Jacquelyn Chow, a third-year veterinary student at the University of Illinois, has a new outlook and a new approach to handling working situations, thanks to the Veterinary Leadership Experience, an innovative leadership retreat aimed at boosting veterinary students' communication and teamwork skills.
From June 3-6, 75 students and faculty members from 22 North American and foreign veterinary schools gathered in Post Falls, Idaho, to participate in the inaugural Veterinary Leadership Experience. The event was organized by Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine and was sponsored primarily by Hill's Pet Nutrition. Additionally, the American Animal Hospital Association provided $5,000 to sponsor a social cruise on a nearby lake for participants, and the Washington State VMA provided $500 for the event. Many of the participating colleges and schools paid a portion of the travel expenses for the students and faculty they selected to attend.
The Veterinary Leadership Experience grew out of a similar program at Washington State University (see JAVMA, June 15, 2004, page 1909). Dr. Richard DeBowes, chair of the Department of Clinical Sciences at theWashington State College of Veterinary Medicine and event organizer, said recent studies by KPMG LLP and Brakke Counsulting have shown that, though veterinarians are technically competent, many are lacking in interpersonal and communication skills necessary for success in practice. That's why the college developed a leadership retreat and curriculum aimed at boosting those skills in their own students, and later decided to extend that opportunity to students and faculty around the country with the VLE.
Dr. DeBowes said the attendees were receptive and willing to improve their skills.
"(The attendees) were committed to becoming more complete professionals," Dr. DeBowes said.
Before arriving, the participants completed personality tests to help identify their strengths and weaknesses. During the retreat, they participated in role-playing and problem-solving activities using the information they gathered from the tests.
"I've learned how to recognize my weak points and curb them more," Chow said.
"It made me more aware of the origins of my thoughts and reactions," said Zach Ricker, a fourth-year veterinary student at Oklahoma State University. "It equipped me with the tools I need to change the way I think."
Ricker said the event also reduced competitive feelings among students and helped students relate to professors and colleagues.
Dr. Thomas Kendall, AVMA vice president, attended the VLE and was impressed with the willingness of students and staff to work together.
"I was pleased with the people, and the camaraderie of the staff and students," Dr. Kendall said.
Both Chow and Ricker said they believe veterinary schools should offer similar programs to incoming students. "It was definitely something innovative, and it has the potential to be beneficial to veterinary students," Ricker said.
Some faculty members who attended are addressing these nontechnical competency issues at their home institutions, according to Dr. DeBowes.
Dr. DeBowes said plans are already being made for next year's Veterinary Leadership Experience and that event organizers are currently seeking funding to continue the program.