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Unravelling rotations by Dogtor Smith

It's a guaranteed somewhat sleepless night before you start your first rotation. For me, it was a combination of Christmas eve excitement (yes, I'm finally doing it) and pre-exam dread (I don't know anything)! I'm therefore hoping that the following blog will help open your eyes to what rotations involve and help ease some of the undoubted nerves. 

dogtor smith

The format
Now, this is the section that is most likely to differ between the vet schools. However, having chatted with a fair few graduates from other vet schools it seems all rotations largely follow a similar format. First things first, they're called 'rotations' for a reason. You will quite literally be rotating from department to department. Most universities do this with a species split, which means that all your species-specific rotations will come together (bonus - you only have to focus on one or two species at any one time) but this isn't always the case!

The length of time spent on given rotations will vary greatly dependent on your university. A generalised rule seems to be a minimum of a week with a particular department, but again, this isn't always the case. At some universities there is a fairly even split between time spent with the given species; at others there's a high small animal bias.

OOH (out of hours) cover is something that too will be university-specific. One thing for sure however is that you will definitely be expected to take on some form of OOH's cover during your rotations - embrace this, it'll be a hard test but a brilliant learning opportunity.


The expectations

A huge worry for myself and my peers was not knowing what would be expected of us during the rotations.

The main thing I would say is that no one is ever expected to be knowledgeable about every case presenting through the door. Coming from a background of completely different EMS experiences, it's fair to say the clinicians and lecturers are aware that we won't all have had the same case exposure. Their main expectations are that you can approach a case in a logical manner, carry out basic animal handling/simple procedures and formulate a sensible list of differential diagnoses.

The same can be said for client communication and professional skills. Both of these come with practice and so don't be worried if you're not as confident as your friend at taking histories and talking to clients. All that senior members of staff will expect from you is that you're engaged, polite and courteous. They will want to see that you're making progress and improving week on week. You're not expected to be a well-oiled veterinary machine on your first week of rotations, but you will be expected to be making progress and improving as you progress through the year!


Clinical cases

Rotations are a brilliant way to give you the clinical exposure that will allow you to achieve the day one competencies set out by the royal college. However, as a general rule you will encounter the following: clinical exposure that will allow you to achieve the day one competencies set out by the royal college. Now, the main message that I hope you're picking up from reading the blog so far is that no two rotation experiences will be the same and this therefore also applies to your clinical cases/case exposure. 

  • Small animal: anaesthesia, imaging, dermatology, endocrinology, oncology, ophthalmology, neurology and surgical cases. You will also be exposed to first opinion practice (plus/minus charity practice) to give you exposure of the more routine procedures such as vaccinations.
  • Farm animal: dairy, beef, sheep, camelid, poultry and pig cases as well as interacting with small holders. Also some PM and abattoir exposure.
  • Equine: first opinion practice, orthopaedics, dentistry, medicine, sports and surgical cases.

As most rotations are based in a referral setting, don't expect to know about and understand every case you see. Take extra care to read the referral letters and referring vets notes about the case. These are the bits of information that will be most relevant to you at this stage and these will help you understand the kind of cases coming through a first opinion setting. Take part and stay involved in as much of the case as possible. Look at the list of differential diagnoses and see if you would be able to recognise the main clinical signs and pathological processes for each of these. Use every case as a learning opportunity and don't get too bogged down in the finer and more technical clinical details!


Why do we do rotations?

The answer to this question is easy: nothing can possibly prepare you for clinical practice in the way rotations do.

student vet-1

The opportunity to take histories, perform clinical exams, take bloods, place catheters, formulate differential diagnoses, read vets notes/referral letters and perform basic surgical procedures is vital in shaping you as a new graduate vet. It doesn't matter how well you do in exams or how well you think you know a topic; you must be able to apply yourself to a real-life clinical scenario. This is initially incredibly daunting but, I promise, with practice it gets much much easier. Relish in the opportunities available to you and face every rotation prepared and eager to learn. Those are the skills and attitudes that will help you become a brilliant and competent new graduate veterinarian (the clinical knowledge will come with exposure and practice)!


 Finally, good luck and enjoy! Rotations were hands down my favourite period of time during vet school. I made friends for life and set a great foundation on which to build during my first few weeks as a new graduate vet. After all, they're what we spend all those years at university preparing ourselves for! 


As always, don't hesitate to contact me with any further questions.

Over and out,

 Dogtor Smith


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