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Vet on Call: For the love of animal health service, please offer students attachment

Saturday February 16 2019

Students on attachment at the garden Veterinary Services on a farm in Kiambu, being trained by a farm manager who is also a paraprofessional.

Students on attachment at the Garden Veterinary Services on a farm in Kiambu, being trained by a farm manager who is also a paraprofessional. Attachment aids the student in integrating the theoretical knowledge taught in class with the practice of service delivery. PHOTO | JOSEPH MUGACHIA | NMG 

DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
By DR JOSEPH MUGACHIA
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As a vet on call, I get all kinds of enquiries from all manner of people, not only farmers. Some of the calls are urgent, others funny or just absurd.

One time I got a call from a farmworker who wished to know if he could treat himself with the drugs the employer had kept in the farm store.

I told him he would be endangering his health and life by doing so, and second he would be committing an offence and third, the farmer had committed an offence punishable by law if she was not a licensed veterinary doctor or veterinary paraprofessional. When I pressed on, he hung up and switched off the phone.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from David, a diploma in animal health student. He said he was frustrated and annoyed because he had failed to get attachment.

He wanted me to offer him attachment at my clinic to fulfil the requirement for completion of his training.

Unfortunately, my clinic does not attach diploma and certificate students. We prefer veterinary medicine degree students to ensure that we run one uniform training curriculum to manage costs of executing this professional social responsibility.

Training students for free is an expensive activity. For those with a policy of accepting learners regularly, it can easily overshoot the budget if not well-managed, especially when the students are of different cadres in the professional hierarchy.

I advised David to seek assistance from one of the county directorates of veterinary services. I opined he could easily find attachment as has always happened. “Doctor, I have tried a number but they tell me they have no budget for students,” David responded.

That was surprising because for many years, it has been very easy to have students attached to government facilities for training.

DEVOLVED SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT

In fact, when I did my attachment many years back at the then Kenya Trypanosomiasis Research Institute (Ketri), it never occurred to me that I had any cost implication on the institution.

The management welcomed my application, provided me with workspace in their primate research laboratory and a very experienced staff researcher as a supervisor.

They also provided me with a work schedule for the eight weeks prescribed for the attachment.

My experience at Ketri, which later evolved into the present Kenya Tsetse and Trypanosomiasis Eradication Council (KENTTEC) focused me into the research and training field.

This motivated me to join the University of Nairobi soon after completing my undergraduate training for postgraduate training, research and teaching.

The training attachment flashback compelled me to intercede for David. I called a number of my professional colleagues in the county directorates of veterinary services and he got placement.

His situation, however, is not unique. Such cases are becoming increasingly common since the onset of the devolved system of government.

Some of the county administrators appear to believe that attaching students for training is an expensive venture outside their mandate.

In the past, student attachment in both public and private institutions was automatic. The student numbers were low and the courses requiring attachment were few.

With the increase in number of students, training institutions and courses where attachment is mandatory completion requirement, many institutions find the activity financially expensive and straining to their staff.

Despite the strain on available resources, I believe that public institutions should not shut out attachment students under the guise of inadequate resources.

Training in animal health at any level, just like other service science disciplines, requires students get a hands-on experience of the real world of practice.

SATURATING ATTACHMENT OPPORTUNITIES

Attachment also helps the student to get the true feel of governance and administration of the animal health service.

Finally, attachment aids the student in integrating the theoretical knowledge taught in class with the practice of service delivery.

At my clinic, we attach students of veterinary medicine once or twice a year without fail. The attached students raise the cost of operations in many ways.

They must be provided with work space and equipment and the students must be trained at the speed of their level thereby slowing the pace of operations.

Students spoil a substantial amount of inputs before they get used to the economical practices in materials use Occasionally, they even spoil equipment.

Sometimes students put the host institution into liability by defying laid down procedures. I recall a colleague who was almost sued by a farmer because a student broke the rules and attended to a cow alone.

He injected the animal with a sedative using the dose rate for a dog and the cow was in heavy stupor for a whole day.

You see, a cow may be huge but is completely knocked out by a small fraction of the sedative dose that will make a dog only stagger.

Students also consume the productive time of staff because they must be trained methodically and comprehensively.

The staff mentor is responsible for all the outcomes of a student’s actions within the laid down procedures. In my experience, work slows down whenever there are students on attachment and this costs the institution because it lowers productivity.

One major reason why students are finding it difficult to get attachment opportunities is that training institutions have not woken up to the reality that they are saturating the attachment opportunities available in both the private and public sectors.

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY

While deciding the number of students to train, the institutions have not evaluated the size of the available attachment opportunities.

Further, most institutions have the same training calendar, therefore, students are released for attachment at the same time.

It would help to stagger the training calendars so that students do attachment at different times of the year. Training institutions should also actively engage both public and private institutions and agree on practical training partnerships instead of just giving students letters generically addressed to, “The Human Resources Manager …”

Another major reason is that public organisations are viewing attachment students as a cost burden rather than a juvenile resource to be nurtured for utilisation in the near future.

Most students would be naturally attached at the county level because that is where farmers are served daily.

The county offices must understand that they have a responsibility to the taxpayers to help in producing trained professionals for the animal health service to enhance disease control, public health, research and training, food production and food security.

Private sector organisations only step in to voluntarily exercise their corporate social responsibility in training students.

If public organisations continue denying students attachment opportunities, the private sector may soon follow suit with the same claim of budget constraints.

This would be disastrous to the training of budding veterinary professionals and paraprofessionals.