Straight from the horse’s mouth - A report from Liverpool SEVA Congress 2018

By Jessica French, Liverpool and member of the SEVA Congress Committee

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The Student Equine Veterinary Association (SEVA) was formed through the mutual interest in equine practice between students across the UK vet schools. Since 2013, an annual congress has been held, open to all veterinary students to meet like-minded people, learn from some of the best in the equine business and cement the SEVA bond between universities. This year ‘The University of Liverpool hosted it’s very first and much anticipated SEVA Congress, and as a congress attendee, I’m here to give a first-hand account of congress events…straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak!

The eagerly anticipated congress began on the Friday night when Liverpool’s ‘Leahurst Campus’ was invaded by a hoard of eager vet students who had travelled the length and breadth of the country to see what our university had to offer. The specially selected set of ‘horsey nerds’ which made up the SEVA committee had been working tirelessly for months to prepare the congress and make sure every eventuality was prepared for. The ‘Lord Trees Bar’ was in full swing, the pizza wagon was busily satisfying hungry travellers and Liverpool vet school’s much-loved band; ‘One Dissection’ took to the floor. Soon the marque filled with students having an out of tune singalong and exhibiting some rather questionable dance moves (largely coming from our very own SEVA committee members)! At the end of the night, Liverpool students swept the campus on a mission to find their guests for the weekend in which the usual vet student hosting set-up was organised. Hosts were supplied with enough food to feed a small army (not that anyone was complaining come Sunday morning when ‘hangover breakfast’ was a necessity) and we were left to play the well-known game of human Tetris (As many will have experienced at AVS Sports Weekend), it never ceases to amaze me just how many people you can squeeze on an airbed!  

We arrived on Saturday morning bright eyed and ready to learn like the self-proclaimed nerds we all were! The committee had split the congress attendees into three streams to keep numbers low for maximal hands on opportunity in the practicals, something which is always well sought after at any student congress. My day began with orthopaedics which started with the semi-controlled mummification of the equine practice horse models. Next, we were let loose with, what could be mistaken to any passers-by as several implements of torture to practice testing for and paring out foot abscesses. During this practical one student commented while brandishing a hoof knife “I’ve been told you hold it like you’re stabbing someone” and there was definitely some dangerous knife wielding going on, though I’m told no one was harmed during this practical so, a good start I guess! Next Lesley Barwise Munro, ex-BEVA President and Senior Veterinary Surgeon for Newcastle Racecourse gave a brilliant demonstration of how a Lameness work-up should be done on one of our glamorous teaching ponies, Knotty. It was a fantastic ‘learn by doing’ approach, though I think Knotty was less than impressed about being “volunteered” to be poked and prodded by multiple students (I’m told she was well compensated for her time and patience). These practicals were fantastic for cementing the hands-on aspects of equine orthopaedics, as so many of us are well-known ‘practical learners, the SEVA committee ensured to cater to this at every opportunity throughout the weekend, which we all benefitted from.

Next, we were greeted by a scene which, on first appearances looked like something from the ‘Godfather’ film. We walked in to be met by several severed horse heads and I couldn’t help but think to myself ‘what are the maths students doing right now?’ I highly doubt spending their weekends elbow deep in horse carcass! However, as we all got stuck in, we were pleasantly surprised by just how useful this set of practicals were for cementing basic dental principles. Vicki Nichols, BEVA President 2016-17 and Advanced Veterinary Practitioner in equine medicine and dentistry (AKA the tooth fairy), gave an excellent ‘Equine dentistry guide for dummies,’ providing useful ways to remember the minefield of equine dentistry!  This was definitely one of the practicals I gained most out of thanks to Vicki herself, as despite her intimidating knowledge, she made us all feel completely relaxed with her fun attitude and approach to teaching! As well as getting excellent instruction and visualisation of equine dentition, we all tried our hand using the various dental instruments. Overall when leaving the practical we were all in agreement that we were feeling much more confident in tackling basic equine dentistry.

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After a lecture lunch provided by ‘Protexin’ where Gemma Davidson delivered an inspiring talk about what to do if you feel a career in clinical practice isn’t for you, it was lecture time…. Now I was sceptical after spending a year on rotations and being incredibly out of practice sitting in a stuffy lecture theatre for extended periods, that my attention wouldn’t waver, but I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong! Jeremy Kemp Symonds (who has too many degrees to count!) did a fantastically relevant lecture on Strangles, based on his time working with ‘Bransby Horses’. Then, the final lecture of the day was by Catherine Dunnett, founder of ‘Independent Equine Nutrition who really drove home how good management of nutrition could aid or even solve a plethora of equine conditions which is something many of us take for granted.  

  The Liverpool SEVA Committee: Proving this lot can dress in something other than gillets and country boots!

The Liverpool SEVA Committee: Proving this lot can dress in something other than gillets and country boots!

