Surrey course success

Written by: Kamalan Jeevaratnam
Published On: 29 Oct 2019
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Kamalan Jeevaratnam Q:Why did you join the University of Surrey and why were you keen to take on the role of programme director for the BVMSci?

A: I was tempted by the new model of partnership education Surrey was embarking on. It challenged the “norm” in veterinary education.

I took on the role of programme director, because I felt I could make the necessary changes that were needed at the time and implement best practice that would make the Surrey BVMSci worthy of RCVS recognition.

It was also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to be involved in the set-up of a vet school, having previously helped set up a medical school, based in Kuala Lumpur, for the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

Q: What was your vision for the course and to what extent has it been realised?

A: I wanted to design a course that would deliver graduates that were resilient, confident and would be “ready to get going” on their first day at work. 

I was also determined to set a high expectation of professionalism from day one. At Surrey, I feel I have achieved this with all the feedback I have heard so far about our first batch.

I dare say, for the time being, Surrey veterinary graduates are the number one choice for many employers. I am very happy with what has been achieved.

Q: Have you learned anything along the way?

A: Many things. The importance of having a good team; in my case, working with a team of dedicated academic staff willing to “operationalise” some of my decisions and always willing to step up to my demands, sometimes under less-than-ideal circumstances. A supportive senior management team that trusted me to do what was required, to secure accreditation.

I also learned the importance of sticking by policies and procedures, as this was the only safe option for myself, the school and the university. Tertiary education has become a business and customers can be demanding. Having an honest, transparent approach and sticking by established policies and procedures is critical to success.

Q: You have previously taught both medical and veterinary students. Do you think they would benefit from studying/working alongside each other?

A: Very much indeed. I am great supporter of merging veterinary and medical education. I think some American universities do it and do it really well, and some UK universities have tried it with varying degrees of success.

There is a lot to gain by collaboration; I think interprofessional health education (not just within the veterinary sphere, but other health professions) will become more central to course design, especially as diseases, and approaches to disease management and prevention are so inter-related.

I was very disappointed Surrey didn’t secure a medical school during the last round of bidding. Having worked on the curriculum and assessment for the Surrey medical course, I can say with first-hand knowledge there would have been some incredible opportunities for the vet school and medical school to co-teach and co-learn. There was also genuine support from the university to develop collaborative teaching and learning.

Q: To what extent do you think Surrey’s veterinary medicine and science course builds resilience?

A: The nature of the Surrey model requires students to cope with a range of challenging and demanding situations, all of which are designed to build resilience.

We upskill our vet students very early on and this is something that external assessors have commented on, as it enhances the student experience. I think, at Surrey, we have been able to find the right balance of building resilience via our course, while at the same time ensuring it doesn’t impact negatively on students’ mental health.

Q: The first cohort of veterinary students has just graduated from the University of Surrey. How does that make you feel?

A: Ecstatic. I was asked on graduation day by a university colleague: “So, after five years your students have all got a degree, what have you achieved?” I paused for a bit, thinking maybe nothing and then replied: “Well I have 38 degrees”.

Q: Do you have any top tips for your successor, Ilknur Aktan?

A: Have fun. It will all be fine (I hope).

  • This article was first published in Veterinary Times issue 43.