Tuesday May 27th was education day at the 2014 AVA Conference. As in previous years, the program consisted of papers, posters, a dinner and lots of excellent networking opportunities. After being on the road for 3 months around the western half of Australia (if you would like to read our trip blog please leave a comment to that effect and I’ll invite you), arriving at the conference was akin to landing on another planet and it took me a while to feel I could hold a professional conversation, much less give a coherent presentation but happily I had reassimilated within a few hours and was able to get the best out of my experience.
Although there was quite a variety of topics, a particular theme was teaching non-technical skills, particularly communication, in veterinary curricula. This first post will cover presentations which related directly to communication both in relation to teaching and professional development.
Non-technical skills in the veterinary curriculum
Martin Cake’s presentation ‘Consensus and evidence for the importance of non-technical veterinary skills’ gave a thought-provoking overview of what non-technical skills are perceived to be important by students and veterinarians and which skills have actually been shown through evidence to influence the success of veterinary graduates. Using the BEME (Best Evidence Medical Education) framework, meta-analysis of the literature showed evidence that 4 non-technical skills are of particular importance. The four are:
- client trust/respect,
- awareness of limitations,
- communication skills
- critical thinking/problem solving.
When consensus on perceived importance is matched with evidence of importance, communication skills lead the field, validating the strong focus this area of training has received in veterinary curricula.
Teaching clinical communication skills
Two presentations described the ways in which different vet schools instill clinical communication skills in their students. Jenny Mills and Melinda Bell described different techniques used at Murdoch, which include video scenarios, skills rehearsals of challenging situations such as euthanasia consultations and client simulations used at different stages in the curriculum. Particular focuses in that school are clinical empathy and inter cultural competence. Assessment includes several reflective tasks, such as a reflecting on video scenarios in the ‘Talk to the humans’ videos developed at Murdoch, immediate informal feedback after simulation exercises and videoing themselves in consultations and using the recording to review and self-assess their skills. OSCEs in final year form the ultimate summative assessment. Challenges at Murdoch are seen as including to provide more opportunities for students to record their consultations, to find more time for communication training in a crowded curriculum and to extend scenarios to include large animal cases.
Susan Matthew from Sydney University described some similar challenges in teaching clinical communication skills with time and resources but also spoke about the additional concern of the attitudes that some students bring to the discipline. Perceptions including lack of relevance in comparison to core scientific subjects and the belief that communication skills have already been acquired and can’t be developed further can hinder the teaching and learning process. The requirement for active participation e.g. in role play scenarios is challenging for many students, particularly the more introverted, and some take feedback on their performance as a personal affront. These student concerns lead to poor evaluations of those sections of the curriculum.
Communication through social media
Jason Coe from Ontario Veterinary College spoke about communication training of a different type, focusing on educating students on the benefits and risks of social media, particularly Facebook. Studies have shown that veterinary students have a high rate of disclosing personal information and of posting material classed as unprofessional on Facebook. Using clickers to gauge audience opinion, Jason took us through a series of Facebook posts and asked whether we thought the various posts were acceptable and in some cases compared our response to those of vets and vet students they had surveyed in Canada using the same scenarios. While some items were clearly not acceptable to the group, others produced a wider range of opinions.
In his curriculum for veterinary students, making students aware of the potential consequences of their actions using real case is an important facet, as is introducing them to the 4 principles of ethical decision making in veterinary practice – non-maleficence, beneficence, autonomy, and justice.
Twitter for teaching and professional development
Continuing the topic of social media but broadening to include opportunities for professional development as well as teaching, I presented on the use of Twitter for veterinary educators, highlighting the features that make Twitter a useful tool for teaching and professional development and showing 3 examples of how it is currently being used for disseminating ideas or research, for teaching using #vetfinals as an example and for creating a conference back channel.
A second post will cover the remaining presentations and the excellent poster session.