 One of the most anticipated events of the entire weekend was the chance to dress up in our finery (a welcome break from our daily ensemble of waterproofs and wellies) and visit what could possibly be the most ideal location for SEVA ball ever, Aintree Race Course, home of the Grand National! It was a fantastic night with a raffle which raised £1750?? Wilberry Wonder Pony with some excellent prizes donated by our sponsors and other local businesses. A touching speeches was made by Professor Debbie Archer, much loved soft tissue surgeon at Liverpool University. She thanked everyone involved in making SEVA happen, and discussed her own personal ties to the Horse Trust, one of the key sponsors of the SEVA event, and commented that her suturing practical may be a little ‘interesting’ the next day following the copious amounts of wine consumed! There was not a dry seat in the house following the speech from the Wilberry Wonder Pony Charity, discussing its origin and the work it now does putting research into finding a cure for osteosarcomas and granting ‘Wilberry’s wishes’ to sufferers with a passion for riding.

To let our stomachs settle after the three-course meal, before vigorous dancing ensued, we had our own race night where each table could try their luck at backing the winning horse – it’s safe to say, based on the results I should never take up betting for a living! The friendly, competitive nature vets are known for kept things interesting with plenty of heckling and cheers and the lucky winning table were rewarded for their picking prowess with a round of drinks at the bar. Once tables were cleared and all bets were off, the dancing began! Vet students and clinicians alike sung and boogied away to classic party tunes while the kindly donated Aintree photographer was busily snapping away to capture what was definitely one of the best nights of the vet school social calendar. 

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To let our stomachs settle after the three-course meal, before vigorous dancing ensued, we had our own race night where each table could try their luck at backing the winning horse – it’s safe to say, based on the results I should never take up betting for a living! The friendly, competitive nature vets are known for kept things interesting with plenty of heckling and cheers and the lucky winning table were rewarded for their picking prowess with a round of drinks at the bar. Once tables were cleared and all bets were off, the dancing began! Vet students and clinicians alike sung and boogied away to classic party tunes while the kindly donated Aintree photographer was busily snapping away to capture what was definitely one of the best nights of the vet school social calendar!

 

On Sunday morning, feeling slightly fragile but fuelled with bacon butties, we braved the miserable north-western weather to spend our Sunday learning about grass sickness and pre-purchase exams. After all, if it’s anything vet students are good at, it’s getting our bums out of bed hideously early the morning after a party!

Don’t break the horse during the vetting – stellar advice from clinician, Luke Edwards during the first lecture of the morning, Equine pre-purchase exam. Luke, using sarcastic humour and a dead-pan expression managed to keep the attention of even the most hungover of students and made pre-purchase exams seem like a walk in the park. The next lecture was a fantastic run through of equine Parasitology by Liverpool’s own Jane Hodgkinson and for the final years came as welcome revision of our third-year lectures which had been long since pushed to the dark depths of our brains! A further lecture was given on Equine Grass Sickness by Dr Jo Ireland who in partnership with the Animal Health trust has done extensive work on this topic. The SEVA committee did a fantastic job in finding lecturers who really knew their topic inside out and had a passion for their subject, as these are the speakers which really excel at delivering information to students.  

Next the triple-threat of Danny Chambers, Ebony Escalona and recent Liverpool Grad, Amelia Hutchinson re-ignited everyone’s interest and passion for veterinary which is sometimes easily lost when bogged down with work, life and exams. Their humorous approach and willingness to share embarrassing anecdotes from their experiences in practice (I don’t think anyone can top Danny’s first weekend on call!) hit home that none of us are perfect, we will all make mistakes and most importantly, that it’s ok if we do! These kinds of talks are, in my opinion, just as important (if not more so!!) as the educational ones and it was fantastic to hear afterwards how many students their talk struck a chord with. It was great to hear so many students talking animatedly following this talk about their chosen career paths and giggling at their own embarrassing stories. After almost a lifetime of people drilling it into you that you must be perfect it was an incredible relief for someone to come along and tell us all its ok if we’re not! If you are not familiar with the Facebook pages these guys have set up, I implore you to check them out as whether you’re straight out of vet school or have been in the career years, even if you no longer work in clinical practice, it’s a fantastic support network for all vets! 

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My final afternoon of the congress was made up of more practicals; first Professor Debbie Archer walked us through the procedure of inserting a tracheostomy tube. I can’t express how useful this was as the first time any of us are likely to perform this procedure is in an emergency situation, so it was nice to have a little heads up on what to do! After that, we got the rare chance to play with an endoscope, guiding it through a makeshift larynx, shortly followed by suturing practice with Ben Curnow who gave us some handy tips, most notably, the “Dulux colour chart” of ‘Hibi’ concentrations on what dilution should be used for what. If Ben ever fancied a change of career, I’m convinced there would be a job waiting for him in interior design! After mostly avoiding needle-stick injuries from suturing, we moved onto nerve blocks lead by one of our much-loved equine interns Pablo Jimenez who patiently walked us through all the landmarks for various blocks around the eye. The following week on rotations we had the opportunity to put these blocks into practice and Pablo was practically bursting with pride with high-fives all around when we all remembered his teaching. Our final activity of the day was a seminar lead by ace equine intern, Kim Davies on common colic presentations in first opinion practice, where to refer or not to refer was indeed the question.  

It’s a good end to any congress when you feel like you know more when you come out than when you went in and even better when you find you’ve learnt things about yourself. For example; I now know for sure I want equine medicine to feature in my future career …. And also, that I can make a dam good bacon sandwich at the speed of light when we all got up late after the party on Saturday night. So, all in all, the SEVA Congress has tested, enhanced and allowed us all to gain skills essential in the veterinary career and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we did a lot, we learnt a lot and we had a whale of a time doing it!

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