Teaching and coaching in practice: key elements for promoting successful teaching practice

Many vets and nurses become responsible for students at their practice in the position of ‘clinical coach’, and yet may have no background in teaching and the skills they feel they need to perform this task. This can be a highly challenging role, and guidance, beyond that provided as part of the clinical coach standard training, can go a long way.

In this short article we are going to provide some food-for-thought on some of the key areas that can make a big difference in effective management of your veterinary nursing students, in enhancing the students’ experience, and in making the clinical coach role far more enjoyable and rewarding.

Reflection on your own experiences

Think back to a learning experience that was really good for you. What made it great? What helped the learning process? What key components existed?

Now think about something that really didn’t work for you, and what made it unsuccessful. Of course it will depend on your (and your students’) learning styles and other factors too – but there will be some key elements that make learning more successful and that you want to emulate – and of course some elements that you will want to avoid! This sort of reflective exercise can be used for different subject areas, whether it’s a practical or theory session, and whatever level of learning is required; and is a really valuable tool to use before you plan any session.

Getting the setting right

It sounds basic, but getting the environment right for whatever you are wanting to teach is so important. It depends on what you are teaching too of course, but generally, somewhere quiet and without distraction is key. If you need to teach something specific such as a theatre discipline, radiography or handling – then you will have further planning to do to ensure that the facilities are available and suitable. What about if we are teaching client interaction skills? How can we get the setting right here?

“Knowing what you both want to cover and achieve, how you’re going to achieve it, and a contingency plan for when things don’t go as you and the student hoped, are imperative.”

Plan your teaching!

Of course we must plan an actual time slot for a teaching session, and try to stick with it (yes, that can be the hard bit can’t it!?) but it’s also really important to plan the session itself. Knowing what you both want to cover and achieve, how you’re going to achieve it, and a contingency plan for when things don’t go as you and the student hoped, are imperative.


Communication skills are a fundamental aspect of successful teaching. We need to be able to communicate effectively with our students to explain things, to give instructions, to give feedback and to encourage – and also to be able to understand and read our students’ verbal and non-verbal cues, and even further than that – teach them how to communicate in a professional and competent manner. Generally practice staff already have great communication skills, but how you are communicating with your students and the impact that this has on the teaching experience is always worth regular review.

Learning styles

I’m sure you’ve all heard of learning styles – and different styles and how they affect learning using different approaches has been on the discussion agenda for some time. Do you know what style you learn best with? How might that affect your teaching? Then what about your student – what particular approaches are going to help them, and conversely, what approaches are going to make it more difficult for them? How can you find this out? There are many tools available to do this..

“The new era of nursing regulation means that we need to stay up to date with any amendments and how they affect practice, and know what to do should anything go wrong.”


As senior staff members and mentors for our students, we are of course acting as professional role models to them. It’s important to demonstrate professionalism, what it means at the coal face, how we are guided by our code of conduct and professional regulation, and how students can develop their own professional persona. The new era of nursing regulation means that we need to stay up to date with any amendments and how they affect practice, and also what to do should anything go wrong. Students are of course also bound by the code of conduct, so it’s important that they are educated in what this means to them from the start.
(image: RCVS)

Teaching can be a wonderfully rewarding role

Teaching can be a wonderful aspect of a veterinary role – loaded with diversity, with a few difficulties thrown in, and often frustration when things don’t go to plan – but with the reward of great personal and professional satisfaction that successful teaching can provide. It is a challenging role, and any of us that have been a clinical coach in practice know this well.

There are so many skills needed to make teaching successful and rewarding – for you and your students – but understanding and appreciating some key principles with stand you in great stead!

The next intake of the Teaching and Coaching course is scheduled for Monday 8th January, so if you’d like a place, please book via the course information page here

This article was written by Jill Macdonald DipAVN (surg) RVN FHEA. Jill worked in first opinion practice as a head nurse, including VN training, for 12 years, then at Liverpool Vet School – where her role was to set up and tutor the Key Skills modules for the vet CertAVP and in support undergraduates in professional and communications skills. She set up ONCORE with a colleague in 2011, and still retains a strong interest in Learning and Teaching, and using approaches that empower students to implement their learning into practice.

Our Teaching and Coaching in Veterinary Practice course is part of  our Leadership and Management Skills series.

Tutored by Sue Badger, who has years of experience in teaching veterinary nurses and in managing teaching; you will learn alongside other clinical coaches, enabling you to share experiences and difficulties in a supportive learning environment.