How to Succeed on your EMS Placement

You’ve already completed many weeks of Animal Health EMS (AHEMS), so you know the drill- but now it’s time for Clinical EMS (CEMS) and that’s another thing entirely! But don’t worry! We’ve got the lowdown on how to ace your EMS placement!

Finding a good EMS placement

Finding a good placement can make all the difference to how much you learn, but it can be difficult. Don’t worry if not every placement is a huge success- it’s completely normal to have some placements that aren’t quite what you expected.

If you can, find a placement that has good reviews from other students- you can ask others in your year group or your university may have a placements office that can help you find a well-reviewed placement.

You can also try to drop in or call a placement and get a feel for how they respond to students – clinics with a member of staff in charge of placement planning are likely to have had many students in the past and will often be more set-up to help you settle in.

Preparing for your EMS Placement

Preparation is important. Unless you’ve received communication from your practice it’s a good idea to call them two-three days before your placement.

This reminds them that you’re coming and gives you a chance to ask questions such as whether they prefer you wear trousers of a particular colour, whether you should bring lunch (there isn’t always a shop nearby) and who you should ask for when you arrive.

You should also prepare academically- whilst the vets are unlikely to quiz you as they will on rotations, you’ll get more out of the experience if you’re up to date with common conditions in the species.

Don’t forget to remind yourself of species-specific vocabulary too, so you can understand what the vet is talking about.

At the placement

Once you’re on your EMS placement, there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the most out of the learning experience.

Make friends, make tea

You might think you’re there to learn, but you’ll find that a whole lot easier if the team are on your side. Offering to make tea is an easy way to show you’re willing to work hard. And it doesn’t hurt when the nurses have a bit of extra caffeine-fuelled energy, especially when you want them to show you how to place a catheter!

Find a job and help out as often as possible

Taking responsibility for one small thing is a great way to help you feel like you’ve achieved something as well as taking the load off the staff. You might be able to wipe the consult room table down after each visit, take the dogs out for their walks, or phone all the clients after their dogs are out of surgery to let them know they’re in recovery.

If you can’t see something to do, ask- the team will be thrilled you’ve shown initiative and pleased you don’t consider yourself ‘above’ cleaning a kennel! You’ll hopefully also save them time- time they can then put to helping you learn how to place a catheter or take blood from a jugular.

Common jobs on EMS include:

  • Taking and recording temperature, pulse and respiration (TPR)
  • Helping hold animals
  • Giving injections
  • Clipping and preparing for surgery
  • Monitoring animals in recovery
  • Returning pets to their owners after surgery
  • Walking and caring for pets in the kennels
  • Giving medications to kennelled animals

Learn where things are kept- it makes you more useful

Try to quickly take stock of where regular-use things are kept so you can act as a runner. This is a great way to ensure you’re a help, not a hindrance! Syringes, needles, bandaging material, cannulas, cannula bungs, swabs/cotton wool, thermometers and the otoscope/ophthalmoscope are all useful things to know the location of.

Once you’ve got the hang of that, see if you can find the suture materials and spare sterile surgical equipment.

Ask to watch if you’re left behind

As a student, it’s easy to feel unwanted, especially when it feels that vets purposefully don’t ask you if you want to watch consults or go into surgery with them. But the truth is, they’re really busy and have other things on their minds. Politely ask if you can watch a surgery or stand in the consulting room with them.

You may also find it’s easier to stick to one vet each day rather than ask repeatedly. However, if the surgery is a big one (an orthopaedic operation or exploratory laparotomy) sometimes the vet will ask that you don’t attend.

Don’t be upset- sometimes there isn’t room for everybody and all the equipment, sometimes it’s to reduce potential wound contamination, and sometimes it’s because the vet needs to concentrate. Instead, find another job (see tip above).

Ask questions…

It sounds obvious to say you’ll get more out of an EMS placement if you ask plenty of questions, but it’s definitely true. Don’t feel embarrassed if you think a question sounds stupid- the vets have probably heard it all before!

Besides, it’s far better to ask a question that’s a bit embarrassing than to appear disinterested. You can ask why a vet chose a particular treatment, why a vet decided on a diagnosis, or why they approached a client in a particular way.

You can even ask a theoretical question- “If that dog had been aggressive, how would that have changed your management?” if you’re struggling for ideas.

…But try not to criticise the vets or nurses

It’s easy to learn the gold-standard treatments and procedures at university, but important to remember that real life is slightly different.

There’s often a good reason why a vet doesn’t do something the way you were taught- they may have been taught differently or may find a different method easier or a different treatment more successful. Make sure that your questions are polite and non-confrontational.

Keep preparing

Towards the end of the day, take a few minutes to look through the surgical and consult list for the following day. If there are any procedures or presenting complaints you’d like to brush up on, you’ve got a chance to do so that evening.

Having said that- make sure you take some time to yourself each evening. CEMS are hard work, especially when you’ve just finished a term at university or are in the middle of rotations. You also need to learn how to practice self-care!

After your placement

At the end of your placement, it’s polite to take a thank you card and a little gift of chocolates or cake. If you’ve had a good time, it’s a good idea to try to go back again- the more you get to know the vets and nurses, the more they’ll want to teach you.

Even if you can’t or don’t want to return, thank the team for all their help. If they give you feedback, try to listen to what they’re saying- it’s a good idea to reflect at the end of the final day and make a note of anything you would do differently next time.


Once your placement is finished and you’re ready to start looking for your first job, take a look at our range of vet jobs including positions in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.