Faculty work to enhance communications training

By Sarah Carey

An increasing number of UF College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members are enhancing their knowledge in the area of communications training. These efforts are aimed at veterinary students, but also at other key groups that make up the patient care team at the UF Veterinary Hospitals – veterinary technicians, house officers and staff members. Below are some of the programs currently underway at the college.

Bayer Animal Health and the Institute for Health Care Communication

Thheader2e program offers an approach to building competence in areas ranging from compassion fatigue and conflict management to subjects such as money in the veterinary client relationship and skills for sharing bad news.

Participants spend a week in Connecticut to become more familiar with the methods, opportunities and resources for teaching and facilitating communication skills at their home institution. The program specifically addresses gaps in communication skills training within schools of veterinary medicine and in the practice community.

A grant to IHC from Bayer in 2002 expanded the institute’s existing program, which had been aimed at clinicians and health care team members in human medicine, to include the field of veterinary medicine. Since then, some hundreds of faculty members from schools of veterinary medicine and technology in the United States, Canada, Australia and Portugal have received the training.

This course involves continuing education and professional development for faculty, focusing on improving communications in all aspects of the veterinary clinical setting, including teaching. The focus is on “training the trainer.” Module-based course material and approaches for specifically targeting different groups within the veterinary care team are presented.

Thus far, six UF veterinary college faculty members have completed the training. The first three, Dr. Chris Sanchez, associate professor of large animal medicine, Dr. Amy Stone, clinical assistant professor of primary care and dentistry; and Dr. Amanda House, clinical associate professor of large animal medicine, completed the program in the summer of 2012. Over the past year, these faculty members provided a variety of lectures on communications-related topics to veterinary technicians, students and residents. Stone initiated the first official communications for students using faculty and staff volunteers to serve as clients and observers.

The next group, Dr. Jeff Abbott, associate professor of pathology, Dr. Sarah Graham, clinical assistant professor of large animal surgery and Dr. Dan Lewis, professor of small animal surgery, completed the course this past summer and will help build the program by supplementing additional teaching efforts.

 Frank: Veterinarian-Client Communication Initiative Interactive Workshop

Pfizer Animal Health also has a communications based workshop similar to the Bayer program, but not quite as comprehensive.  Several UFCVM faculty members have attended this workshop also. Dr. Pamela Ginn, the college’s associate dean for students and instruction,  participated in this program last fall, which lead to her presenting the basic framework for client-veterinarian communications skills to the first-year veterinary students in order to prepare them for experiential learning in the simulated client format. Dr. Amy Stone was already doing a similar exercise for second year students.

Professional Development Course/CVM

Student at Harrell Center

A UF veterinary student waits outside a door for a training exercise at the Harrell Professional Devevelopment and Assessment Center. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

As part of a revamped Professional Development course offered to first year veterinary students, several faculty members trained through the Bayer Animal Health program and Frank Communications  have participated in evaluating students’ communications skills.

For the first time this year, the students received training through a videotaped client-interaction scenario carried out with professional actors employed by the Harrell Professional Development and Assessment Center at the UF College of Medicine.

Class members were escorted from their embryology laboratory to the Harrell Center in small groups. When each group finished, they were free to go to their next class as the next groups arrived. During the exercise, students were initially given an overview by Harrell Center staff members and proceeded to participate in the client scenario, which paired each student with a trained actor in a private room. The next day, students were able to watch and critique themselves on video via a web link to the Harrell Center.

The actors in each scenario provided a grade to each student, and these evaluations along with the students’ self evaluations were then sent to faculty members for their feedback and evaluation.

Faculty members who participated in the evaluations included Drs. Ginn, Sanchez, Stone, House, Graham, Abbott, Lewis and Dr. Sarah Reuss, a clinical assistant professor of large animal medicine, all of whom also participated in either the Bayer or Frank program referenced above. In addition,  Drs. Kelvin Kow, a clinical assistant professor of oncology, Dr. Amara Estrada, an associate professor of cardiology, and  Dr. Julia Conway, a clinical assistant professor of pathology, helped with evaluations.

The goals of the overall course, led this year by Estrada, included providing information to students about resources that will assist them throughout veterinary school as well as in developing their professional identity. In addition to the simulated client exercise at the Harrell Center, the course includes lectures and panel discussions on such topics as basic skills used in the client-veterinarian communication framework, work/life/family balance, the transition to becoming a professional, situational ethics, proper use of social media, involvement in the veterinary profession and financial topics such as budgeting as a veterinary student, conflict management and history taking and interviewing clients.

Professional Professional development course exercise

Freshmen veterinary students reviewed themselves participating in a videotaped client-patient scenario as part of their training in the professional development course. (Photo by Sarah Carey)

Another major topic that was covered in the course related to expectations.

“That was a big one,” Estrada said, adding that the lecture was facilitated by Chris Loschiavo, associate dean of students and director of student conduct and conflict resolution at UF.

“We created an expectations document between the faculty and staff in which we had a very frank discussion of what we expected of them, what they expected of us and what they expected of each other as classmates,” Estrada said.

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Faculty work to enhance communications training

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