Evaluating behavior

Schools to use new tool to assess applicants
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This fall, when students apply to the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, admissions officers will be using a new tool to assess them: a behavioral interview guide, developed by Personnel Decisions International. The guide provides situational questions, for which interviewees will explain how they would react. Admissions staff will be trained to evaluate responses using a key, also written by PDI.

According to a 1999 survey of admissions interview practices, 84 percent of veterinary schools in North America perform interviews. Many schools consider factors other than test scores and grades, such as extracurricular activities. Adding a behavioral interview to the admissions process, however, represents a major shift in traditional methods of evaluating potential students.

"Traditional academic evaluation assumes a 4.0 student is naturally going to make a better veterinarian than a 3.75 student," says Dr. Laura Molgaard, associate dean for academic and student affairs for Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine. "But there are a number of personality traits that also factor into a student's professional success. This interview helps evaluate students on nontechnical behavioral competencies."

The school made the addition on the basis of results from a study published in the June 15, 2003, issue of JAVMA. The study identified nontechnical competencies and traits of individuals who enjoy career success as veterinarians.

The study was the brainchild of a consortium of veterinary schools: University of Minnesota, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, The Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, Purdue University, University of Illinois, University of Wisconsin, and Virginia-Maryland Regional College.

The consortium, created to address problems that may lead to diminishing career success and satisfaction, agreed that students acquire the technical knowledge and skills required for successful practice in the veterinary curriculum. They sometimes lack, however, certain business and interpersonal skills needed to succeed and find fulfillment in their careers.

For this reason, the schools commissioned PDI to identify nontechnical behavioral competencies—personality traits, skills, and core values—associated with successful veterinarians. In the JAVMA report, PDI identified these factors, which include having good interpersonal, leadership, self-management, and thinking skills, as well as being business-oriented. The study also recommended guidelines for veterinary schools to incorporate these nontechnical competencies in selection processes and curricula.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, dean of Minnesota's veterinary college, is following PDI's suggestions to a tee. "As the gatekeeper of the veterinary profession, we have a responsibility to develop professionals who will succeed in their professional careers," he said. "We have long recognized the value of evaluating students for more than just academic performance. Now we have a professional tool to guide us."

Dr. Peter Eyre, dean of the Virgina-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, says that his college is close to adopting a similar approach. Others are also planning to do the same, including the University of Illinois and The Ohio State University.

"At Ohio State, we have a history of utilizing nonacademic criteria to evaluate and define the desirable qualities of candidates beyond academic performance," said Dr. Glen Hoffsis, dean of Ohio State's veterinary college. "We are hopeful that the PDI material will help us refine and improve our ability to accomplish this."

Dr. Lonnie King, dean of the veterinary college at Michigan State University, says his college is reviewing the PDI plan and has not yet decided about a final implementation schedule. He says that attracting students with these skills is a first step; continuing to foster the skills is a second step.

"We will be involved in new activities to impart new skills and competencies in communications, interpersonal behavior, leadership, career management, and continuous learning and improvement strategies," Dr. King said.

Only time will tell whether the use of a behavioral interview will become a standard assessment tool. It is, however, growing in popularity, according to Dr. Herbert Whiteley, dean of the University of Illinois veterinary college. "I think we are all moving or have moved in that direction."