Sponsors see value beyond measure in student program

AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience teaches communication, collaboration
Published on May 15, 2006
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The recent decision to commit AVMA dollars to a leadership program for veterinary students promises to enhance an annual event that many members of the profession were already applauding.

As principal sponsor of the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Experience, the AVMA joins other supporters who are convinced that the VLE is an invaluable investment in the profession's future. One result of the infusion of AVMA support will be refinement of the VLE curriculum.

The 2006 AVMA VLE runs from June 6-11 at a camp and conference center in Post Falls, Idaho. Two students and one faculty member from almost every veterinary college in the country and Canada—plus a couple of offshore schools—are gathering for the third annual event to learn about leadership, communication, and collaboration.

Organizers and sponsors said veterinary students need to hone these life and professional skills just as much as medical knowledge to work well with clients and colleagues in the future, though the outcomes of the VLE tend to be qualitative rather than quantitative. Backers of the VLE added that AVMA support gives extra credence to the event.

Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine created the leadership experience as an orientation program five years ago. Dr. Richard DeBowes, chair of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, said the program changed the environment in the entering classes so favorably that the college created the larger VLE.

Dr. DeBowes said the AVMA contribution of $75,000 annually for four years will allow VLE organizers to focus on developing the curriculum rather than raising money. The organizers also are making a manual to offer to other schools with explanations of VLE exercises.

"The organization that represents the profession in this country is the AVMA," Dr. DeBowes said. "It's a huge statement that the AVMA has stepped up and supported the VLE."

The VLE curriculum revolves around concepts such as emotional intelligence and servant leadership. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and empathy, and relationship management. Servant leaders are people who lead because they want to serve others, not to satisfy personal missions or ambition.

At the VLE, participants must set aside their competitiveness to complete the group exercises at the heart of the event.

"You can learn more about people in an hour of play than in probably a month of talking to them," Dr. DeBowes said.

The VLE itself results from collaboration, said Dr. Chuck Wayner, who is global veterinary director of Practice Health at Hill's Pet Nutrition. The event now has backing from major academic, professional, and industry groups—including Hill's as the founding sponsor.

Dr. Wayner said one of the event's other messages is that communicating with clients is vital to animal health.

"The fact is that we're in the people business and the service business in veterinary medicine," he said.

The AVMA Group Health & Life Insurance Trust sponsors the VLE because the event teaches various life skills that can reduce stress.

"We see that a balanced lifestyle is important for the health and well-being of our veterinarians," said Dr. Jody Johnson, director of GHLIT member services. "And the earlier you learn these patterns, the better ingrained they become."

Dr. Johnson said some members of the profession might be skeptical about the VLE because the event is a one-time experience and doesn't lend itself to typical measurements for determining return on investment. But she said the VLE can show students and faculty new ways to collaborate and improve the profession.

The AVMA PLIT is also a sponsor of the VLE. Dr. Thomas L. Isaac, PLIT chair, said miscommunication plays a part in many professional liability claims. But the VLE and individual veterinary colleges are starting to teach students how to talk with clients.

"Communication in veterinary medicine is what we're all about nowadays," Dr. Isaac said.

Many colleges have begun miniature VLE programs, while Washington State has offered mini-VLE sessions to state veterinary medical associations and other groups. Also, a paper about the Washington State program, "Teaching Non-Technical (Professional) Competence in a Veterinary School Curriculum," is appearing in the Summer 2006 issue of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.

The other sponsors of the 2006 AVMA VLE are the American Animal Hospital Association; Banfield, The Pet Hospital; Cutting Edge Products; Fort Dodge Animal Health; Novartis Animal Health; Pets Best Insurance; and the Washington State VMA.

More information about the VLE is available at www.vetmed.wsu.edu/orgvle/.