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Student research presented at this year’s British Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress

Posted 4 April

Student Becky Verhoven – whose research has been presented to the British Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress – in front of trees outside Harper Adams University’s Veterinary Education Centre.

Research by a Harper Adams Veterinary Nursing student into surgical site preparation in dogs has been presented at one of the world’s largest events for small animal veterinary professionals.

Becky Verhoven, from Buckinghamshire, was offered the chance to present her research at the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Congress after securing funding for her work from BSAVA PetSavers Charitable scheme.

Her research – titled Cotton wool versus non-woven gauze swabs: comparatively which is more efficacious for minimising the preoperative microbial load on the ovariohysterectomy surgical site in bitches? – forms her final-year Honours Research Project for her BSc (Hons) Veterinary Nursing with Companion Animal Behaviour degree.

Rebecca discovered a keen interest for preparation of the surgical patient on her sandwich year placement at Temple End Vets in High Wycombe, which motivated her to identify gaps in the research and consider unanswered questions.

She said: “I really enjoyed my time at Temple End Vets - I couldn’t imagine spending my 10-week placement or sandwich year anywhere else, it was great! They were really supportive of my study too, allowing me to go upstairs and work on it if it was a particularly quiet day.”

Upon beginning her investigations into antiseptic skin preparation, Becky quickly discovered that while the antiseptic agent and the application technique had been researched and debated extensively, in both human and veterinary medicine, no studies had been conducted to determine the efficacy of materials selected to apply the antiseptic solution to the skin – leading to a lightbulb moment for what she would focus her dissertation on.  

She said: “While a number of opinions have been expressed regarding whether cotton wool or non-woven gauze swabs are more effective for cleaning the pre-operative surgical site, these are all based off of anecdotal evidence and there is, currently, no scientific evidence to support these claims.

“The effect of the material utilised to clean the skin on the incidence of post-operative complications is also yet to be researched.”

Having decided to investigate the effectiveness of each material, Becky realised there would be one likely barrier – that of cost. Her planned research meant each of the swab samples she collected from the surgical site would need to be sent away and analysed by a microbiology lab, which would come with a major cost burden for her as an undergraduate student.

However, her HRP supervisor – Veterinary Nursing Lecturer Kat Hart – suggested that she could apply to BSAVA PetSavers for funding to enable the work to go ahead. This funding was approved – and Becky has been able to reveal some of her findings at this year’s BSAVA Congress as a result.

She added: “I feel really honoured to be asked to present my study at BSAVA Congress - nervous but super excited too. I think it will be a really big achievement!”

And Kat added: “Becky’s success shows just what a Veterinary Nursing degree can do – and that research isn’t just limited to other veterinary professionals – we can all have an impact.”

Following her successful conference presentation, Becky has returned to Harper Adams to complete her dissertation – and the final year of her degree.

She added: “I have always, ever since I remember, wanted to work with animals, and veterinary nursing just seemed like the ideal fit.

“When looking at degree courses and choosing a university, I was drawn to Harper because of its top-rated student experience and great graduate prospects. I got interviews at all my universities, but nothing really struck me until I came to Harper – the staff seemed really good and even the campus itself was great – when you drive in, you think ‘this is really lovely!’

“Coming here has been great- it’s been super fun and I have made lots of wonderful friends, who have really made my experience.

“It has been tough at times though – vet nursing is a challenging degree, and that shouldn’t be underestimated.

“However, I can’t exaggerate enough how brilliant the team of veterinary nursing lecturers are. I don’t doubt that if I was struggling, without hesitation, each and every one of them would offer me a world of support. They do really go above and beyond for their students, and I have experienced this personally. I couldn’t be more grateful.”

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