2017 June - Veterinary student placements

All veterinarians have stories to tell of the days they spent in private practices as wide eyed eager students. It seemed to be a glimpse into the life of “the real veterinarian”. In recent years the time in practice has become a formal and essential part of student learning and occupies a large part of their final year of study. Universities rely on veterinary practices taking students for periods of 2, 3 or 4 weeks depending on the university program.

Veterinarians who accept veterinary students for a training placement are reminded they have obligations not just to the student and the university when accepting this role but also under veterinary practice legislation in NSW.

A recent case in Western Australia has highlighted the importance of meeting these obligations and in particular the importance of providing adequate supervision.

Students may be invited to observe and participate in the care of patients in the practice. This may involve such things as physical examination, pathology testing, imaging, medical care, and surgical care including involvement in surgical procedures on patients.


Veterinarians must consider the following prior to a veterinary student being involved in the care of an animal:

Unregistered persons

Veterinary students are “unregistered persons” according to veterinary practice legislation. The Veterinary Practice Act 2003 (s 9(2)(c)) provides that a student enrolled in an approved course of study who is doing a restricted act of veterinary science as part of the requirements of that course under the direct supervision of a veterinary practitioner is exempt from the requirement to be registered. All veterinary degrees in Australia and New Zealand are approved courses.


Informed consent

The Veterinary practitioners code of professional conduct (clause 7) requires that veterinarians must, where it is practicable to do so, obtain the informed consent of the person responsible for the care of an animal before providing veterinary services to the animal. The Board expects that a veterinarian would discuss with the person responsible for the care of the animal, the possible involvement of a student in the care of their animal(s). 


Skills, knowledge and equipment of assistants

The Veterinary practitioners code of professional conduct (clause 13) also applies in these circumstances.  This clause requires that a veterinarian must ensure that all persons assisting in the provision of veterinary services to animals in his or her care have the skills, knowledge and available equipment to enable them to perform their duties according to current standards of veterinary science, except in the case of an emergency.



Direct supervision requires the veterinarian supervising the student to be in the same location (premises). Immediate and direct supervision requires the veterinarian to be standing next to the student at the time of the restricted act and in many cases, and at least initially, this may be the more appropriate level of supervision.  The Act (s 35(f)) defines failure to provide adequate supervision as unsatisfactory professional conduct.


Whilst the Board encourages the involvement of veterinarians in the training of veterinary students, when a student is involved in performing a restricted act of veterinary science the supervising veterinarian must ensure:

  1. The student is from an approved course
  2. The student is only performing this act as a requirement of this approved course
  3. The student is only performing this act under direct (or immediate and direct) supervision
  4. The client is appropriately informed of student involvement where practicable.