Education day at AVA 2014




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.



About rebekahmcbrown

I am a veterinarian with a special interest in instructional design and developing eLearning in the veterinary and medical areas. I write teaching materials for both face-to-face and online learning as well as writing and editing articles.
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3 Responses to Education day at AVA 2014

  1. TalkTheTalk says:

    Sounds like some interesting talks and hopefully there was some good discussion on the pros and cons of the above. When using ‘evidence’ for attitudes and communication it is important to understand the fluffy nature of the evidence compared with the physical sciences (eg. gravity in physics is quite obvious to most observers).

    It is not surprising that some students were concerned about the use of teaching time for communication skills rather than science, diagnoses and treatments that can help animals. Concerns have been raised by some in the medical profession also such as orthopaedic surgeon Helen Beh:
    But as with any curriculum component, once you let lecturers in the door they will seek to expand their disclipline.

    Most communication skills are learnt in the formative school years and medicine degrees with their extra funding compared with veterinary faculties have been able to utilise this to their advantage. GAMSAT and multi-interviews are standard for obtaining entry to medical school and focus on ensuring students have empathy and communication skills. However with the declining interest in veterinary degrees due to low wages and increasing underemployment it would seem difficult for veterinary entrance to require these extra criteria.

    There have been a few articles recently in Australia and the United Kingdom that have shown veterinarians are quite good with euthanasia consultations and it is not as stressful as other situations. Other talks at the AVA conference highlighted the most challenging discussions that veterinarians have are related to costs of procedures and owners who decline treatment that will help their animal due to costs.

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment and sorry I haven’t replied earlier – we’re on the road and have been out of range. Thanks also for directing me to Helen Beh’s speech notes, of which I was not aware.

      I wasn’t surprised either at student attitudes about communication teaching but I still feel it is worthy of a place in the curriculum. As Helen Beh said whether people are able to put into action what they have been taught about communication skills is questionable but is it better that they have some awareness of how to approach a situation. The high proportion of introverts within the profession is always going to mean that a percentage will find client interactions a challenging aspect of professional life. People do change and develop through their lives even if their basic personality is determined at the beginning of life so equipping them with an understanding of what good communication looks like has value. I would think selecting students with good empathy and communication skills prior to entry into the course would be an advantage but agree this is unlikely to occur.

      I attended a couple of the sessions on client communication but was not able to hear the ones about cost. Although I haven’t read the articles to which you refer, my personal experience aligns with the thought that consults where costs are a stumbling block are more challenging than euthanasia consults. The sense of a conflict with a client is very stressful.

  2. Pingback: Rebekah Brown

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