Clinical coaching – teaching and guiding future veterinary nurses

Written by: Kendall Adams
Published on: 12 Mar 2021

SVN training is often overlooked as an essential role as an RVN.

To be able to develop a person who’s likely to have minimal knowledge and experience in the nursing role into a fully competent, knowledgeable asset to the profession is often missed from the long list of skills we have, but alongside the college/university staff, a student’s clinical coach will have a profound impact on their short, medium and long-term career choices.

We are the day-to-day teachers to help show them practical skills and knowledge needed while working in practice. To have an insightful, helpful, interested clinical coach will more likely produce a veterinary nurse who is eager to continue his or her career and even influence him or her to train future generations of VNs.

In contrast, to have a clinical coach who is only completing the bare minimum needed to help a student complete the qualification, and doesn’t invest time and knowledge, may find he or she has a veterinary nurse who loses initial passion and may even fail to complete his or her qualification while with the clinical coach.

A range of reasons exist why an RVN decides to move on to training students in practice. One can be because of a keen passion to teach. We can spend many years learning invaluable practical skills and knowledge, so to be able to pass these on to new students can feel very rewarding. It could also simply be a practice requirement to assist with students, or even to prevent students having a negative experience with the clinical coach role.

Many ways to become a great clinical coach exist; this can come with time and experience. You may have to alter your methods with course changes and student needs, but key aspects exist that can always help get your student where he or she needs to be.

Getting to know your student

If the student spent a considerable amount of time at the practice before enrolling, you’ll likely know him or her, and also understand his or her relative strengths and weaknesses reasonably well. If your student is new, it can be equally daunting for both of you.

It’s a given that, over time, you and your student will get to know each other and what works best for you in a learning environment, but some aspects exist to bear in mind to help your student complete all the relevant aspects of his or her education.

What’s his or her learning style? Some of your students may learn best by practically carrying out tasks, while others may prefer to write information down. Some students prefer to be given a direction to “head in” and be left to get on with the tasks, while others may need more guidance and support.


Tutorials can be so underused, but are crucial to checking in with your student and evaluating his or her progress. These will also enable you to understand how your student is doing in other aspects of his or her role.

Busy practice life doesn’t always allow for a full uninterrupted hour for one-on-one time, but even a 10-minute check-in – where you can answer questions and understand your student’s needs – can make all the difference to help with any rising stress levels.

To write down everything you have discussed will be a simple, yet effective, way to reflect on progress.

For those times where you’re able to have a longer tutorial, you could make good use of the time and practise OSCE tasks that may be relevant to skills on the nursing progress log (NPL) that have been completed.

Target setting

While this coincides with tutorials, a set of clear targets – which are underpinned by reasonable deadlines – offer students the ability to work towards specific goals, preventing them from becoming overwhelmed.

The targets set should be holistic to the course; so alongside setting targets for NPL skills to be completed, you could also consider setting targets linked to revision, assignments and administrative tasks (such as exam applications). It’s also important to state how you will achieve the target set: do they need to be involved with a particular case? Do they need to liaise with someone at their college or university?

Practical experience

We would all love for our students to get involved with every blood sampling, catheter placement, induction and so on. However, the reality is practice life doesn’t always allow for this way of working. When you’re facing a fractious cat or emergency patient, there isn’t always an opportunity to guide your student step by step, but why not talk to your student constantly throughout?

Test his or her knowledge by asking questions, explain how you may do things differently (with an aggressive patient, for example), give tips for locating blood vessels, guide him or her through the relevant anatomical landmarks and offer other helpful hints you’ve picked up along the way. This can all make a difference for when students are able to have a chance at completing these tasks themselves.


Working in a busy practice environment while also having the burden of exams, assignments, NPL, practicals and so on will undoubtedly have a massive impact on mental health, so it’s important to check in with your student.

Simply asking “how are you?” can make all the difference to his or her mental well-being, and open the gateway to allow him or her to discuss any ongoing issues. It’s a simple one, but one we perhaps forget to use.


No single person will ever know all there is to know about veterinary medicine, and that’s just how it is. But when we don’t know the answer to a question our student asks, we can’t be afraid to say so. The important factor is how to help get the answer he or she needs.

Whether it’s directing him or her to another staff member who may know more about the topic, a specific person within his or her education provider or a book/article, and being able to guide him or her in the right direction.

Of equal importance is understanding the student’s course and its requirements. This knowledge will make it easier to understand where your student needs to be and how you can help to get him or her there. Regular standardisation is important to keep up to date with any changes and enable you to refresh any helpful, forgotten advice.

While it’s safe to say there are plenty of aspects to think about with regards to being a clinical coach, the relationship between a clinical coach and student needs to be a balanced one. There needs to be effort involved from both parties for the student to fully succeed in his or her qualification.

As a student beginning your training, it can be overwhelming to think about everything that needs to be completed, passed and what you need to be competent in. However, your coach knows this – he or she has been there and done it – so talk to him or her about it. Your clinical coach may have fountains of knowledge and advice to help you through. Communication is essential to having a good relationship with your clinical coach.

To be the perfect coach to our students is practically impossible – we’re only human, after all. But with experience and time to understand our students’ needs, we can improve the approach we take to training in practice.

We may find that we need to adapt our approach for each student, or vary our style with changes to the course or the training practice, but if we can remember our experiences from when we were training, and use that to put the most into our current and future students, then hopefully we can continue to create knowledgeable, confident veterinary nurses.