The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has launched a ground-breaking interactive app which offers students a mixed-reality veterinary study experience from the safety of their own home. The VetCompass Virtual Vet Clinic app is free to download on both iOS and Android and is the first of its kind for veterinary medicine in the world.

The VetCompass Virtual Vet Clinic app was launched as part of the RVC’s structured response to the disruption of real-world placements and work experience in veterinary practices since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020. It is well-known in veterinary education that such real-world clinical experience is critical to prepare veterinary undergraduates with the necessary ‘day-one’ skills for entering the profession. However, even beyond the immediate pandemic period, this app is anticipated to remain a significant contributor to the learning of thousands of undergraduates across the world, mixing their real-world veterinary experience with a structured virtual format.

This new app builds on the previous real-world experiences of students by replicating typical caseloads and clinical first-opinion veterinary practice scenarios in a readily accessible virtual world. Students can use the structured clinical skills approaches in the app to further develop their veterinary clinical reasoning and case management skills using clinical information sourced from anonymised and randomised data on over 20,000 dogs. Users can also adapt, filter and select the way cases are presented to suit their individual needs and preferences. The app also supports the RVC’s ethos of widening participation in undergraduate education by providing ‘enhanced accessibility’ options including dyslexia-friendly colour schemes and both audio as well as written display.

Screenshots of the iPhone version of the VetCompass Virtual Vet Clinic app

In addition to benefitting students in their clinical years, the app also assists veterinary undergraduates in their preclinical years to start to explore the exciting world of first opinion veterinary care. The response from students to the app to date has been overwhelmingly positive.

Jaya Sahota, 4th year veterinary student at the RVC, commented:

I have been looking for a resource like this forever. I’d previously searched unsuccessfully for apps with clinical cases: this has popped up at just the right moment! As a veterinary student, it is vital to be able to work through real-life case scenarios beyond those covered in the classroom to refine those critical day one skills that we will be expected to perform immediately in practice. The software in the app is learner-friendly and includes different accessibility options which will be attractive to many users.”  

Harriet McAuslan, 4th year veterinary student at the RVC, said:

“I think this app will be particularly useful in times like these where we cannot get to spend much time in real practices. This means that a lot of us are missing out on seeing what is actually commonly coming into first opinion practice. I really like that the app adds some professional context to the cases – it helps to have to think about these scenarios in more of a real world setting rather than the perfect conditions that we normally like to imagine when working up a case!”

Conceived by Dr Dan O’Neill (RVC) and Dr Neerja Muncaster (University of Surrey’s School of Veterinary Medicine), the app is part of a stream of novel innovations developed within the RVC’s VetCompass Programme. The current version of the app focuses on the health issues of dogs, but work has already begun on extracting clinical data to support a feline version in the near future. Other species and adaptations to the current format are also planned.

Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC and developer of the app, said:

“The role of being a good educator is moving from a focus on ‘teaching’ (i.e. what the teacher does) to ‘learning’ (i.e. what the student learns). At the RVC, we now encourage students to ‘learn actively’ by reflecting, doing and collaborating rather than ‘passive learning’ just by memorising basic facts. This app supports these innovations in learning theory by providing diverse and realistic clinical scenarios that students can work up alone or in groups. The app provides the questions but leaves the students to generate their unique preferred solutions to these clinical conundrums; and therefore the best learning is achieved."

Neerja Muncaster, Fellow at Surrey Vet School and co-developer of the app, said: “The global pandemic has accelerated our use of technology and in doing so has provided increased accessibility and inclusivity to users. This novel free app, using real world data, is an authentic tool which encourages independent life-long learning. Investing in and supporting tomorrow’s clinicians improves not only their education but most importantly, the welfare of the animals who will be in their care.”

The app is available at no charge and offers no additional ‘in-app’ purchases. It is available in both iOS and Android formats.

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