In the technology-free past, listening and observing were important survival skills. Today, these skills are in danger of being lost in a high-speed culture of fast talk and smart phones yet they are still essential to meaningful communication.
A group of faculty at the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine have designed a new class to help veterinary students develop interpersonal communication skills that will be essential to success in their careers. In VMC 745, Communication for Veterinarians, students learn about non-verbal communication, reflective listening and expressing empathy. They also receive training in assertiveness, conflict resolution, and public speaking. “The part of the class I enjoyed most was finding out my conflict style,” says Stephanie Schulz. “Now that I have this information, I think it will be easier to solve problems with others who do not share the same conflict style.”
A required class for all third-year students, VMC 745 also serves as a tool to evaluate effective teaching by surveying students at the beginning and end of the term on their level of confidence and ability to communicate well.
For the final exam, Dr. Craig Ruaux enlisted the help of Cally Prince Hansen, an actor in the Albany Civic Theater, who recruited volunteers to act as clients in role playing scenarios. Dr. Ruaux met Hansen when he saved her dog from acute liver failure.
Hansen and the other volunteers were given veterinary case studies and ‘directed’ by Ruaux on how to engage the students during a mock hospital visit. Each student was videotaped and the faculty evaluated them on empathetic listening, body language, and other communication skills. “The video made me very aware of every word that came out of my mouth and what pitfalls I still fall into when communicating with clients,” says Schulz. “For example, I think I used too much scientific detail . . . even though I have been communicating with human patients for years.”
The exams took all morning and afterwards the faculty and students threw a ‘Thank You’ party for the volunteer actors.