assure competency at the point of registration. Where a student has completed the Day One Skills in fewer than the 1,800 hours, this will be assessed on a case-by-case basis on application to register.”

You can find a series of FAQs here.

4. Can completion of the NPL be used as evidence of practical ability instead of the OSCEs?

Evidence of demonstration of the Day One Skills for Veterinary Nurses is met in two ways – the NPL (or CSL/E-portfolio, as appropriate), plus the practical OSCEs.

With assessment of competencies via the NPL (as carried out by the clinical coach), there can be a risk of bias. The OSCEs therefore essentially act as quality assurance for the NPL and the clinical coach, as they provide external verification of skills to ensure SVNs are consistently competent. They also ensure that all SVNs are assessed in the same manner, making it a fair and valid method of assessment. OSCEs are required by the VN Standards set by the regulatory body, so must be completed in order for SVNs to complete their veterinary nursing qualification.

5. Why are other methods of practical assessment not yet available?

In order for practical assessment to take place under the current circumstances, there must be a balance between the requirements for evidence of practical ability (as outlined in Q4), with the necessity of maintaining social distancing protocols between student and examiner. Current practical assessment methods do not support social distancing measures, and the safety of all involved is the priority at the current time.

However, the RCVS have been listening to students’ and training providers’ concerns, and in response have formed a taskforce to consider alternative assessment options. They are inviting ideas, which can be submitted to vetnursing@rcvs.org.uk. The taskforce plans to present ideas back to VN Council by June. You can read more here.

6. I have 30% of my NPL left to do, and 300 hours to complete the 1800-hour training requirements. In order to finish my NPL, would it be best to go back to placement as soon as possible, or wait for things to get back to “normal”?

Unfortunately, until we have a clearer idea of how long the current lockdown protocols will be in place, this is a tricky one to answer! We’d suggest liaising with your college/university to discuss your best options. In the meantime, use the guidance in Q1 to help you be as prepared as possible for when you are able to return to practice.

7. Should I still be aiming to hit my NPL targets?

If you are worried about your NPL targets, we recommend discussing this with your training provider. If you are not working in practice at this time, you would not be expected to continue to progress as expected with your NPL. However, even if you are still working in practice, there may still be some barriers to progression (caseload, working separately to clinical coach, or a change in responsibilities due to a decrease in staff numbers). As a result, if you are concerned, it’s really important that you communicate this to your college or university so targets can be managed.

8. My RCVS enrolment may run out before I am likely to be able to sit my OSCEs. What should I do?

We suggest that you discuss this with the RCVS directly, as they have policies in place regarding extensions to student enrolments.

9. I have a young baby so doing an online exam with restrictions on noise would be really difficult. What do I do if my university says that I must take an online assessment?

Due to these changes to our work and study arrangements, it is not always easy to have the perfect environment at home to sit an exam! Universities have policies in place to ensure that students are not disadvantaged, especially when taking examinations. This is also why it’s taking a little while for universities and the RCVS to decide which alternative methods/formats of assessment are appropriate at the moment.

We’d recommend that you discuss your situation further with your university (sooner rather than later) to work out your best course of action with any of your future assessments.

10. We are split into two teams (one vet, one nurse) and my student is in the opposite team. Can the vet she is with be a witness for her to claim competency in relevant areas if she gains adequate experiences? Typically, she is assisting with some very good emergency and surgical cases at the moment.

There would generally be two ways of navigating this.

Firstly, you could request that the veterinary surgeon working alongside your student produce expert witness statements for any relevant cases they have worked on together, which could contribute towards evidencing the student’s competency. Provided appropriate experience is gained, this would be sufficient for the student to be able to claim competency. However, remember that ultimately it is your decision as the clinical coach to award competency to your student, and so there should be an element of application/discussion with your student and the supervising vet prior to signing off a skill completely.

The alternative option could be that if it is felt that it will enable your student to continue to progress more easily, it may be appropriate to consider a transfer of the clinical coach role to another member of staff (RVN or MRCVS). This could just be a temporary measure under the current working conditions.

Your student’s training provider would also be happy to discuss your options, and which might be most appropriate under these circumstances.

11. If students are in practice as part of a skeleton team, can it be made compulsory that they have the support of another RVN, if possible, their clinical coach?

The RCVS regulations which ensure that SVNs have appropriate levels of supervision at all times are still in place if staff are working in a skeleton team. However, it is a difficult time for all at the moment, and it’s not always possible to enforce practice working protocols, particularly where there is limited staffing in place. Although clinical coach supervision is the ideal situation, with working arrangements being out of the ordinary at present, the student can still be supported and supervised by another appropriate colleague (RVN or MRCVS) instead.

We appreciate that it is a worrying and uncertain time for students at the moment. Please be assured that all involved in your training want you to be able to achieve and progress, but safety has to be priority. However, it’s really important to remember that as frustrating as this time might be, it won’t last forever, and there is lots you can do to keep your brain active ready for when life returns to “normal”.

Along with BVNA’s regular updates, the following have all developed resources relating to the coronavirus pandemic and how it is currently affecting the veterinary profession, so you may find these useful to refer to in addition:

· Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

· British Veterinary Association

· Vetlife

· VetKind/Mind Matters: Calm in the Corona webinar (plus additional well-being resources can be found here)